those furry little fellas

As we conclude 2011, the story of the lemmings can serve as a cautionary tale…

Fit for a cliff. Are you a lemming? Blindly, intoxicated with the herd mentality of following the lead of the crowd over the cliff. An uneasy comfort in the safety of the crowd, the mass, of the other lemmings. Excited by the potential march toward destruction in the crowd, the urban construction evoking desolation and death. Poe and Baudelaire explored this phenomenon of the flaneur or stroller in the crowd, a kind of black sheep of American individualism. The crowd as fascinating, as frolicsome even. A kind of carnival that remains inhuman, unmoving, and ultimately a source of disappointment for Baudelaire in his paradox of pleasure and grief. To Poe, the flaneur was someone who could not find comfort in his own company. There is a seduction to being a lemming in the crowd, as a sort of belonging an identity….

Frith. The Railway Station. 1862. ---Benjamin: Te people in Poe's story story behave as if they could no longer express themselves through anything but a reflex action. These goings-on seem even more dehumanized because Poe talks only about people. If the crowd is jammed up, it is not because it is being impeded by vehicular traffic - there is no mention of it anywhere - but because it is being blocked by other crowds. In a mass of this nature the art of strolling could not flourish.Read More: image:

Lemmus Trimucronatus. Better known as the North American lemming, immortalized  in a Disney film for leaping then plunging to their deaths in large numbers ostensibly to keep the species population and food  in equilibrium. While the Disney filmmakers  were discovered to have taken artistic liscence  by induced the lemming to fly off a cliff, the  lemmings do serve as an appropriate metaphor for people who go along unquestioningly with mass opinion, complicit in the populist jargon or the common consensus with, as history has shown, potentially harmful or fatal consequences. We can respond that the famous Disney film was staged, a fraudulent artifice. The lemmings in the documentary were  mechanically hurled over the cliff with a turntable-like device. However, for the lemmings, it made little difference chucked or not: they still fell into the abyss.

---But when it comes to the narrator of “The Man of the Crowd”, the Baudelairian stroller is replaced by an agitated walker whose restlessness (or madness) seems constantly spurred on by the unfriendly urban maze he is trapped in.--- Read More:

Now, you may not know that the famous Disney film was actually a set-up, a fake. The lemmings in the film were actually mechanically hurled over the cliff via a turntable-like device. For the animals, though, it made nary a difference. They still went – over.


“Multitude, solitude: two equal and interchangeable terms for the active and prolific poet.” (“Crowds”)6. As he is engulfed in the flow of the masses, the stroller then knows how to stand aloof and enjoy this oxymoronic pairing of congregation and isolation. He is therefore prone to experience the euphoria (“ivresse”) resulting from the feeling of universal communion. But his “ex-stasy” is also tinged with a pang of anxiety as he realises that this extraction out of his Self may be a means of eluding the stasis linked to his unbearable uniqueness – “(…) all of those who run off to lose themselves in the crowd, fearful, undoubtedly, of not being able to tolerate themselves.” (“Solitude”)….

John Sloan.---What the thinker says about London’s crowded streets echoes the reader’s feeling as he reads Poe’s dysphoric short story. There, it seems that humanity has been given up and that the only thing which prevents people from murdering each other is the minimal convention consisting in letting the impersonal flux of city dwellers flow into the streets (“But as darkness came on, the throng momently increased; (…) two dense continuous tides of population were rushing past the door. (…) the tumultuous sea of human heads filled me (…) with a delicious novelty of emotion” . The streets are therefore teeming with people, but this agitation, punctuated by jostles and shocks, seems to be performed perfunctorily, without any real purpose but for motion itself. As Felix Martin Guttierez observes, “The Man of the Crowd” is “an emblem of pure motion ‘without apparent object’” . This utter lack of motivation coupled with the physicality of the jostling crowd enable Engels to use a scientific image in which the urban throng is reduced to a heap of mutually repelling atoms, the philosopher lamenting over the disappearance of any humane behaviour . --- Read More: image:

…The poet is painfully conscious that, by joining the flux of the throng, Man mainly hopes to find some comfort as he forgets his mortal lot thanks to the mob’s hustle-bustle : “‘Almost all of our misfortunes come to us from not having been able to stay in our room,’ says Pascal (…), thereby recalling to their meditation chambers, I believe, all of those madmen who seek happiness in movement (…).” (“Solitude”). The Baudelairian stroller is therefore tempted to obliterate his dreadful thoughts on the Present (or what Clément Rosset calls the “Real”) and long for something else “any where out of the world” (Le spleen de Paris 178). This romantic bias could lead to a rejection of immediacy so as to favour Man’s bemoaning the loss of his past or the inaccessibility of a bright future. Read More:
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Lemmings …Lemmings don’t ignore potential danger, they are simply not stopped by it. Human beings often behave in exactly the same way. But unlike lemmings, human beings have the capacity to pretend to themselves that the danger they see right in front of them is not really there at all. They are potentially prey to what has been called “extraordinary popular delusions”. There is no delusion more popular or extraordinary today than the one that is governing financial markets and economies. This is the delusion that a terminally indebted financial entity can be rescued and preserved by increasing the debt it is carrying.

Most people stop before going over the edge where the value of their assets (paper or real) is insufficient to service or repay the debts they have contracted. These people stop borrowing, reduce their spending and begin to pay down their existing debts. They sell what can be easily sold to gain what is needed to meet obligations they cannot avoid. They cannot “recapitalise” because they cannot create any type of capital – real or money-based – out of thin air. If their best efforts are not enough, they have no choice but to renege on what is left owing and to take their lumps. They do not go over the precipice willingly. These are the people who must produce before they can consume.

Then there is another type of person. These people run legislatures, bureaucracies, central and commercial banks and large financial entities deemed “too big to fail”. They do not create wealth, they (literally) create claims to wealth which cannot be refused by those they govern. And of course, as those who create it, they have first use of it. Behind them are legions of acolytes in the media, in the halls of higher “education” and in the offices of lending agencies of all sizes and descriptions.Read More:

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