If curiosity got you past the headline, stick with me for a few more words for an idea that might help save general aviation. If you’ve attended EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, even for a day, most likely its passionate enthusiasm dispersed a year’s worth of bad vibes about aviation’s future possibilities.
AirVenture has been my annual aeronautical antidepressant for the past 35 years. Over that time I and many others have tried unsuccessfully to explain why. I’ve finally found the answer in a National Geographic story, Karma of the Crowd, about the world’s largest religious festival. For the millions who gather in India at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, psychologists attribute the mental boost the to “collective effervescence.”
Émile Durkheim, a French sociologist, coined the term in the 19th century, said National G. In the future, around the time of Star Wars, people might call it the Force. In the current epoch of technology, I’d call it crowd-sourced and shared behavioral synergy. Regardless the term, researchers studying its emotional and spiritual benefits say it is more effective and long lasting than prescription antidepressants. And the only source seems to be a crowd united for a common purpose.
For those who’ve attended AirVenture, the religious festival held at Kumbh Mela, India, should sound familiar. For eight weeks, pilgrims create an instant megacity. In 2013, said the author, Laura Spinney, an estimated 70 million pilgrims arrived over 56 days. Every day, 7 million lined up to bathe in the Ganges. There are no conflicts, no cutting in line. The author, Laura Spinney, quotes a policeman, who said, “Each one, on his own, wouldn’t be able to do it. They give each other strength.”
Most of the research on collective effervescence has focused on health (probably because those who bathe in the toxic Ganges water don’t get sick), but there are those studying its psychological aspects. The article introduced me to several of them. Stephen Reicher, at the University of St. Andrews, said… “crowds are critical to society. They help form our sense of who we are, they help form our relations to others, they even help determine our physical well-being.”
A colleague, psychologist Mark Levine at Exeter University, said, “Belonging to the crowd can change the way you see the world. it can alter your perception.” Yes, he was talking about research gathered at the religious gathering in India, but isn’t AirVenture—or your local fly-in or air show—a “religious” gathering for the aviation faithful? What better way to introduce a friend or acquaintance to the spirit of flight? (Hmm, seems to me I’ve heard that phrase before.)
Finally, it seems that the crowd-sourced synergy doesn’t need physical proximity to sustain it. Reicher said a shared identity (like that of EAA’s annual WomenVenture group photo above) is what differentiates a beneficially effervescent crowd from an everyday clutter of too many humans in one place. What matters most, it seems, is a metaphysical shift in pronouns, from “I” to “we.” And that’s just as true for the future of aviation as it is of almost every other aspect of our lives. –Scott Spangler, Editor