Published on
the Waco Tribune-Herald (Texas)

Our Stampede Mentality

John Young

Black Friday deserves a mark like this.

Or, it deserves a reputation fit for the occasion.

“Day retailers get in the black.” That’s how it’s described in Business 101 terms.

“Day shoppers lose their minds” is how Intro to Crowd Psychology might define it.

Minds are lost. Feet and elbows overcome all other bodily functions. Two-thousand people stream through the mangled doors of the Valley Stream, N.Y., Wal-Mart. An employee is trampled to death.

Police say they’ll investigate and press charges. That will be some lineup.

“Suspect No. 1,346. Turn to the right.”

Long Island’s Newsday interviews a sociologist who explains what happens in a crowd of anxious people — how matters of judgment evaporate in too-close proximity. The average person, says the expert, needs a “space bubble” of 27 inches.

Without it, the average person becomes a tongue-wagging, slobbering bison.

I’m sorry, but the “space bubble” theory is so much soap. Excusing people for their behavior based on feeling pinched doesn’t explain the behavior later at the same Wal-Mart when, with a body to remove, the store was asking shoppers to leave. Space bubble or no, they refused.

This isn’t about elbow room. This is about herd behavior.

It’s about the animal in you and me. I hesitate to use the analogy, because I agree with those who believe animals to have a dignity and purity that we “higher” primates rarely attain.

What separates us?

Supposedly what separates us from beasts is the ability to elevate above our urges. Animals supposedly are about only what their noses and glands are dictating.


Never Miss a Beat.

Get our best delivered to your inbox.

Look around and see us giving animals a bad name.

No need to refer to the ugly scene at the New York Wal-Mart, or the gun battle in the aisles at a Southern California Toys R Us in which both combatants died.

If you want to see stampede mentality, look at the nearest interstate. Did someone say “space bubble”? What is it when you are in a compact car and are being sucked into the airflow of a hurtling Ford Expedition? Surely it’s more than 27 inches. For some speeding motorists, however, that’s all they need.

Stampedes. Gun dealers are basking in the sound of feet as gun sales have skyrocketed after the election of Barack Obama.

Did you hear Obama wants to confiscate weapons from law-abiding owners? Me, neither.

Did you hear about the rash of church shootings? It’s caused a stampede for heightened church security, even locking out latecomers on Sunday.

But there’s no such rash, only information in the hands of those who peddle hysteria. Right-wing online playground WorldNet Daily last December reported that church shootings were “on the rise” nationwide. Evidence? It frantically marked off accounts of nine such shootings — over eight years.

That does it. Praise the Lord and pass the ammo.

In the information age, with 24/7 glandular responses on cable, we can expect to see chain reactions driving people to act irrationally, whether it is the rush to buy the next Tickle Me Elmo or the next incarnation of “Grand Theft Auto.”

Now, you might consider it rational if your idea of the human experience it to consume, to hoard, and to fight for one’s 27 inches with all of your might to get that consumer good.

In that case, when you show up at the super store at 5 a.m. expecting to lay claim to a plasma TV, and are surprised to see 2,000 or so your fellow human beings on hand, it will be rational to push against those in front until the metal of the doors begins to crinkle.

That’s what the sociologist said.

Newsday should have consulted a zoologist.

John Young's column appears in the Tribune-Herald Thursday, Sunday and occasionally Tuesday.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

Share This Article

More in: