Everyone Becomes Almost Equally Stupid, Part 1

 

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.

Published in General
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Join Ricochet for Free.

There are 53 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Rodin: 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.

    And don’t forget Animal Farm.

    Was Donald Trump’s ascendency a mere coincidental event?

    • #1
  2. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    To be accurate, Mattias coined the term Mass Formation Hypnosis, but when Dr. Robert Malone used it as Mass Formation Psychosis, Mattias wwas okay with that as well, since the hypnosis was advancing into psychosis.

    I’m glad to see you on this journey.

    • #2
  3. DonG (CAGW is a Scam) Coolidge
    DonG (CAGW is a Scam)
    @DonG

    Just as facts don’t care about feelings, feelings don’t care about facts.  I concluded years ago that 50% (perhaps up to 80%) of people want government to make decisions for them and protect them from the risks of life.  Freedom and risk give them anxiety and they just want to follow the herd and destroy those that don’t follow the herd.  That means a small group (20%?) care about liberty and meritocracy.  This minority is “dangerous” to the majority, because their ideas involve scary risks. 

    • #3
  4. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    DonG (CAGW is a Scam) (View Comment):

    Just as facts don’t care about feelings, feelings don’t care about facts. I concluded years ago that 50% (perhaps up to 80%) of people want government to make decisions for them and protect them from the risks of life. Freedom and risk give them anxiety and they just want to follow the herd and destroy those that don’t follow the herd. That means a small group (20%?) care about liberty and meritocracy. This minority is “dangerous” to the majority, because their ideas involve scary risks.

    This sounds as if an ultimate conflict, where that 20% seeks by any necessary means to live their lives, is inevitable. 

    • #4
  5. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Rodin:

    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:

     

    Are we Americans in a stage now where all or most of what we are experiencing and find objectionable is driven by the government bureaucratic technocracy?

    • #5
  6. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Rodin, thanks for bringing Desmet to my attention.  My initial impression is agreement with his observation of the problem and skepticism of his explanation, but I want to find out more before forming an opinion.

    I found a YouTube interview of Desmet on Zuby’s podcast, which I’ve started but haven’t finished yet.  For those interested, here it is.  It’s about 1 hour, 15 minutes long.

    • #6
  7. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Rodin, thanks for bringing Desmet to my attention. My initial impression is agreement with his observation of the problem and skepticism of his explanation, but I want to find out more before forming an opinion.

    I found a YouTube interview of Desmet on Zuby’s podcast, which I’ve started but haven’t finished yet. For those interested, here it is. It’s about 1 hour, 15 minutes long.

    Thanks for linking that. Dr Desmet first came to my attention through Tucker Carlson who recently interviewed him on his Tucker Carlson Today show streaming on Fox Nation. The full Tucker Carlson interview is behind a paywall (unless you are using the free introductory period to view it). So I was reluctant to link that.

    • #7
  8. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I agree that the phenomenon exists that Dr. Desmet describes in terms of the quoted passages, but I wonder if his point would get lost in his unusual usage of the word psychosis, which has a specific definition:

    a serious mental illness (such as schizophrenia) characterized by defective or lost contact with reality often with hallucinations or delusions

    I think the power of suggestion is closer to what Dr. Desmet is describing.

    . . .

    Okay. I just reread Mark Alexander’s comment, that Dr. Desmet did get it right initially in calling it “mass hypnosis.” Much better term. It was Dr. Malone who has stretched the meaning of the term psychosis this way.

    Dr. Malone should not use the term psychosis this way. I’d suggest mass delusion because delusion has a broader meaning and connotation.

    Psychosis is usually reserved for patients who are completely out of contact with reality.

    • #8
  9. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    I’ve been growing increasingly more frustrated by the observation that I no longer share a common foundation of thought from which to launch any argument with most people around me.

    They have never been deep thinkers, but there used to be more common foundation.

    In my most recent reading through the Bible, I’ve been drawing the conclusion that even before The Fall of mankind, God was laying the foundations from which we could recognize our salvation. The Jews were chosen to establish that cultural foundation. Without the build up over generations, Jesus’ sacrifice makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

    When I think of abortion as an abhorrent and evil act, it’s more than just killing an innocent person. It’s a mother killing her child. I am arguing from a premise where familial bonds are sacred, but the culture I live in doesn’t see a difference between the relationship between mother and child vs woman and someone else’s child. And if they do, they think homicide between the latter is more horrific than the former.

    Without common premises, I don’t know how to proceed. And the premises were forged in ancient times when survival was hard and resources scarce. As if there is a design in starting with nothing, forging these concepts and cultural foundations, and building what we have on top.

    Mass formation psychosis ripped out those foundations and I fear we can’t get them back without facing a devastating civilizational collapse. Which is inevitable, because no civilization has survived without certain premises we are destroying.

    • #9
  10. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Psychosis is usually reserved for patients who are completely out of contact with reality.

    You don’t think this statement applies our mass society right now? If not, we should do OK in the coming elections.

    • #10
  11. Victor Tango Kilo Member
    Victor Tango Kilo
    @VtheK

    DonG (CAGW is a Scam) (View Comment):
    I concluded years ago that 50% (perhaps up to 80%) of people want government to make decisions for them and protect them from the risks of life. 

    And that’s fine, as long as I can opt out of being a drone. 

    • #11
  12. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    The medical difference between hallucinations and delusions is important:

    (a) All patients who are experiencing hallucinations have delusions.

    (b) Not all patients who have delusions are experiencing hallucinations.

    Psychotic traditionally refers to the first group.

    The distinction is clear in the transgender psychology. For some reason that I cannot fathom, a person with transgender delusions says to the psychiatrist, “I know am a woman, but I feel like I’m a man.” A person who was psychotic would say, “I’m a man, not a woman.” In a psychiatrist’s office, there is a huge difference between these two thought processes.

    • #12
  13. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Victor Tango Kilo (View Comment):

    DonG (CAGW is a Scam) (View Comment):
    I concluded years ago that 50% (perhaps up to 80%) of people want government to make decisions for them and protect them from the risks of life.

    And that’s fine, as long as I can opt out of being a drone.

    That is usually not allowed and that is the basic problem. We’ll see.

    • #13
  14. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Psychosis is usually reserved for patients who are completely out of contact with reality.

    You don’t think this statement applies our mass society right now? If not, we should do OK in the coming elections.

    No. They go to work, they take care of themselves, . . .

    No. They are not psychotic.

    • #14
  15. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    MarciN (View Comment):

    The medical difference between hallucinations and delusions is important:

    (a) All patients who are experiencing hallucinations have delusions.

    (b) Not all patients who have delusions are experiencing hallucinations.

    Psychotic traditionally refers to the first group.

    The distinction is clear in the transgender psychology. For some reason that I cannot fathom, a person with transgender delusions says to the psychiatrist, “I know am a woman, but I feel like I’m a man.” A person who is psychotic says, “I’m a man, not a woman.” In a psychiatrist’s office, there a huge difference between these two thought processes.

    I see your point and I’ll defer to your knowledge. But I don’t think we have ever experienced anything approaching the mass delusion we see now. And the fact that those not participating in the delusion are subject to recriminations is not a satisfactory outcome.

    • #15
  16. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I wish Charles Krauthammer were still here. He could explain this better than I am. :-) 

    There are too many holes these days in our intellectual fabric. :-) 

    • #16
  17. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Psychosis is usually reserved for patients who are completely out of contact with reality.

    You don’t think this statement applies our mass society right now? If not, we should do OK in the coming elections.

    No. They go to work, they take care of themselves, . . .

    No. They are not psychotic.

    Your definition didn’t include functional. Today’s society is absolutely out of contact with reality. Up is down, down is up. They embrace things that just are not so.

    So what if they can function?

    • #17
  18. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Stina (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Psychosis is usually reserved for patients who are completely out of contact with reality.

    You don’t think this statement applies our mass society right now? If not, we should do OK in the coming elections.

    No. They go to work, they take care of themselves, . . .

    No. They are not psychotic.

    Your definition didn’t include functional. Today’s society is absolutely out of contact with reality. Up is down, down is up. They embrace things that just are not so.

    So what if they can function?

    Did you mean can function or cannot function?

    I used to think this was the primary purpose of the public school system. I think it actually was at the onset of the Industrial Age. Earning one’s way in the world is thought to be and economic function, requires some behavioral discipline and is sometimes aided by basic knowledge and financial skills. Most social interaction skills, when needed, were learned in the home, in religious settings, or in an actual social context.

    The faulty approach described in this post pushes everything eventually to a government context. Unacceptable.

    EDIT: OK, I get you mean functioning psychosis.

    • #18
  19. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

    The medical difference between hallucinations and delusions is important:

    (a) All patients who are experiencing hallucinations have delusions.

    (b) Not all patients who have delusions are experiencing hallucinations.

    Psychotic traditionally refers to the first group.

    The distinction is clear in the transgender psychology. For some reason that I cannot fathom, a person with transgender delusions says to the psychiatrist, “I know am a woman, but I feel like I’m a man.” A person who is psychotic says, “I’m a man, not a woman.” In a psychiatrist’s office, there a huge difference between these two thought processes.

    I see your point and I’ll defer to your knowledge. But I don’t think we have ever experienced anything approaching the mass delusion we see now. And the fact that those not participating in the delusion are subject to recriminations is not a satisfactory outcome.

    When I started reading Amity Shlaes’s book The Forgotten Man, I had to stop a third of the way through because I was so upset that people kept reelecting FDR despite the fact that things were getting worse every day for them. 

    There’s a school of thought that says people behave in response to pain and pleasure. My own guess is that they behave in response to hope and fear. 

    I have no answer. But I think it has been going on for a very long time.  

    • #19
  20. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Stina (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Psychosis is usually reserved for patients who are completely out of contact with reality.

    You don’t think this statement applies our mass society right now? If not, we should do OK in the coming elections.

    No. They go to work, they take care of themselves, . . .

    No. They are not psychotic.

    Your definition didn’t include functional. Today’s society is absolutely out of contact with reality. Up is down, down is up. They embrace things that just are not so.

    So what if they can function?

    I have seen the term functional psychotic, and I think that’s what you are referring to, but I believe it’s an oxymoron.

    Edited to add correction: I think the actual term is high-functioning psychotic, which I consider an oxymoron.

    • #20
  21. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    The scenario is usually mild delusions, extreme delusions and paranoia, extreme depression, then psychosis. 

     

    • #21
  22. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I don’t know if this helps or adds to the confusion– https://meetmonarch.com/faq/psychotic-disorders/what-is-the-difference-between-psychosis-and-psychotic

     

    Psychosis and psychotic represent two different things. Psychosis is a symptom caused by substance abuse, extreme stress, or mental and physical illness. In contrast, a psychotic disorder is defined as a mental illness. 

    Psychotic disorders are considered severe mental health conditions. Psychotic disorders are part of a group of neurological disorders that change the way a person thinks, feels, and acts. While psychosis is not considered a severe mental illness, this condition has a shared symptom with psychotic disorder, which includes hallucinations and delusions. 

    When taking a closer look at the difference between psychosis and psychotic disorders, it is worth noting that The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) recognizes psychotic disorders as diagnosable psychological conditions that can be debilitating.

    Individuals living with a psychotic disorder may have a range of symptoms, including paranoia and suicidal thoughts.

    On the other hand, psychosis is a symptom of several mental health disorders, which includes psychotic disorder. Ultimately, when a person is experiencing psychosis, they are essentially experiencing a break from reality. It’s important to note that psychosis can occur suddenly and in an isolated instance. But it generally arises due to a psychotic disorder and usually does not occur without warning.

    • #22
  23. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    MarciN (View Comment):

    The scenario is usually mild delusions, extreme delusions and paranoia, extreme depression, then psychosis.

    I think we have large numbers of individuals occupying all these roles today. So maybe the mass formation psychoses part only applies to one subgroup of individuals.

    Always remember we are referencing individuals.

    • #23
  24. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    I like the term Inversion Therapy. It sounds like something the Left hates, and it describes the process of teaching everyone that everything they believed was good is now bad. The New Good is presented as prima facie, without explanation, and you are expected to agree; if you demur or object, it’s because you hold to oldthink.  When everything is stated in the new terms, you go along because, well, it’s what all the voices in society are saying with the confidence of someone staying a long-held, generally-accepted truth. You question yourself because you don’t want to be wrong. The therapy is thus successful. 

    How many NPR listeners who grew up rejecting racial essentialism nodded their heads at this, and thought my, that is a problem?

    • #24
  25. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Stina (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Psychosis is usually reserved for patients who are completely out of contact with reality.

    You don’t think this statement applies our mass society right now? If not, we should do OK in the coming elections.

    No. They go to work, they take care of themselves, . . .

    No. They are not psychotic.

    Your definition didn’t include functional. Today’s society is absolutely out of contact with reality. Up is down, down is up. They embrace things that just are not so.

    So what if they can function?

    Let’s see if I get this.

    If someone is basically mentally sound but everything they believe is actually wrong because they have been subjected to inversion therapy then they are experiencing functional psychosis individually and referred to when addressing the larger population as mass formation psychosis?

    • #25
  26. Barfly Member
    Barfly
    @Barfly

    Mass Formation is the evolution of the study of Stupidity. I recommend that persons interested in the topic begin with Robert Musil’s 1937 lecture On Stupidity, although it’s difficult to find.  Read Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison, of course. I think Cipolla’s Basic Laws of Stupidity completes the classical foundations of Stupidity Studies.

    Let me cut to two solid results from these foundations, since most people are unlikely to do their own research on Stupidity:

    • Stupidity is behavior. It is not an inherent trait like eye color, muscular strength, or intelligence. Stupid behavior does not correlate to any inherent trait.
    • Stupidity does correlate strongly to everything unpleasant in human relations, especially unkindness.
    • It is not possible to correct a person’s tendency to stupidity by applying any intellectual argument. It is worse than futile to engage the stupid intellectually.

    Stupidity is the most pressing problem facing mankind. If knowledge of stupidity and techniques for dealing with it can be advanced by studying its group-level manifestations, then I support the study of Mass Formation. But the Mass emerges from the Individual. Until we are willing to say openly that individuals behave stupidly and address why so many of us are Stupid these days, studying it at the emergent group level is premature.

    • #26
  27. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Stina (View Comment):
    Mass formation psychosis ripped out those foundations and I fear we can’t get them back without facing a devastating civilizational collapse.

    An attempt to cast this concern in a sunnier light: I have been privileged and grateful to have witnessed a revolution in American thinking. Some may credit Reagan, and I don’t think any of what followed would have happened without him. But he did not change people’s thinking–he gave voice to what a lot of people already knew to be true.

    The way I experienced the last fifty years, the credit for changing a significant segment of the American mind goes to Rush Limbaugh. I think he was the most brilliant person of my lifetime.

    So don’t lose heart. As Rush always said, Don’t be afraid. We live in a free country, and out there somewhere, someone is solving this problem. Just gotta be patient and enjoy the show. (I’m wildly paraphrasing here. :-) )

    • #27
  28. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Barfly (View Comment):

    Until we are willing to say openly that individuals behave stupidly and address why so many of us are Stupid these days, studying it at the emergent group level is premature.

    This has got to be the key.

    • #28
  29. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Functional psychosis is another way of saying someone who is mentally sound is behaving stupidly.

    • #29
  30. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Barfly (View Comment):

    Until we are willing to say openly that individuals behave stupidly and address why so many of us are Stupid these days, studying it at the emergent group level is premature.

    This has got to be the key.

    And I think literally using that language is what is called for.  You can’t debate with psychosis.  Our response has to be “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.  Next?” 

    • #30
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.