Compliments of Leandro H. Fernández via Flickr

A terrorized, outnumbered, immobilized target. Spectators in large crowds encouraging instigators with a singular desire to destroy. A planned coup in which those with power wish to cement their presumed status.

The legacy of physical lynchings lie in mob dismemberment of outgroup members – those whom Rosabeth Moss Kanter refers to as “Os” or outsiders. The “O” designation may proceed from race, gender, national origin, age, or any host of myriad traits the dominant group deems suspect.

Mobbed targets (at work) may revert to the same incapacitated mode as their physical counterparts: “. . . the victim’s brain, paralysed by fear, inhibits all movements and prevents them from running away from the attack.” Mobbing targets may be so stunned, surprised, and so shell shocked that they are unable to speak. And because they remain silent, onlookers and attackers affirm their moral license – because surely someone falsely accused would step up to self-defend. Group gatherings at work (in which the lead mobber, minions, and the target du jour have gathered) provide a fertile ground for a public skewer.

Tight-lipped bosses (and silent managers in charge of meetings) send a tacit message to gang bullies: “I am with you.” Public humiliation is tantamount to telling someone to slink into a corner and die. Alone. Whereas physical lynching desecrates the body, psychological lynching dismembers our very sanity – with PTSD flashbacks and futuristic, far-fetched doomsday scenarios triggered by events that even remotely resemble the original attack. A hypervigilant police force that does a meticulous round the clock search for potentially subversive elements.

As “civilized people” we must ask ourselves why peers are placed in this predicament in the first place; why grown folk who clearly have the ability to speak sit idly and watch the show – with imaginary popcorn in hand. What is their payout? For bully minions, it is the sense of empowerment at another’s expense, while simultaneously enhancing their position. For the remainder (of seemingly mute) perhaps it is the vicarious pleasure at seeing someone else receive the brunt end of a brute force attack. From all appearances, the target in question must have done something profoundly incorrect to provoke such an onslaught – why else would a seemingly rational person turn savage?

Gang humiliation is a byproduct of “blame the victim” mentality – in which we simply don’t want to believe that a pillar of the community/department/company would arbitrarily tear someone apart: “And after the attack, the validation of the act through a sense of righteousness gives the perpetrators pride and absolves the post-kill guilt.” Modern day “lynchings” will continue until we decide that what is morally correct trumps what is politically convenient. Until we refuse to surrender to mob mentality, and the seeming “benefits” from seeing someone else sacrificed to put “Others” in their respective place. Until we decide to rise above our reptilian instinct to embrace those who are in fact us.


Shaikh, S. (2017). The cognitive neuroscience of a lynching. Retrieved from

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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