What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part.
- Hannah Arendt
Why is it that when you offer facts, even the most intelligent will look at you with a blank stare….
John Waters wrote a piece on Substack, Covid Totalitarianism: The Deification of Error. In it, he examines the work of Belgian psychologist Dr. Mattias Desmet, who, as he describes, “may be the most articulate voice on the most clear and present danger facing us: the mob-baiting now being pursued by formerly democratic governments.” Desmet is a professor of Clinical Psychology at Ghent University in Belgium. He holds both a master’s degree and PhD in clinical psychology, and a master’s degree in statistics.
Waters’ piece is very long…and worth reading in its entirety. He also includes three videos of Desmet, of which he finds the first most valuable (and the only one I watched; it is also worthwhile). I will try not to make this post equally as long, only touching on some key points…I hope. All references are from the essay; none directly from the video.
Desmet describes that the majority of the world’s population has fallen under a kind of a spell – not literally a spell, but what he calls a “mass formation,” a term first used by French philosopher Gustave Le Bon late in the nineteenth century in his book The Psychology of Crowds.
Individual personality disappears, replaced by group sentiment; brain activity is replaced by reflex. These changes may produce better or worse outcomes, but usually worse – such groups are “generally disposed to destruction.”
‘The ascendancy of crowds,’ wrote Le Bon, ‘indicates the death throes of a civilisation.’ The upward climb to civilisation is an intellectual process driven by individuals; the descent is a herd in stampede. ‘Crowds are only useful for destruction.’
It is this that we see today – throughout the West certainly – in size and scope never before seen in recorded history. What is interesting is that Le Bon describes, over 125 years ago, that which he saw occurring in his time and that which is overtly obvious today. The causes are twofold: destruction of common religious, political, and social beliefs, and the creation of entirely new forms of existence due to modern discoveries.
Enough of Le Bon. What of Desmet? He sees the strange situation – people indifferent to their own suffering, and certainly to the suffering of their fellow man (talk of increased suicides, drug and alcohol addition, etc., and get a blank stare). Loss of freedoms, loss of work, loss of human contact. Everything is closed out and sacrificed except that which has attracted the group’s single focus.
Being educated in statistics as well as psychology, Desmet early on understood that the numbers don’t add up. His training and study in psychology led him to conclude that the whole point was to drive the crowd toward this phenomenon of mass formation. His fear wasn’t the virus. It was the inevitable move toward totalitarianism.
Four conditions must be met to enable this mass formation: a large presence of socially isolated individuals – this described as the most important; second, a large number of people who lack sense-making in their lives; third, lots of free-floating anxiety – anxiety not connected to a mental representation; fourth, free-floating psychological discontent – anger and frustration aimed at…they don’t know what, exactly. And you need mass media. And, as Waters adds, the media must be corruptible.
These conditions were all in place prior to covid. All that was left was for these to be aimed at one specific event, one cause that would set the wheels in motion. As my own aside: the fear of terrorism was not personal enough; to make it more personal, we needed to be instilled with a fear of breathing.
Now mesmerized, the mass has meaning and purpose – that which they lacked is now offered to them. A new, bogus, solidarity is offered. It doesn’t matter the absurdity of the narrative: Desmet offers, “The more absurd a narrative is the better it functions as a ritual.”