THE NAKED CITY: A Rough Guide to Enochlophobia

THE NAKED CITY: A Rough Guide to Enochlophobia
Image: Source: WikiMedia Commons

If you were one of the tens of thousands of Sydneysiders who gathered around the harbour to witness the Vivid drone show a couple of weekends ago, you’ll realise the danger inherent in a very large crowd. In this case it was a much larger attendance than originally anticipated in a relatively confined space. Whilst there was some distress amongst sightseers, fearing a crush as they all dispersed, luckily nobody was injured although many were quite traumatised.

It wasn’t the first time large crowds in Sydney have threatened to get out of control despite the planning of police and event organizers. In recent years New Year’s Eve has often created similar situations and there are other significant events dating back many decades. Needless to say worldwide, history is littered with disasters in which crowds have panicked and stampeded. One of the worst occurred in 2015 when well over 2,000 Muslim pilgrims died and many were seriously injured during a crowd crush at the Hajj in Mecca.

Any large gathering of people presents potential problems, especially when the crowd takes on a life of its own. When well managed, such as a 100,000 people seated for an AFL match in Melbourne’s MCG, a venue well serviced by public transport, there is little risk. When the crowd is more free flowing and often confined to a restricted space, that’s when danger lurks. And that’s when embracing the fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult, known as ‘enochlophobia’ (closely related to both ‘agoraphobia’ and ‘ochlophobia’), is not such a bad thing.

Enochlophobes like agoraphobes often get a bad name, branded as anti-social and reluctant to leave the security of their home. But are they in fact the smartest people around when it comes to encountering any large crowd, be it a packed music or sporting area, political demonstration or drone show at Vivid? Rather than barge their way to the head of the seething mass, in order to grab the best position, they are content to hang back and strategically assess the situation.

An enochlophobe might not always have the best view but they are invariably closest to the relative exits with a firm escape plan in mind. They always remain removed from the shouting and screaming and the often booze and drug crazed hysteria of the majority. They may well have even versed themselves in so called ‘mob psychology’ and the writings of Gustave Le Bon or Sigmund Freud.

Whilst an individual alone might make rational and well judged decisions, once enveloped in the frenzy of the throng, they often just go with the flow. Throughout history there have been a number of episodes where passengers have rushed to one side of a ferry or large boat, causing the vessel to capsize. It’s basic physics, of which you think most people would be aware, but it’s happened time and time again.

Recovery of the Rodney following its capsizing. Source: WikiMedia Commons

In 1938 on Sydney Harbour, around 150 people had gathered on the double decker ferry the Rodney, to farewell the United States warship Louisville. When they suddenly rushed to one side, for a closer view of the visiting ship, the Rodney capsized throwing all aboard into the water. Despite the efforts of the police and the American sailors, 16 people died and another 64 were taken to hospital. Somewhat ironically the boat itself, which originally sank, was refloated, refitted and began a new life as the Regis.

If you had been an enochlophobe back then and not joined the rush to one side of the boat, your fate was unfortunately in the hands of the crowd. Then again, maybe you wouldn’t have boarded the ferry in the first place. Despite the lessons of history, the majority of people today continue to embrace the excitement of a crowd rather than treating it with suspicion and caution. If your friends label you as enochlophobic for hanging back from the ‘madding’ crowd, then wear that paranoia with pride. It sure beats asphyxiation or being trampled to death.

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