Arts The Contagion of Crowds
Philip Kennicott has a great essay meditating on the immigration marches and the psychology and pathology of crowds in today’s Washington Post. A piece of it:
Plenty of Americans throw themselves happily into crowds, into throngs of shoppers at Christmastime, into the subway at rush hour. We are not immune to crowd psychology. Even when utterly defended inside the metal carapace of our cars we obey the law of the pack: What else would you call those traffic jams caused by our morbid desire to see an accident up close? Even so, we don’t think of ourselves as a people that does crowds. On some primitive level, with the memory of Civil War prisons and the squalid world of New York tenements echoing inside us, the crowd makes us ask, impatiently, will we never be clean?
Very little has changed since Emma Lazarus wrote her poem, the one that welcomes immigrants to our shores even as it calls them “the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” An immigrant is still something to be cleaned and scrubbed and molded into an American. That the people who have gathered in the streets in the past weeks are often the same people who clean for us, who do the so-called “dirty jobs,” only reanimates the longstanding fear that someday this country will be full up, that we will have to rub up against each other in a way that sullies us. And so the pundits ask, again and again, the big question of the political season: Does the immigration issue really touch voters?