HIVE MIND: A Time to Dance

Aug. 1, 2008 — In July of 1518, a woman referred to as Frau Troffea stepped into a narrow street in Strasbourg, France and began a fervent dancing vigil that lasted between four and six days. By the end of the week, 34 others had joined her and, within a month, the crowd of dancing, hopping and leaping individuals had swelled to 400.

Authorities prescribed “more dancing” to cure the tormented movers but, by summer’s end, dozens in the Alsatian city had died of heart attacks, strokes and sheer exhaustion due to nonstop dancing.

For centuries this bizarre event, known variously as the dancing plague or epidemic of 1518, has stumped scientists attempting to find a cause for the mindless, intense and ultimately deadly dance.

time_to_dance.jpgBecause I’m not going to have time to finesse this topic, let me go ham-fisted to the bottom line: I found this clipping above in my To-Blog archive from a week or so back–a story about the ability of the human swarm to share a common delusion, inspiration or fear. In this case, that sharing is manifested by bizarre behavior that “spreads” from the few to the many.

Having just watched the Olympic opening ceremony on the NBC web site, the moment those thousand young men sprang out of the boxes they had so precisely lifted and lowered individually to collectively create a choreographed work of art, I remembered the story of the “dancing plague”. The two are instances of group performance are quite different, but it made me think.

There are cultures that share a common expectation and hope, dream the same dreams, and can do incredible things together that they can not do alone. America used to be such a place. Now, individually, we dream our own private dreams, and they may have little to do with community, nation, or planet. What an incredible power, lost.

Somewhere is a balance between the power of the hive mind and the power of individual ingenuity and ambition. Will China find that balance? Will America regain it?

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I think the takeover of the Hive Mind has been vastly accelerated by the increase in the continual mindless “communication” afforded by cell phones, text messaging and the internet. The need to be “wired in” has increased astronomically, while the needs to actually exchange ideas, information and to connect on a personal level have all but died.

    The deterioration in the human ability for individual ingenuity and thought is perfectly reflected in the degradation of the English language, as ” our words are the limits of our world” ( Wittgenstein). To me, the proliferation of crude, imprecise forms of language reveals the infestation of the primitive hive mind and the loss of the ability for original cognition.

    For example, note the increasing ascendancy of the word “Myself” as the only personal pronoun, as in ” Joe and myself are going to the store.” ( I guess “I” and “Me” just aren’t big enough w0rds to describe the wonders of “Myself” anymore !)

    There are no more “effects”, or “affects”, just ” impacts”. I actually heard Brian Williams, on the National News, use the particularly gross devolution of this word in an excruciating sentence to the effect that… ” Does it seem to have been “more impactful” as a result of …………?” Such usage has become common.

    Perhaps more subtle, but somehow most grotesque of all to me, is the viral proliferation of the phrase ” as well”, which news and weather people, commentators and people on the street are jamming into sentences all willy nilly without consideration for meaning or reason. No one seems to use the simpler “too” or “also” any more , apparently thinking “as well” sounds classier and implies great intellect, despite it’s frequent redundancy and use in cases where nothing is truly “well” .

    Finally, no examination of the deterioration of the human intellect , as reflected in the language, would be complete without mention of the monomaniacal reliance on the alleged word “Awesome” as the only superlative, to describe everything from a free coffee coupon, to a stirring piece of music.

    The Hive Mind is evidenced not only in the low level of intellect the language now reflects, but in the rapidity and totality with which these verbal atrocities seem to infect communication.

    Thanks for the rant. I feel better now…………