The Anthropomorphization of Abstract Nouns: How Language Deceives All of Us

Abstract nouns are used in English all the time. One can read a headline today that reads something along the lines of: “The Crowd Is Supportive of President X.” In this headline, the noun “crowd” is being anthropomorphized. Once philosophically examined, one realizes that “the crowd” cannot do anything—it cannot “support” a presidential candidate. In fact, as Kierkegaard and Nietzsche so long ago have reminded us: the crowd does not exist. The crowd is merely an abstract noun—it means nothing. It exists somewhere “out there.” The people in the crowd—yes, they have a will, they can support or disapprove of a presidential candidate. On the other hand, “the crowd,” by definition, cannot will or do anything. One may object and say that the crowd is made up of individuals and, taken as a collective whole, where the majority rules, one can argue that “the crowd” is a valid way of speaking of a very real phenomenon that actually can have a “will,” a “desire,” a “need,” and all kinds of other anthropomorphic nouns and adjectives. One may maintain that, if a majority of the people clearly support President X, surely one is justified in using anthropomorphic language about this “collective entity” which we call “the crowd.” I do not think that such is the case, however. The crowd, by definition, is a collective whole made up of individuals. The individuals in a particular crowd may have wills, desires, and needs; however, the crowd, apart from the individual, does not exist. The moment the individuals which make up the crowd lose their individuality—the “thing” which makes them them—the crowd ceases to exist; for where individuals are annihilated, so is the crowd.

But how does one draw a line between the individual and the crowd? If a crowd of individuals is full of people who think alike, where no such “individualism” is found, what does one make of this notion of “the crowd”? I believe I can respond shortly: no such crowd exists where human individualities are thoroughly meshed into a single entity. Crowds are always made up of individuals. This must be remembered.

Language has a way of fooling people. (At this point one thinks of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s “language-games”.) We are so used to speaking of “Americans” who invaded Iraq or “Russians” who invaded Georgia. But do such entities even exist? Obviously not every single American wanted to invade Iraq. (In fact, a good portion of the population probably had no idea as to what “America” was doing!) Point I am making: individuals, coming from the country of America, invaded Iraq—not “America.” Kierkegaard and Nietzsche both recognized just how dangerous the idea of “mob mentality” and “crowd mentality” was. Nietzsche wrote: “In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” Likewise Kierkegaard maintained that “the crowd is untruth.” He argued that, during any form of great evil, it is not an individual who will commit the aforementioned evil; oh no, it will never be the individual—but he will gladly join the crowd. Only then can one say, “It wasn’t me—it was the crowd.” (What he really means is: “All you stupid morons who still believe conveniently that ‘the crowd’ exists should know by now that it never existed and never will—I only joined ‘the crowd’ so that I could lose my individuality and, hence, my individual responsibility. Hell, the only thing I wanted to do, really, is blame it all upon ‘the crowd’ [one could have called ‘the crowd’ Mr. Santa Claus, a green leprechaun or Snow White—none of which exist in reality].)

Our language has duped us all. The crowd does not exist. It never has existed and it never will. Let us no longer speak of an entity which has served its defunct purpose (a purpose of enslaving humankind to pseudo-democracy, totalitarianism, corporate despotism, World Wars, Crusades, social Darwinism, etc., etc.). The crowd has done its job—and, yes, it works. But we no longer need it to blame. We need to let the whole world know what we really want: we want to crucify the crowd.

Long live the individual!

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

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