In this episode of Front Row, musician Pete Townshend is in conversation with John Wilson. Towards the end of the interview, Townshend talks about performing at the closing ceremony of London 2012: “What was going on in the stadium was what I’ve always believed, the great moment in rock when we gather in large numbers and we lose ourselves in the crowd — we’re going on to a higher plane. It’s brief… but if you get that for a moment, it’s a fabulous feeling.”
This is a perfect illustration of Jonathan Haidt’s concept of groupishness, which is inone sense the opposite of selfishness, and which can be manifested in all sorts of ways (see, for example, the William McNeill quote under this entry in the glossary). Historically, groupish activities have probably mainly been religious or militaristic in character, or some toxic mixture of the two. Today, thank goodness, there are more secular and more peaceful ways in which we can experience transcendence and lift ourselves on to that “higher plane” (imagine what it must have been like to have been in that crowd in Chicago on that November night in 2008).
The trouble with a phrase like “higher plane” is its metaphysical implication, which lures the unwary into all sorts of unwarranted and unwise beliefs about how the world is (see, for example, Serena Roney-Dougal’s use of the phrase “level of being” in her contribution to Healing Powers of the Mind?).