Peer Pressure

Group dynamics are both enjoyable and troubling to observe. It is interesting to see some groups where each person ends up doing things that they would never do and being a sort of person that they would never be if left to their own devices. On occasions the group can exert a power that is almost entirely autonomous from its particular members. No one is really leading other people to perform particular actions and, left to themselves, none of the group members would perform them. However, in the group these actions happen quite spontaneously. All the members end up submitting to the power of the group, but no person really creates it. Peer pressure is a power that can exist independent of particular individuals, but particular individuals increase its power by failing to resist it. Often the people who most powerful channel peer pressure are those who are most subject to it themselves.

There is no single person who serves as a mimetic model for everyone else. Rather, the mimetic model is some ideal that is in fact quite different and distinct from any of the particular members of the group. Some people are more resistant to the mimetic pull of this model, but once one or two have capitulated to the model, they increase the power of the snowballing mimetic spiral. Take the individuals out of the group and they become quite different people. This is one reason why groups of people are capable of performing the most abominable acts that every person in the group would be utterly repulsed by and incapable of performing as an individual. Group dynamics can lead to forms of expression of our depravity that far exceed the crimes of individuals. The source of the wickedness is also too complicated to be reduced to the hearts of particular individuals.

Anyway, all of this is just a long way of getting around to saying that, for some strange reason, I allowed myself to be talked into running into and immersing myself in the North Sea by the light of the stars a couple of hours ago.

West Sands, St. Andrews

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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5 Responses to Peer Pressure

  1. Ruben says:

    Mark Twain said as much in one of his short stories.

  2. Byron says:

    Nice pic – is that tide really low? I was at St Andrews a few months ago and there didn’t seem to be that much sand…

  3. Al says:

    The tide may have been even lower when we went in. It was quite a run to get into the water.

    BTW, some of you might recognize the beach as the one featured at the start of the film Chariots of Fire.

  4. John H says:

    Is that St Andrews? Years since I last went there – my sister was at the university in the mid-90s. Happy memories of a group of us (there’s that dynamic again!) having a barbecue on the beach with a disposable barbecue, no rolls or salad, and sand crunching between our teeth with every bite…

  5. Al says:


    Yes, it is the West Sands in St. Andrews. It is a wonderful beach and I have spent a number of happy occasions there.

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