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People turn from evidence not to their taste…

In 1885, a French psychologist, Gustave le Bon, wrote a book entitled The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. The book is known for this disturbing quote:

“The masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduce them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.”

Remember two things, le Bon was describing the crowd, not some special caste, or some isolated stupidity or evil. At some point, on any given day, any person can be aptly described by this quote, and, when you see “crowd” or “people” mentioned from here on in, just splice in tribe, and you will get my point better.

Even though none of us are entirely above the quote, only a small number of us realize the disturbing depth of the quote. Let’s look at each line of the quote: “The masses have never thirsted for truth.”

Eventually a group conversation will take a turn toward deeper, more meaningful perspective, when that happens, rest assured, one or more of the people involved in the group conversation will interrupt, supplying some inane, enthusiastically delivered observation in lieu of respectfully listening to the person who has just respectfully listened to their last dozen inane comments: “Oh! Did you see Jane’s new car. It’s beautiful!” “The message is clear—we don’t talk about anything except people and events, get out of here with your ideas!

This brings us to the next line: “They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste.” We have all encountered a person who believes something patently untrue. In this case, Bob states, matter-of-factly: “Buddy Holly was born in Clear Lake, Iowa.” “You respond with, “No, that’s where he died in a plane crash. He was born in Lubbock, Texas.” You show him the cell phone screen. “Well,” Bob says, “all I know is my brother Steve knows more about Buddy Holly than you ever will, you should have this conversation with him.” People don’t like being wrong, they don’t like evidence not to their taste, which is them being wrong.

The next line: “…preferring to deify error, if error seduce them.” Le Bon has touched the rawest of nerves with this observation. Because it explains how intelligent people with conflicting belief systems can process that conflict positively, when shown time and again, they are in error, if their allegiance to that error is a product of how the error has seduced them.

Bob says, “The Bible says an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth—and that’s what I practice as a Christian!” You show him a passage from the Bible: “Matthew 5: 38 You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth,’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person, if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Bob is wrong, but he has deified the error that has seduced him. Bob wants to get after people, and he wants to do it and still be a Christian, even though Christ expressly directed him not to.

 “Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master;” concludes the le Bon quote, “whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.”

Political parties figured out long ago they can control people by supplying them with compelling illusions. And they can point fingers at the people they say are trying to destroy those illusions, (actually honest-hearted people who are trying to tell them the real skinny), and the crowd will attack those people.

Attempting a discussion on the topic of this column will generally go nowhere. Once people get locked into their illusions, reason and logic are just two more threats they are forced to attack.

(Contact James Giago Davies at

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