Societal expressions will remain extraordinary and extreme cyclically.
Abraham Lincoln was careful about what he wrote. But it was his duel of 1842 with James Shields that really brought that cautious change. Dueling was a normal practice to challenge and sort out differences. Lincoln apologized and managed to avoid a potential disaster. America could have lost its president to a duel.
There is always belief of opinion, a challenger, and a contest. This contest becomes delusional when it beats commonsense, is not normal, has extremity associated with it. This is why Charles Mackay details duels as one of the extraordinary delusions society suffered till 1790’s. Charles did not live long enough to see how the madness of crowds persisted long after his historical ‘Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds.’ Societal solutions or approach generally has extremity associated with it. It’s not just about wars, but panic, euphoria, consumption excesses, construction, capitalism or communism all have an extremity in nature.
Extreme behavior in society is linked to its need for excitement, its need to prove the strength and somewhere a lapse of values. The fastest way to prove strength is to sponsor an idea and generate support for it. This is what happens in markets. A large investor buys an asset hoping others will come to see the opportunity. He sometimes lobbies for that asset so it gets more interest. Politics is more used to lobbying circles. Whether it is power or money, the goal remains to gain, to win.
The majority of the times this shortsighted gain ignores common sense (value). This leads to herding and even a lack of a sense of ‘Time’. Society finds it hard to comprehend how to be a loser in the short term and winner in the long term. The delusions happen because of our inability to balance or accept losses with gains or match receivables with payables. We see these inabilities everywhere, especially in markets, when investors find it tough to pause. This is the reason society just like capitalism witnesses successive crisis. Of course, sometimes rare exceptions happen.
The believers or the influencers have historically tried to convince masses with their enthusiasm, eloquence and as Mackay says by using every art of flattery. Mackay chronological details crusade as a mass phenomenon. The sacrifices made to fight for the almighty. Masses were willing to let go of possessions and families for religious wars globally. The author refers to them as lost crusades. Witch mania gripped Europe during that time. Mackay quotes “The lying whimsies of a few sick children, encouraged by foolish parents and drawn out by superstitious neighbors were sufficient to set a country in flame.”
Pricking was common practice throughout Europe but was most prevalent in England and Scotland. Professional witch finders earned a good living from unmasking witches, traveling from town to town to perform their services. Dueling challenges were thrown at the most trivial absurd pretenses. There was no attempt to challenge the barbarous law. Mackay quotes “A coward has often fought, a coward has often conquered, but a coward never forgave”. “The dogs who tear each other for a bone”. Then there were delusions about haunted houses, slow Poisoners, and the celebrated thieves.
While Europe was going through dark ages, Arabian mathematics was flourishing between the 622 and 1600. It was also called as the Islamic golden age. Most scientists in this period were Muslims and wrote in Arabic. Leonardo Fibonacci is best known to the modern world for the spreading of the Hindu-Arabic numeral system in Europe, primarily through the publication in the early 13th century of his Book of Calculation,
Time’s changed and society banished a lot of the evil practices. The political office established clear rules against duels for office bearers, but a few extreme delusions still persist and some extremities took another form. In 2005, Gallup polls conducted in three countries (United States, Canada, and Great Britain) showed that more people believe in haunted houses than any of the other paranormal items tested, with 37% of Americans, 28% of Canadians, and 40% of Britons believing. Filmmakers continue to exploit the subject creating films on haunted houses. More than 50 films have been made since 1921. The Stanley Milgram experiment was a series of social psychology experiments conducted by Yale psychologist. Humans are obedient to authority and able to express extreme nature and violate deepest moral beliefs.
Thankfully delusions are never total. There is a section of the society which sticks to value and helps bring sanity back to the masses. And it’s better to have academic wars regarding market efficiency or global warming and scientific discoveries than to engage in delusional immoral practices. But unfortunately, that’s not how it works. The need to manipulate the masses and taking miscalculated chances will keep the extraordinary delusions a cyclical process, which may weaken and subdue for some time, but will emerge again with an extreme expression.