There are so many examples of this type of thing happening throughout the years. The Salem witch trials. The people who followed Hitler during the war. The persecution of Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The rush to judgment of Muslims after 9/11. Some follow blindly; some follow out of fear for repercussions.
From the angle of blindly participating in traditional practices, there are many cultures around the world that have practices which members of these cultures have begun to question. For example, several cultures for generations have practiced methods of female circumcision and now members of these cultures question this traditional practice because there are often great health and safety risks. However, these critics are deemed outsiders by members of their communities, and many still practice this long-held tradition because they feel that it is a natural part of the cultural community.
In the story, all the people in the village take part in a formal lottery and kill the one unlucky person who is singled out through the drawing. This is an exaggerated and dramatic horror story, but at the heart of it lies the idea that everyone in the community singles out and then turns against one person. This "pack mentality" can be seen in society, as well, whenever a group of people single out someone for attack or punishment. For instance, a group of "friends" might suddenly gang up on someone in their group and treat that one person cruelly, excluding them.
Tragically and shamefully, in American history there were instances when groups of white men singled out African Americans in their community and lynched them. Anytime a group turns on a single individual and uses its power to hurt or destroy, the very disturbing, terrible idea behind "The Lottery" is still alive.
The Salem Witchcraft Trials held between February 1692 and May 1693 are characteristic of the unthinking and ritualistic conditioning of people in real life.
Twenty-nine people were accused of witchcraft by the Puritan leaders from a religious sect that had fled persecution by coming to America. Yet, no one saw the hypocrisy in the acts of condemnation. Hangings were carried out upon nineteen of these people while others in the community accepted the judgments made by the officials of the Puritan community. In fact, one man, Giles Corey, who refused to plead guilty was crushed under heavy stones in an attempt to force him to do so.
Of course, the notorious Spanish Inquisition started in 1478 to combat heresy also comes to mind as hundreds of people were tortured on "the rack" or other hideous devices so that they would confess their sins. This inquisition was conducted by the Roman Catholics in Spain and people in their unthinking conditioning accepted the actions of Church officials since they were ordained "men of God."
This story has continually been brought to my attention since my early grade school days. In an even broader scense, it calls into question ones moral identity, (inferenced) religious identity, and the humanitarian balance (reader's view point)between.
The story takes place in a farming community. The most ancient form of religion dealt with a sacrifice to insure prosperity for the comming year. Perhaps this basic meaning to the lottery was lost over time. Tragically, the towns ritualistic conviction fuels the 'Pack Mentality' and overrrides their humanity.