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One of the recurring thoughts amongst the Ricochetti is how the world has turned upside down. Logic seems to be inverted and words that previously meant one thing now mean the opposite. We listen, our mouths agape as seemingly rational people spew absolute nonsense without a hint of embarrassment. Our mental moorings are loosened and we begin to question our own sanity.
Reading the postings here, it is clear that many see the world in generally the same way, but in a manner at odds with the broader culture — or at least to that version of the culture broadcast through official government sources and allied legacy media. Many of us read 1984 or Brave New World or Atlas Shrugged decades ago and assumed that the publication of these books had somehow vaccinated our society from the worlds they described. They did not, and here we are.
So how did we get here and what does that portend for our future? The answer lies in an impressive-sounding phrase: Mass Formation Psychosis. The term was coined by Dr. Mattias Desmet in 2017 as he was contemplating trends he saw going on about him in Europe:
I was gripped by the palpable and acute awareness of a new totalitarianism that had left its seed and made the fabric of society stiffen. Even by 2017, it could no longer be denied: The grip of governments on private life was growing tremendously fast. We were experiencing an erosion of the right to privacy (especially since 9/11), alternative voices were increasingly censored and suppressed (particularly in the context of the climate debate), the number of intrusive actions by security forces was rising dramatically, and more. It was not only governments behind these developments, however. The rapid emergence of “woke” culture and the growing climate movement was giving rise to the call for a new, hyper-strict government that emerged from within the population itself. Terrorists, climate changes, heterosexual men, and, later, viruses were considered too dangerous to be tackled with old-fashioned means. The technological “tracking and tracing” of populations became increasingly acceptable and was even deemed necessary.
The dystopian vision of the German-Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt loomed at society’s horizon: the emergence of a new totalitarianism, no longer led by flamboyant “mob leaders” such as Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler but by dull bureaucrats and technocrats.
He decided to make it a study that resulted in the book The Psychology of Totalitarianism. In contrast to James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds, Mass Formation is a phenomenon where everyone becomes equally stupid —
Mass formation is, in essence, a kind of group hypnosis that destroys individuals’ ethical self-awareness and robs them of their ability to think critically.
Unlike a market where a series of autonomous decisions make judgments and predictions with uncanny accuracy, mass formation coalesces thinking into a hive mind controlled by technocrats. But, as observed by Hannah Arendt, these technocrats, rather than bringing about the utopian society they imagined, bring their societies into surreality:
The undercurrent of totalitarianism consists of blind belief in a kind of statistical-numerical “scientific fiction” that shows “radical contempt for facts”: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction and the distinction between true and false no longer exist.”
How could this happen? The answer to that question was what Dr. Desmet sought to discover.
This post is the first in a series of posts as I read through The Psychology of Totalitarianism. I invite you to read along as well and add your observations to my summaries.
[Note: Dr. Desmet’s search pre-dated the Covid pandemic. And although “mass formation” has been recently popularized due to Dr. Robert Malone’s appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast discussing the pandemic and the government’s response, it will continue to be a phenomenon even as society shrugs off pandemic controls and government shifts its deprivation of liberty to other rationales.
Whenever a new object of fear arises in society, there is only one response and one defense in our current way of thinking: increased control. The fact that the human being can tolerate only a certain amount of control is completely overlooked. Coercive control leads to fear and fear leads to more coercive control. Just like that, society falls victim to a vicious circle that inevitably leads to totalitarianism, which means to extreme government control, eventually resulting in the radical destruction of both the psychological and physical integrity of human beings.
We have to consider the current fear and psychological discomfort to be a problem in itself, a problem that cannot be reduced to a virus or any other “object of threat.” Our fear originates on a completely different level—that of the failure of the Grand Narrative of our society. This is the narrative of mechanistic science, in which man is reduced to a biological organism. A narrative that ignores the psychological, symbolic, and ethical dimensions of human beings and thereby has a devastating effect at the level of human relationships. Something in this narrative causes man to become isolated from his fellow man, and from nature; something in it causes man to stop resonating with the world around him; something in it turns the human being into an atomized subject. It is precisely this atomized subject that, according to Arendt, is the elementary building block of the totalitarian state.
Desmet, Mattias. The Psychology of Totalitarianism (p. 15). Chelsea Green Publishing. Kindle Edition.