In several ways the cancel culture is linked to a frenzied mob. It is this fear of an uncontrollable mob that gives cancel culture its power. Therefore, we have to understand how a real or imagined mob rules our thinking and gives legitimacy and power to cancel culture. Some scholars say that the like several things, the mob was born in the 19th century. But it is said that mob had much earlier beginnings. It has been agreed that crowds or mobs were important part of the Roman politics. The senators who proposed new policies or revisited old ones were supported or contested by crowds of plebs and peasants. It is always the immediate threat of violence that gave the mobs their power. What we may call unruly mob was something that was regulated by the civil society in ancient Rome. Crowd was indeed given an important role in politics. But today the term mobs reminds us of violence and uncontrollable irrational crowd and hence is thought to be a threat to public order.
Mob is actually a product of what Eric Hobsbawn calls dual revolution of late 18th and early 19th century. The first of this revolution is the familiar industrial revolution that transformed agrarian society to one of mechanised production. On the wings of this new mode of production, human population exhibited a tremendous growth and people began to more and more flock to the cities. Over time, these large concentration of people in the city gave them ability to organise themselves in search of better life. The second revolution evoked by Hosbawn is the French revolution. It set in a radical and fast moving change in the society. Much of it was a result of the politicking among the royals, nobles and clergymen. Throughout the revolution crowds were a decisive force.
Several scholars began the study of crowds and politics of mass action. In doing so they found a discipline that they called Crowd Psychology. Gustave Le Bon being a conservative, viewed mass action with an eye of an elite. In his Book, the Crowd: The Study of the Popular Mind, he argued that crowds are dangerous. He says that when an individual merges with a crowd he / she descends several rungs away from the ladder of civilization. Alone he/ she may be a cultivated individual but in a crowd he /she is a barbarian. Thus, we come to the understanding by way of Le Bon and other crowd psychologists that mobs are irrational and increasingly prone to violence. He emphatically points out that crowds are only powerful for destruction. Therefore, it was with Le Bon’s work that the idea that mob is inherently irrational and violent was born in the 19th century.
This received notion is at the very foundation of our perceptions of mobs both real and digital. Although, we have witnessed the destructive power of the mob in several instances, we cannot blindly follow the thesis of Le Bon when it comes to digital mobs. The digital mob is a construct and is generated to produce mind control over the people. But the fact that we have unreal imagination of the digital mob which we have drawn upon Le Bon’s thesis, we end up giving power over us to the phantoms in the web. This uncritical acceptance of madness of the crowds in the web actually turn us mad and we may end up joining some rampaging mobs on the streets that are also socially engineered by vested interest.
This is why we have reimagine the crowds that publically shame us in the internet. These are the mobs of the cancel culture. We still bring Le Bon’s bias when we think that digital crowds are intoxicated and irrational and forget that they are socially engineered to carry forward a vested interest. Perhaps, we have to follow E. P.Thomson who studied food riots in England and found that the mass action of the mobs had a mind. He argued that those who participated in the riots had specific demands and were not merely an intoxicated mindless ensemble. Thomson teaches that crowds use power of their numbers to achieve their specific goals. This study of crowd behaviour appears to be more realistic. We can notice how crowds are orchestrated to promote a vested interest . Their violence is not mindless but exhibit a mind. We can study any riot or mob lynching and we will see how there is mind in what masks as mindless violence.
In fact mob action and its ruthless violence is defended by using Le Bon’s thesis that the violence was a result of irrational and unruly mob. This is why we have the challenge to debunk Le Bon’s thesis about mob psychology. It is through our uncritical adherence to Le Bon’s thesis that we give power to cancel culture and its mobs in the web. In fact several of our laws that prevent assembling like section 144 or even sedition ( that cancels a person) in our country are direct heirs of La Bon’s conservative ideology. Such is the power of the idea that all mobs are irrational and violent. Therefore, we have to deconstruct it to respond to the mobs in the internet.
The mobs on the internet are not mindless. Neither the cancel culture is spontaneous. It is political and therefore is not innocent. We cannot mindlessly follow cancel culture and think that its victims deserved it. This thought might be far away from the truth. Hence, we have to critically discern the vested interest that is riding on the digital mobs. The first interest is to force us away from the writings and works of the victim that is sort to be cancelled. Same is true of community that is sort to cancel as terrorist, violent or anti-national. This will enable us to understand the hidden people who tend to benefit from the acts of cancellation. The cancel culture is said to be hiding the details of its victims. It simply dresses them to appear monstrous. Hence, a critical reception of the same will enable us to discern the monstrosity of the promoters of cancel culture. Let us not forget the truth that mobs are vicious but are rational and does deal with the mobs that are online.