Mass production and mass minds

Have we developed a mass-mind as a result of the development and extension of mass production? There certainly seems evidence to support the contention. Mass-production has not only affected the factory worker but also the office workers, who now normally specialize in one small part of the accounting system, as invoice typists, comptometer operators, filing clerks, etc. Again with the extension of the multiple shop and departmental store the assistants now spend their working lives handling a very limited range of commodities. This trend towards greater degrees of specialization is consistently the case throughout society and seems to keep in step with the development of mass production.

Fifty years ago, a man’s occupation could be fairly accurately guessed by a glance at his clothes. The navvy wearing corduroys and with his lunch wrapped up in a spotted red handkerchief, the workman with a choker round his neck, the farm labourer with his distinctive dress, the cab driver, etc. Their occupations could be easily seen. But with the development of mass-production it would seem as if our tastes are similarly affected. Choice of clothes, for instance, seems to have become standardised. The felt hat, collar and tie, are worn by men irrespective of whether they have a “white-collar job.” Even the differences of dress between national groups have largely been obliterated. When we are in the cinema we find difficulty in guessing the nationality of men and women we see’ in the new films by reference to the clothes they are wearing.

Millions choose the same leisure-time occupation of filling in football pool coupons. Holiday camps where many of the amusements remind one of a factory are becoming the thing for a growing number of people. The most widely read newspapers are those that could be criticized most. Book-printing has become a mass-production business turning out large numbers of escapist publications with a mushroom like existence. In this trade an author has a number of noms-de-plume. Under each one he writes a constant stream of books which are but variations of a single theme which his readers have come to expect

All of which seems to underline the charge that the last 50 years of technical development have succeeded in creating a population who think en masse. This is not merely a national phenomenon but applies to the whole world of capitalism. It would seem at first sight as if the group herd instinct of primitive man has developed into a world-wide herd instinct

But further examination of the subject may make us form a different diagnosis of this developing pattern of human behaviour.

There was a time when primitive man was unable to identify himself apart from the herd. Then there were taboos. Experience in the form of continual sickness or death of the members of a tribe living in a certain place might indicate that such an area was unhealthy and, without understanding the reasons for such calamities, the tribe would institute a taboo preventing their people from living in the area. The reason for this prohibition would in the passage of time be forgotten and the taboo would then assume a magical significance. By the method of trial and error taboos were enforced without the need for thought. But contrast this state of affairs with what goes on to-day. Ask any worker why he is interested in football pools and he will probably make a reasoned and logical statement to the effect that he could badly do with the prize money that is offered and that this is about the only chance he has of acquiring such wealth. Moreover interest in football results create a hobby for him, perhaps the only one he considers he can afford. It will also be apparent that an individual decision was made to “invest in” the pools in each case and that that decision was reached only after some thought. The mass-produced newspapers clinch the argument of the existence of the mass-mind as far as some are concerned but if the contents of the papers that were read 50 years ago were compared with those of today perhaps different conclusions would be reached. For instance, the argument used then to rally working-class support for war was crude and jingoistic. But now the workers are called upon to defend trade union rights and democracy against the dictators who are represented as enemies of the working-class. The ruling-class, in the arguments that they use now today in their newspapers, pay tribute to the advanced level of working class power of thought.

As regards the books that are read, while it is true that a vast quantity of escapist material is printed, it may come as a shock of surprise—and pleasure—to learn that the classics have a popularity nearly as great, as The Times of 28/11/52 points out. This trend has been stimulated by the reprints that mass production has turned out at low prices. There is in addition a great sale of scientific and instructional books of which many have been best sellers. Even popular magazines, which are so criticised by the pessimists, are found to contain instructional and scientific articles covering a wide range of subjects. Fifty years ago such articles would have appeared only in the technical journals of that particular field of science. These popular magazines, which look like proof of a mass-mind, are really evidence of spreading interest among the people.

If 100,000 people are ready to buy a book on the nature of the universe, there is a mass demand at the bookshops. This mass demand is not a proof of falling standards; it means that thousands are being educated, who, 50 years ago would have been left in the illiterate mass.

Minds are creative, mankind today thinks, and thoughts cannot permanently be suppressed by dictators, concentration camps or lying ruling-class propaganda. People are educated primarily to think for the purpose of making them more efficient wage-slaves but the process does not stop there.

Fifty years of technical development have surely had an effect on the mentality of man, but the change that is taking place may well encourage the efforts of the Socialist movement.


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