As someone who has always been afraid of crowds and seen plenty of them, I found this WSJ article with quotes from Elias Canetti's book Crowds and Power fascinating. The author Fouad Ajami sees to be suggesting that America is headed the way of Third World countries, when he says ;
Hitherto, crowds have not been a prominent feature of American politics. We associate them with the temper of Third World societies. We think of places like Argentina and Egypt and Iran, of multitudes brought together by their zeal for a Peron or a Nasser or a Khomeini. In these kinds of societies, the crowd comes forth to affirm its faith in a redeemer: a man who would set the world right.
The crowds I have seen in India have not always come together to "affirm its faith in a redeemer" though the sight of many thousand devotees milling around the sanctum sanctora of temples braving huge odds and many hardships to catch a glimpse of their deity is one I am familiar with. Political rallies on the other hand are largely manufactured crowds with poor people being bussed over to the rally grounds in lieu of food and or clothing - the purpose of these crowds is limited to creating an illusion that the leader addressing the multitudes is a highly popular one when such may not be the case. The energy levels of these crowds tend to be low and it is easy to tell even on television.
Then there are crowds that gather to protest something - they tend to be energetic and vociferous but their numbers are not that high. Finally, there is the crowd of the public places - the pervasive, always present throngs that are rushing to wherever you are, always a step ahead of you. You find them in train and bus stations, market places, sidewalks, parks - almost everywhere except in the confines of your home. You long to escape them to be alone for a bit.
No matter what the context around any of these large gatherings, crowds are anything but elagitarian or uplifting to those who are in it. If you are a woman you are afraid of being molested, if you are child you are terrified of being seperated from your parents. All you can think of is getting ahead and then getting out of it. I figure Elias Canetti must have had some other kind of crowd in ind than what I have seen and known when he says :
"The crowd is based on an illusion of equality: Its quest is for that moment when distinctions are thrown off and all become equal. It is for the sake of this blessed moment, when no one is greater or better than another, that people become a crowd."