It is in the very nature of the crowd to be unreliable. For instance, the same crowd that welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem with shouts of Hosanna was the very same crowd that led that same Jesus to the cross with chants of Crucify Him. Again, the same crowd that hailed Caesar for leading Rome to many military conquests was the same crowd that honoured Brutus, Cassius, and the rest of the conspirators for slaying that same Caesar on the Ides of March until Mark Antony roused them to mutiny. Yet again, the same Nigerian crowd that clamoured for change and expressed it eloquently at the polls in their choice of the Buhari-led administration is the same crowd that is “destructively criticizing” the very same change it clamoured and voted for.
The crowd also has the notorious reputation of being a force to reckon with. In this regard, majority, they say, carries the vote. And we see this play out in all settings where voting is called for – especially at the polls and houses of legislation. In this light, too, the crowd may constitute a frustrating force; tyranny of the majority it is called. Remember the case of blind Bartimaeus, whose repeated attempts to reach Jesus was repeatedly frustrated by the crowd that journeyed with Jesus from Jerusalem to Jericho. Thank God Bartimaeus knew better than they and had the day by his breathtaking persistence.
On the moral front, the crowd has a way of deciding what is moral and immoral, and she does this by casting the popularity vote. The definition of indecent dressing, for instance, has evolved over time in response to fads and fashion. Here, the popular gradually becomes the acceptable, hence the normal. And what follows is that those who insist on the old order are branded nonconformists, anti-communal, non-cooperative, etc. And the crowd can go the extra mile of seeing to it that the one who swims against the current or opposes the new order is bought over – if buyable, frustrated – if persistent, or eliminated – if insistent. The Jesus-Caesar examples always stand out. And this is the backdrop against which this age-old saying leans: If you can’t beat them, join them. Simply explained, this saying advises that we throw in the towel whenever the crowd proves to be insurmountable on a particular issue; join them.
Come to think of it, who are they? Have you ever dared to inquire into the composition of a typical crowd? What, for instance, was the composition of the crowd that opposed Bartimaeus? Aside being loud-mouthed, arising from its being a commonwealth of many mouths, what credential did they posses that qualified them to shut him up? In my candid estimation, they weren’t qualified one bit to shut him up, given that they didn’t even know Jesus enough; the same crowd that would desert him when he later gave an unpopular teaching – that his flesh is real food and his blood real drink. Imagine the sort of crowd composed of fanatics, zealots, illiterates, celebrity-worshippers, spies, etc. It is safe to say that there was no time when that crowd was qualified – individually and collectively – to shut Bartimaeus up.
And so, why join them if you can’t beat them? Who even told you that they are unbeatable? Who are they, even? We can already learn from the story of Bartimaeus that as simple as persisting long enough can see one through to not just beating the crowd pants down but also winning them over to one’s side.
Finally, Henry David Thoreau gives us a formidable way forward with the crowd. For him, and for me, and possibly for you, “Anyone who is more right than his/her neighbour constitutes a majority of one.” Yes, the crowd is definitely a “quantitative majority,” but you surely can beat them pants down by being a “qualitative majority” – a majority of one.
Be so good at what you do, be so convinced about your opinions, so much that you move the crowd. You may just not even need to beat them; move them!