The Hornet and the Hive Mind

Fallacy of the hive mind – 1.) Inferring that someone who makes a comment which aligns with a consensus political opinion or movement on social media possesses the same deep, ingrained, singular, core principles or characteristics as that group or movement.  2.) Erroneously clumping people into a spuriously-named, demographically or sociologically unofficial group because they agree with, voice their opinion regarding or argue in favor of a consensus opinion which is temporarily influential, on social media or elsewhere.

The source for so much of why information is passed on from one person to another is personal.  Collected objectively or highlighted as appealing to one’s own fancy, information always needs the not only the mouths, but the desires of people to be broadcast or articulated from one person, group or generation to the next.  Acclamation, reward, remittance, recrimination, hope, jealousy, fear—all these and more motivate someone to keep an idea alive.  Such is the way of human communication.

And from this follows usage—frequency of expression or transference.  Without an idea or fact being referenced or used more or less continually in some form, it will surely die in that form, though it may reappear again if it was clever enough, an important scientific building block or just a really fucking good idea.

For example, just this year, dad bod, amirite and FTW, among other popular expressions, were officially added into America’s lexicon.  Ridiculous, you may say.  Pah.  Bah!  Schlmah!  Well, blame usage. 

And, of course, the internet. 

Which, today, breeds another important aspect of information transmission.  Particularly when the constraints appear: misunderstanding.

Have you ever sent out a text, and the recipient didn’t get what you meant?  (‘Cant tonight.  Drunker than 6 out of work stepdads.  And their communal mini fridge just fizzled out’ ‘Um, just because they’re unemployed doesn’t mean theyre alcoholics’.)  Or they misinterpreted your mood?  (‘Have fun tonight. And remember don’t tell anyone what I told you about my streaking inflamed hemorrhoids ok?’  ‘Are you mad at me? I can stay home if you don’t want me to go out.’)  Or an argument ensued?  (‘Really don’t feel like watching jerks in tights stomp around on a stage and scream for three hours downtown. Hungover AF.’  ‘Don’t hate on Giacomo Puccini dawg.’) Or you lost favor in someone’s eyes, or they were knocked down a few pegs in your own, because of some misunderstanding?  (lol but yah kylie jenner did look bangin in that outfit tho booty was slappin’  ‘I heard somewhere you went to college.  That was a lie, correct?’)

When human beings—who, beyond the pale monochrome of written words, are capable of expressing a near-myriad of qualifiable emotions through vocal inflection, pitch, facial expression, subtle movement of the facial muscles (eye darting, nostril flaring, lip molding), reactions of the autonomic nervous system, touch, or all-out, full bodied articulation—attempt to express an idea in constricted form such as a text, tweet or post…well, you can see how much there is to be lost in translation, even though you’re still speaking the language. 

* * *

Humans form groups when they get excited. This, almost, cannot ever be helped. Or, maybe more to the point, they get clumped into groups by unconscious evolutionary factors; through some pod of social scientists trying to advance some theory of human behavior; or by writ and observation of some authority figure. Whether for safety reasons or to ease their anxiety or to shore up their own identities, a number of psychological experiments have shown that humans tend to band together, and even form sides against one another, even under the slightest adverse circumstances. Importantly, as long as those humans choose to take part in whatever group activity exists—protest, rugby game, time-share seminar or rodeo poker match—whatever dynamics have emerged and brought them together by their own human agency, or have legally aggregated them through incarceration or indenture—outliers aside—they will almost likely, without even realizing it, choose up sides. Even if it’s as small as just two people.

As another example, say you’re standing in line at the gas station grocery store, waiting to get the hell out of there, and the grimy weekend dad in front of everyone is buying $20 worth of quick pick lottery tickets and $12 hot food dinner for his weekend kids, and, after at about four minutes, the guy in line in front of you turns and says something snooty and passive aggressive like, “If he doesn’t have enough left for the Four Lokos, his kids are gonna be pissed.”

Guess what?  Suddenly, without even having to respond to him, bam, you two have formed a group. 

And any one group, banded together, taken as a single entity, based on the collective emotion involved, has the potential to be a thing of tremendous influence, negatively impacting a community, neighborhood or other group, aware or not, through pejorative words or aggressive, destructive acts.

They can also be a positive thing, certainly, but who cares about people being happy?

Because, regardless of how many are there living it up, letting it all hang out or trying to fight the good fight, there will always be others who despise them.  And, perhaps most interestingly, you’ll get people arguing about whether or not those groups are a good thing or bad thing—those who despise versus those who defend—emphasizing piddly minutiae and using selective reasoning to make their cases in academic halls, bars and on social media. 

But are the individuals who make up those groups the same as the collective mind of the groups, themselves?  And are the splinter, solidarity groups that form, which aren’t actually a part of the original groups, the same as the original groups?  Or are any of the people you hear speaking on TV or social media, or speak with/to on social media, who are a part of the original or splinter, solidarity groups, the same as a person you’d meet in actual real life?

In other words, does a non-scientific argument about them actually possess any merit, whatsoever?

Well, to try and answer that, let’s compare one of these imaginary groups of advanced primates to another zoological collective, and maybe gain some perspective on how ridiculous it can be to argue in favor of or against such a group’s fleeting existence, at least in terms of how directly its existence affects the people arguing about it.

Take a hornet’s nest, for example.

Nests of buzzing, mindless war hordes composed of suicidal, blood-thirsty, candy-sized monsters can be a frightening thing.  They defy the stillness, silence, solitude and veritable ataraxia humans have come to seek through evolution, and the generational, popcorn-development of certain parts of their brains. 

Also, they hurt.  When they’re all together inside that hive, they’ll go all chainsaw on your ass if they think you’re a threat to its existence.  They’re right, and you’re wrong.

But what about a solitary hornet?

It doesn’t take much study or fieldwork to reflexively see a solitary hornet as a threat.  Stings are as common as slivers or slutty cat calls (both human and feline) in certain summertime locales, and everyone’s got a story, though it may be from fifteen to thirty years ago, or only happened to that one pink-faced, anaphylactic kid they knew who was so prone to chronically catching the most common of diseases that you’d look him up on Facebook today and be genuinely surprised he wasn’t dead. 

And no one really questions the animosity.  Because no one but an entomologist is going to intercede on behalf of the hornet.  Hornets screw up outdoor commerce.  They screw up outdoor recreation.  They screw up open-sheltered sheds and storage areas and/or your just sitting outside in the fucking shade, if they smell your beef.  Not a euphemism there—meat will infuse them with almost a single-minded hunger and compel them to hone in on your burger, original owner be damned. 

In short, they’re like a scumbag in candy-sized, monster form.  But just a nuisance scumbag, not a molester, rapist or fascist like they would otherwise be inside that hive.

All that hornet is doing is being a hornet.  They aren’t out to vampirize you.  Or turn you into some kind of human/hornet hybrid monstrosity.  Or, worse, indoctrinate your children with a liberal or Christian conservative agenda.  But the human equivalent of that, to many, can be equally as fearful and drive a lot of reactionism.

And, while you may think, “Well, when a person is being a person (group or not) they can still be out to get me,” you will be right in many situations.  However, it’s not resulting behavior we’re examining here, but what precedes it: the intent, and the ideas formed that bring the intent about.  People can and will make mistakes, and do stupid, senseless things in a moment.  Like arm themselves with an assault rifle and, solitary and without any training, drive to a violent protest-turned-upheaval, and attempt to stay some of its more angry, mindless currents and eddies single-handedly, by more or less jamming a canoe oar into the water.

But it’s upon what information they operate and how much they want to act that compels them to, on an activist-by-activist or vigilante-by-vigilante basis.

Which brings me back to my original point: Take out sensual, visceral and thoughtful perception—hearing, seeing, all the emotion of it—and all you have left is ignorance, confusion and a whole bunch of gray area regarding information, both factual and interpersonal.  And this is what tends to drive behavior or action, and what also gets passed from perpetrator to victim or defendant, who then become perpetrators themselves if they go off and do something similar about it, even if it’s as seemingly innocuous as firing off a tweet. 

Humans gather, and they disperse, and their motives are not the same as many others in the animal kingdom.  They don’t do it for survival, they do it for what they believe, and, many times, get caught up in a moment.  There’s nothing much concrete about it.

Except the littered and urine-soaked concrete they protested/partied on, when they’re all through.

Sometimes, a firestorm is inevitable when so much emotional tinder lays dormant under the failing power lines of ignorance, or the forum is so strewn with inflammatory rhetoric that at least some people are bound to metaphorically combust (which is something to be examined on a gathering-by-gathering basis, and we won’t do that here).

And people whose core belief systems find diametric opposition to such principles as that group may represent will no doubt come to hate and fear it for how those humans buzz while they get together. And then go on social media. And get into arguments. And based on their narcissism (‘self-importance’), Machiavellianism (lying and scheming while being ‘self-important’) or psychopathy (‘Unabomberhood’, basically), a dangerous amount of aggression can get conveyed in the form of snippy retorts, four-letter words or an old-fashioned death threat.

But you have to remember: People aggressively protesting out on the streets today, and on Twitter, backing those protests, are like in their twenties and early thirties.  And even the older ones have maybe had their social development stunted beginning right around that age for whatever reason, and could still be called as immature, in many situations.  Identities are still being formed, especially with all the novel exposure to information that social media brings; their core belief system is still being melded together, and there’s still a lot of trial and error going on.  And they’re like, ‘Hey, here’s a thing I’m starting to believe in—oh, and I can react to others by yelling at them, or saying mean things, and it’s okay on some levels?  And maybe they have some clout or celebrity, and they’ll listen? And a bunch of people are yelling and being mean, too, and I like what those people yelling stand for, and I can maybe make friends with them, as well?  And my identity feels more secure in the process and I, as a person, feel more confident?’

What do you think is going to happen?  Have you never been caught up in a moment, yourself? 

Many people, due to their age or experience, don’t understand, first hand, what jumping on a bandwagon actually feels like.  Or have the capacity to observe themselves in a situation like this objectively, and assess their own behavior.  Or sense their proximity to any possible ramifications.  Thus, the result is a lot of deindividuation—action without forethought, or even present thought, and a lot of being swept up in the moment. 

Now, is this the same person you meet in public, look in the eye and have a real-life conversation with, behaviorally speaking?  No, probably not.  Odds are they’re probably going to be a lot more human. 

People aren’t always honest about what they feel or mean when they say something, but if you can meet up with them and see them as they say it, you can get a pretty good idea of what that may be.

Barring that—judging the things they do and say on social media from afar—you’re basically shooting clay pigeons in a Siberian snowstorm.