Individual and collective consciousness are often the subject—or backdrop—of science fiction stories. It’s difficult for me to contemplate a HIVE mentality without thinking about the BORG of Star Trek the Next Generation fame. When Captain Picard is absorbed into their collective it was the perfect example of a strong individual being consumed by a group.
Real life has another manifestation of the hive and it’s the mob mentality that enables—and encourages—people to do terrible things as part of a group, things that they would never consider doing on their own. Members of a mob riot, loot, lynch, trample over other people, cheer violence and lose themselves in the group. It’s creepy and it’s fascinating.
The mini version of this is simple peer pressure. We’ve all felt it and most of us have succumbed to its temptations in one way or another. I may have resisted certain specific pressures—I didn’t do cocaine as a teenager when it was offered—but I went along with plenty of other less-than-stellar plans. Both conforming and rebelling are part of growing up. It’s only when the group of teens indulges in mayhem that the rest of us take notice.
There are plenty of horrific true and fictional stories about gang rapes, group murders and other crimes perpetrated by young people ‘caught up’ in the hive mentality of group-driven violence.
Cults are another kind of hive. I’m old enough to remember the news reports from Jonestown. The mass suicide created the phrase ‘drink the koolaid’ as a synonym for adhering to the group-think of cults, sub-cultures and corporations. Of course many of the deaths at Jonestown weren’t self-inflicted. The children, the elderly and the rebellious were murdered. A few people escaped and a few more happened to be off-site at the time and survived to mourn their friends and family.
A while back (more than 10 years ago) I did some research on Jonestown, reading memoirs and some critical analysis of the religious organization that began as a benign community group with sincere efforts to help the poor. It morphed into a cult and relocated to Guyana where it unraveled under the direction of a single, megalomaniac leader—Jim Jones. In a hive, he’d be the supreme queen bee, the individual mind at the helm of a devoted hive.
As a natural skeptic, I’m flummoxed by the allure of the hive/cult/group consciousness. Still, the story potential is almost irresistible. The internal tug of war between the individual and belonging to the hive, the mystifying rise of the leader…. Maybe I should figure out where I put those books on Jonestown?