Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
I am often reminded these riotous (both figurative and literal) days of the expression “the tragedy of the commons” as I watch news coverage of the criminals on the streets who are attempting to highjack legal, peaceful protests with violence not only to cause fear and chaos (and, some say, to foment the fundamental transformation of America*) but also, obviously, to smash some windows and steal some goods on the side.
According to Dr. John Grohol, founder and editor-in-chief of Psych Central :
The tragedy of the commons is a term coined by scientist Garrett Hardin in 1968 describing what can happen in groups when individuals act in their own best self interests and ignore what’s best for the whole group. A group of herdsmen shared a communal pasture, so the story goes, but some realized that if they increased their own herd, it would greatly benefit them. However, increasing your herd without regard to the resources available also brings unintentional tragedy — in the form of the destruction of the common grazing area. (source)
The concept–that is to say the concept of a shared social and economic commons before the inevitable “tragedy” when the shine is scraped off the impossible utopian dream of one for all and all for one–is most often discussed among socialist/communist ideologues and naive youth who imagine some kind of perfectly balanced egalitarian world within which we can all get along, everyone gets his/her “fair share,” and the “overseers” are still believed trustworthy.
At least that is how it is marketed.
But in the shiny phase, it sure sounds good, right?
All merge into one harmonious collective, each having his/her needs equally met, arms linked, bodies swaying to the strains of John Lennon’s “Imagine“…
But it never works out that way.
Which leads me to another of my topics: “common tragedies” (discussed more below) because we don’t have to look to collectivist/communist/socialist ideologies–or naive utopian dreams–to find flawed logic and questionable motives.
But back to the collective for now: a cursory overview of what happens to such ideologies when not only the shine wears off but also when they sink in a puddle of violence (as avarice muddies the scene) illustrates the reality.
But another cursory overview, this one, of any religious text, police blotter, or psychology course, also illustrates how that same evil influence affects each individual–ideologue, starry-eyed idealist or not–due to lawlessness and rebellion, in short: sin. In the world of psychology, terms such as narcissism, psychopathy, and sociopathy stand in.
But when our lesser angels, en masse, bloody the playing field harm is force multiplied.
And the destruction flares up when darkness comes, whether darkness of night or of soul–even in persons who might otherwise in their private lives strive to be law abiding and compassionate toward others.
Law abiders often become law breakers in a group of same because a group is far better as a petri dish of foment due to what is called “the power of the mob,” or “mob mentality”.
According to Rebecca Saxe, an associate professor of cognitive neuroscience at MIT and co-author of a paper on this phenemenon,
Although humans exhibit strong preferences for equity and moral prohibitions against harm in many contexts, people’s priorities change when there is an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ […]
A group of people will often engage in actions that are contrary to the private moral standards of each individual in that group, sweeping otherwise decent individuals into ‘mobs’ that commit looting, vandalism, even physical brutality.
In short, it’s easier to “divide and conquer” (not to mention break laws, inflict harm, and disrupt the social order) when in a mob and under the influence of its mentality.
And that is when the “common tragedies,” that is to say, flaws and temptations individual human beings are prone to such as lying, stealing, violence, and looting and which we are normally either bred by cultural influences to change, or forced by law and order to stop, are freed, so to speak, and magnified.
And soon, city streets are aflame and citizens are terrorized.
Particularly when for some peculiar reason (more likely political reason) legislators and enforcers stand down, or worse, support or submit to the mob.
Thus the commons as well as many commoners are ripe for, in this case, the tragedy of the revolution.
So such a mob is pretty powerful.
Especially when it works its evil with impunity.
I think this phenomenon, in part, explains why the mobs in the streets of America just now–even those who look like or might even be the normally well-behaved college student next door, or any number of white and blue collar professionals who work in the retail facilities, office suites, government and/or campus buildings they are now torching and looting–are doing so.
Which is why, common tragedies are of greater import, in my view.
Because that is where the destruction really begins…
On Common Tragedies
It all begins with one evil thought that prompts an idea that prompts an action which, if sufficient opportunity exists for it to catch on in classrooms, halls of power, and the media, festers. In the case of a thought infected with rebellion, lawlessness, and/or violence, destruction inevitably follows.
Once out on the streets, destructive organisms and/or organizations are often parsitic as well, attaching themselves to some legitimate cause they can use as a “host” in order to gain not only momentum but also followers who do not comprehend the differences.
I say “yet” because it could take some time to discern good from evil.
But the truth will always come out.
For what began in darkness, i.e., evil, always comes to (real) light.
I say “real light” because for a season, evil might fool many by masquerading as “an angel of light”.
But only for a season.
So, unfortunately, at first, in the real existential battles involving good versus evil, some amount of confusion and chaos may reign because here’s the other thing about evil: it respects no man, woman, child, preacher, teacher, leader, law enforcer or–and this is very important to remember—appeaser.
On appeasers, and there seem to be many today, as put by Sir Winston Churchill,
An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile—hoping it will eat him last. (Reader’s Digest, December 1954)
Although for many, especially the young idealists, the ill-informed, or those who for psychological reasons accept the guilt projected onto them by the perpetrators, the hope part often gets drowned out in the mounting screams to perform whatever the mob demands–or else–because where all else fails, terror and violence often succeed.
By whatever mechanism, however, the mob gets what it wants.
But stealing, killing, and destroying are just three on a list of what evil snakes into mankind’s heart and mind and not only on some common ground outside but also inside homes, places of work, halls of power and education, alone or with others.
Non-religious people or people who have yet to investigate faith, might prefer the psychological categories of behavioral disorders, but both lists include the same bad fruit.
Both spiritual and secular temptations can plague the individual and, like a cancer, if acted on, can metastasize in a mob and inflict multiple tragedies of mind, heart, home, and civilization.
Resistance is required–and keeps us strong.
Starting with where it all starts, i.e., in the mind and heart, aka, the spirit or soul, consider:
So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil [aka the author of evil], and he will flee from you. (James 4:7, NIV)
This then can build up resistance in the mind:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind [in God’s Word]. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
Note the qualifiers “good,” “pleasing,” and “perfect”.
And, ulimately, the spiritual immunity boosters above will also build up resistance to destructive actions, because even though it can be very hard to stand against lawlessness and brutality, which is often a lonely place, especially when pulled along by a mob,
…we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)**
And don’t forget this promise:
(With) God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26)
One more thing: never underestimate the power of even just one light to dispel darkness.
In whatever capacity is available to you.
That said, put your spiritual seat belt on.
The ride we’re on just now over the burned, looted, and trashed inner cities being exploited by interlopers in our land and culture intent on destruction and “transformation” might get a lot bumpier before things smooth out.
So stay safe in mind, heart, spirit, and body.
And stay away from the burning streets, if possible.
Bonus: A little refresher of the prophecies concerning the times we may well be in just now may also be of some encouragment.
*Consider the following bits of advice from two arguably major influencers of the modern socialist/communist revolution, aka, “fundamental transformation” of the United States:
There is only one way to shorten and ease the convulsions of the old society and the bloody birth pangs of the new–revolutionary terror.” (Karl Marx)
You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” (attributed to Joseph Stalin)
**It also helps to boost spiritual immunities by taking frequent doses of the reminders of God’s provisions as put in Psalm 91–the so-called “Psalm for hard times”. Here is a free devotional featuring each verse with several examples of their effectiveness.
Here are many other posts to encourage you in these very hard times, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and physically, featuring tools to help.
Image of clenched fist from Wikimedia Commons
Image of rioters from Wikipedia Commons
Image of praying hands from Wikimedia Commons