Marcos Perez explained the psychological mechanisms behind the revolutions we have been studying when he discussed why some people decide to participate in revolutions and other do not. Regardless of how passionate people are about a certain issue or movement, some desire to actually participate more than others due to differing perceptions of their place in the revolution. The opposing forces at work in the mind may be explained by two concepts Perez mentioned: the collective action dilemma and the principle of collective effervescence. Whether or not people experience one or the other of these may be a refection of the degrees of selfishness humans can experience.
The collective action dilemma is often the reason people choose not to participate in revolutions, or to fight for change in any capacity. This is comparable, for example, to the reason many people choose not to take action on behalf of the environment. Many people assume that because they are just one person among so many, if they decide to produce excessive waste or overuse resources, it does not cause significant damage and if they chose to change their ways it would not result in significant improvement. So, the incentive to improve conditions disappears because of the misconception that one person’s contribution will not help. In the case of revolutions, this is detrimental when it is, as it usually is, very widely held. This is also often a manifestation of human selfishness. The collective action dilemma happens because people realize that they may not see or reap the benefits of their actions on a movement, so they decide simply to not participate. The movement drastically suffers if too many people subscribe to the collective action dilemma.
On the other side of the spectrum is the principle of collective effervescence. This is the other end of the human psyche, the side that has driven humans to initiate change that has been the cause of much of the progress throughout history. Collective effervescence is the desire of an individual person to be part of something larger than themselves, so they participate in a movement to affect change that will impact lives beyond their own. This is a reflection of human selflessness, because even though individual participants may never benefit from the work they put into furthering a movement, they still participate for the betterment of something beyond themselves. This requires an insightful perspective that subscribers to the collective action dilemma lack, a perspective that provides the incentive to participate in a revolution and causes significant amounts of people to be so passionate about something they may never benefit from. The greatest revolutionaries throughout history most possessed this desire to be part of a larger change. For example, Martin Luther King, Jr. devoted his life to the fight for racial equality even though he was never alive to truly benefit from his work. However, millions of people would have suffered for much longer had King not revolted against a system he disagreed with.
The opposite results of following the collective action dilemma or the principle of collective effervescence teach a lesson about revolutions. One should never discount the value of their individual actions on a larger movement, because, like King’s, they have the potential to deeply reverberate through history.