“The masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduce them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.”— Gustav Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind
“It is not for nothing that our age cries out for the redeemer personality, for the one who can emancipate himself from the grip of the collective [psychosis] and save at least his own soul, who lights a beacon of hope for others, proclaiming that here is at least one man who has succeeded in extricating himself from the fatal identity with the group psyche.”— Carl Jung, Civilization in Transition
“Doubt is to certainty as neurosis is to psychosis. The neurotic is in doubt and has fears about persons and things; the psychotic has convictions and makes claims about them. In short, the neurotic has problems, the psychotic has solutions.”— Thomas Szasz, professor of psychiatry
“Neurosis is the result of a conflict between the ego and its id, whereas psychosis is the analogous outcome of a similar disturbance in the relation between the ego and the external world.”— Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis
“To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.”— Thomas Paine
“Mass Formation Psychosis (MFP)”, which I roughly understand as “psychotic crowds of people”, seems to have become an oddly popular topic. A recent post dealt briefly with this trending interest in the context of crowd (Gustave Le Bon) vs. herd (Charles Mackay) behaviors.
The MFP concept seems to have been developed quite recently by Mattias Desmet, professor of clinical psychology at Ghent University in Belgium, and subsequently popularized by American virologist Robert Malone, MD.
For the very few folks out there who don’t really know what a “psychosis” is – from the American Psychological Association (APA)’s Dictionary of Psychology:
1. an abnormal mental state involving significant problems with reality testing It is characterized by serious impairments or disruptions in the most fundamental higher brain functions—perception, cognition and cognitive processing, and emotions or affect—as manifested in behavioral phenomena, such as delusions, hallucinations, and significantly disorganized speech. See psychotic disorder.
2. historically, any severe mental disorder that significantly interferes with functioning and ability to perform activities essential to daily living.”
Sounds pretty much like a description of reality globally today, yes?
Or, maybe not:
Sane people think and do crazy things – always have and always will
It seems that the essential question here is whether some masses of people have formed into heretofore-rare psychotic groups for some reason, other than just trying to sanely respond to our currently-insane world. Sane people reacting to insanity in ways that seem – well, maybe a bit odd – strikes me as evidence of widespread sanity. Not psychosis.
Psychosis is of course out there in many forms and in most places. Looking at history, it seems that psychosis has always been with us, and probably always will be. Life itself may well be fundamentally psychotic.
My take on this question is that crazy-making things and happenings are part of everyday life, everywhere. Does this mean that we all are crazy (aka psychotic) as well? Of course not. The majority seems instead to be mostly sane, or as sane as possible in these times, while trying to cope in a sane manner with the general environment of insanity that has existed more or less forever.
Think of Rome, one of the greatest empires ever, with fun guys like Caligula and Nero running the shows. Many more examples out there of normal folks living with, and within, insanity, while remaining mostly sane.
Crazy times and sane people trying as best they can to cope have been part of life forever, it seems. Quite often, as will be illustrated briefly below, these responses will be in the form of crowds, or masses of people, behaving oddly in coordinated ways. Nothing new here. Such crowds have long been described as ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’, which they do seem to have often been.
But there are always many people outside of such crowds who are coerced or persuaded to follow the crowd no matter what they may personally think or believe. Sane people these, just doing what is necessary to survive.
So, if mass psychoses or popular delusions not only exist but also are historically common, what is the so-far sane (or mostly so) person to do today?
For sane folks, survival is Job #1 in most situations. But just how might one go about this in the presence and power of mass psychoses?
Avoiding or surviving Mass Formation Psychosis
Calling whatever-is-going-on-out-there whatever you prefer – even ‘mass formation psychosis’, we do need to figure out some effective ways to deal with it. Avoid if possible, survive if you get “infected”.
Of concern to me at this point, however: is it real, or not? If not, then we don’t have to do anything. If real, then we need to get moving quickly before the next whatever-is-going-on-out-there shows up to distract us.
Is Mass Formation Psychosis (MFP) real? Answer from the experts: Yes and No
Academy of Ideas got a head start in April 2021 with its prophetic article on “The Manufacturing of a Mass Psychosis – Can Sanity Return to an Insane World?”:
“Diseases of the body can spread through a population and reach epidemic proportions, but so too can diseases of the mind. And of these epidemics of the latter variety, the mass psychosis is the most dangerous. During a mass psychosis madness becomes the norm in a society and delusionary beliefs spread like a contagion. But as delusions can take many forms, and as madness can manifest in countless ways, the specific manner in which a mass psychosis unfolds will differ based on the historical and cultural context of the infected society. In the past, mass psychoses have led to witch hunts, genocides and even dancing manias, but in the modern era it is the mass psychosis of totalitarianism that is the greatest threat:”
In the quote’s last sentence, reference is clearly made to Charles Mackay’s “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841)”. Mackay wonderfully describes behaviors that cannot help but be strong evidence of MSP-type behaviors being both real and quite common – throughout history.
A later writer, French polymath Gustave Le Bon, whose interests included merely “anthropology, psychology, sociology, medicine, invention, and physics”, wrote a more detailed and professional (he was trained as a physician) study in 1895 entitled “The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind”, which is considered one of the seminal works of crowd psychology. If you think of “mass formation” as “crowd formation”, then Le Bon appears to have identified and described “crowd behaviors” of a very different, somewhat- or fully-psychotic, nature.
Heidi Wetzler writing in Clark Country Today in late 2021 had a helpful overview of MFP: “Opinion: How have we gotten here? Mass Formation Psychosis, explained”:
“Recently, I ran across the concept of mass formation, explained by Mattias Desmet, professor of clinical psychology at Ghent University in Belgium. He explains the societal conditions under which a population ends up willingly sacrificing their freedom. “
“There are four basic conditions which need to be met in order for a society to be vulnerable to mass hypnosis. The first of which is a lack of societal bonding. It is easily argued that members of Western society struggled with loneliness long before the pandemic, and then with the ongoing lockdowns, isolation, and general fear of one another, this lack of community has continued to a dangerous degree. “
“The second condition is met when the majority of people view their lives as being without purpose or meaning. A recent poll of young people in the UK revealed that 89 percent of those aged 16-29, ‘believe that their lives have no meaning or purpose.’ Desmet also cites studies showing that half of all adults believe that their jobs are completely meaningless and are basically ‘sleepwalking’ through their day. “
“Free floating anxiety is the third condition for the rise of mass formation. A quick count of the number of anxiety/depression medications prescribed each year, confirms that there is no arguing the crushing levels of anxiety prevalent in our communities. “
“And the fourth condition is high levels of frustration and aggression, with no discernible cause. If you spend any time driving or on social media these days, you will experience the open hostility present in the world today.”
So, we seem to have credible evidence that MFP of some kind is indeed real.
What about contrary evidence of MFP’s unreality?
Well, we have the always-credible and -unbiased reports of AP and Reuters:
AP News early in 2022 offered its version of the MFP unreality story: “FACT FOCUS: Unfounded theory used to dismiss COVID measures”:
“An unfounded theory taking root online suggests millions of people have been ‘hypnotized’ into believing mainstream ideas about COVID-19, including steps to combat it such as testing and vaccination. In widely shared social media posts this week, efforts to combat the disease have been dismissed with just three words: ‘mass formation psychosis.’”
“I’m not a scientist but I’m pretty sure healthy people spending hours in line to get a virus test is mass formation psychosis in action,” reads one tweet that was liked more than 22,000 times. The term gained attention after it was floated by Dr. Robert Malone on ‘The Joe Rogan Experience’ Dec. 31 podcast. Malone is a scientist who once researched mRNA technology but is now a vocal skeptic of the COVID-19 vaccines that use it.”
“But psychology experts say the concept described by Malone is not supported by evidence, and is similar to theories that have long been discredited. Here’s a look at the facts. CLAIM: The concept of ‘mass formation psychosis’ explains why millions of people believe in a mainstream COVID-19 ‘narrative’ and trust the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.”
Reuters quotes many “experts” who say “Fact Check-No evidence of pandemic ‘mass formation psychosis’, say experts speaking to Reuters”:
“According to Malone, the condition occurs when a society ‘becomes decoupled from each other and has a free-floating anxiety in a sense that things don’t make sense… And then their attention gets focused by a leader or series of events on one small point, just like hypnosis.’”
“He added: ‘They literally become hypnotized and can be led anywhere… They will follow that person – it doesn’t matter whether they lie to them or whatever, the data are irrelevant.’”
“As of Jan. 3, the term has gathered more than 100,000 interactions (likes, comments and shares) on public Facebook pages, groups and verified profiles, according to social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle.”
However, this Reuters piece concludes with the following “Verdict”, which seems to contradict other “experts” like Gustave Le Bon and Charles Mackay:
“Missing context. There is no evidence to suggest a ‘mass formation psychosis’ has occurred during the pandemic, experts told Reuters. The term itself is not recognized among academics, and modern research into crowd psychology has shown that crowds do not behave in mindless or non-individualistic ways.”
AllSides’ blog even offered a fact-check on the fact-check in “Media Bias Alert: AP and Reuters’ Fact Checks on ‘Mass Formation Psychosis’”
“Two recent fact checks by the Associated Press Fact Check (Lean Left) and Reuters Fact Check (Center) recently drew a lot of attention on Twitter. The outlets quoted psychologists who said: ‘mass formation psychosis,’ a concept that rose to prominence when cited by Dr. Robert Malone in a recent interview with podcaster Joe Rogan, is an unfounded theory. The fact checks led to charges of media bias.”
“The AP article, titled ‘FACT FOCUS: Unfounded theory used to dismiss COVID measures,’ and the Reuters article, ‘Fact Check-No evidence of pandemic ‘mass formation psychosis’, say experts speaking to Reuters,’ addressed how Malone, a virologist who helped to develop MRNA technology but is against mandatory vaccination, used the term ‘mass formation psychosis’ to describe the current U.S. attitude toward COVID-19 response and vaccines on Rogan’s podcast. “
“The AP and Reuters fact checks commit a few types of media bias: bias by omission (excluding alternative perspectives) and slant, a closely related type of media bias in which information is cherry-picked to support one side. In addition, AP and Reuters do what we’ve seen many fact checkers do in the past — attempt to fact-check something that is largely subjective in nature or lacks clear evidence for a factual finding.”
Back to avoiding and surviving MFP, assuming it’s real
As I recall mentioning in an earlier post, my admittedly-small acquaintance base of earth-folks contains approximately a zero-count of those who I would consider as anything near psychotic. Non-professionally speaking, of course. Lots of odd ones in this group but definitely none even close to psychotic. Yet, anyway.
Going a bit further, I’d say that most if not all are solidly sane. They may be doing some odd things by way of coping with an insane world but these things are certainly not insane within that context. Some of what I am doing today in this regard may well appear to be on the crazy side to some folks. Sure hope so.
Readers of this post and the growing number of other resources addressing MFP are almost by definition not suffering from MFP. For such folks, the real challenge is to survive whatever-the-MFP-flavor-that-is-rampant-among-masses-of-others may be causing, as well as to avoid catching MFP themselves. How to live through the MFP outbreak, or mental pandemic.
My sense of a way through these times involves staying as fully informed as possible from credible sources, building or joining a community of others not among the MFP sufferers, and actively resisting purveyors and spreaders of MFP.
Here’s some coping ideas for any non-MFP-psychotic folks who may be out there:
1. Demand credible evidence. As folks in the 1890’s mining town of Leadville CO are reputed to have said, “Show me (the gold, or lead)”. It is often easier just to take someone’s word for something, especially if the someone’s have “expert” stickers pasted on their foreheads, but things have become much too serious for such niceties. If they mention “expert”, they almost certainly are not credible. Experts in practice have real, credible, credentials. Not stickers.
2. Connect with people you trust. Nobody is an expert on very much these days or has any real idea about what might be going on, so you should think about building up your own group of trusted people. It may even be better if they are not experts but simply hard-thinking, challenging people. Show-me people.
3. Wait to see what the crowd does. My recently cynical nature is showing through here but I have come around to thinking that whatever the crowd is doing is probably wrong. Refer to Le Bon for details. And, as Mark Twain wisely observed: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
4. Act based on facts. One problem here is that there are all kinds of “facts” out there. How can you tell which set of facts is truly factual? Maybe even none of your available fact sets is. The only way that I know of today to assess “facts” is to identify and follow a number of proven-credible people. Especially those who do not claim upfront to be “experts” but do have real credentials.
5. Track predictions based on outcomes. This one takes a bit of work but you want to make sure that predictions made by various theoretically smart, knowledgeable people (aka “experts”) do in fact prove to be true. Predictions that actually happen build credibility. The problem here is that hardly anybody has the time to track down the outcomes of important predictions, especially those made by “experts”. Do the best you can here, I guess.
6. Trust but verify as much as you can. The day has long since passed when you could trust a voice based on its affiliation with a large organization. Large organizations of all kinds are rapidly destroying their credibility. This means that trustworthy sources are likely to be small and non-mainstream. Increasing numbers of these out there today, thankfully.
7. Work in small groups. There is way too much going on for anybody to address on their own. Essential chores have to be split up among members of small groups. Big groups tend to attract true believers and zealots, making them fertile breeding grounds for MFP-type outbreaks. This tells me that staying clear of big groups may well be a beneficial precaution. Perhaps hard to do these days but certainly worth the effort to associate as much as possible with small groups.
Mass formation psychosis appears to be quite real and widespread today. It seems to be nothing new but simply a relabeling of crowd and herd behavior that has occurred since crowds and herds were invented, probably way back in prehistory. Behavior of such groups has long been studied and characterized by many credible people. Our main challenge today is to avoid joining the current MFP hysteria and to continue some semblance of life while this yet-another period of mass insanity plays out. As such movements have always done.
A few interesting quotes, with source links repeated from above in case you really want to dig in:
Gustave Le Bon, trained as a physician in France, never practiced but turned to psychology and sociology. He is best known for his 1895 work The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, one of the seminal works of crowd psychology.
“We see, then, that the disappearance of the conscious personality, the predominance of the unconscious personality, the turning by means of suggestion and contagion of feelings and ideas in an identical direction, the tendency to immediately transform the suggested ideas into acts; these, we see, are the principal characteristics of the individual forming part of a crowd. He is no longer himself, but has become an automaton who has ceased to be guided by his will.”
“In a crowd every sentiment and act is contagious, and contagious to such a degree that an individual readily sacrifices his personal interest to the collective interest.”
“Crowds always, and individuals as a rule, stand in need of ready-made opinions on all subjects. The popularity of these opinions is independent of the measure of truth or error they contain, and is solely regulated by their prestige.”
“By the mere fact that he forms part of an organized crowd, a man descends several rungs in the ladder of civilization. Isolated, he may be a cultivated individual; in a crowd, he is a barbarian — that is, a creature acting by instinct. He possesses the spontaneity, the violence, the ferocity, and also the enthusiasm and heroism of primitive beings, whom he further tends to resemble by the facility with which he allows himself to be impressed by words and images — which would be entirely without action on each of the isolated individuals composing the crowd — and to be induced to commit acts contrary to his most obvious interests and his best-known habits. An individual in a crowd is a grain of sand amid other grains of sand, which the wind stirs up at will.”
Charles Mackay, a Scottish poet, journalist, author, anthologist, novelist, and songwriter, is remembered mainly for his book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841).
“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”
“In reading The History of Nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities, their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do. We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first.”
“We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first.”
“Every age has its peculiar folly: Some scheme, project, or fantasy into which it plunges, spurred on by the love of gain, the necessity of excitement, or the force of imitation.”
“During seasons of great pestilence, men have often believed the prophecies of crazed fanatics, that the end of the world was come.”
Eric Hoffer, a San Francisco longshoreman and American writer on social and political philosophy, looked at the behavior of large groups of people in his first book, The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements (1951), widely recognized as a classic on mass-movements.
“There is a fundamental difference between the appeal of a mass movement and the appeal of a practical organization. The practical organization offers opportunities for self-advancement, and its appeal is mainly to self-interest. On the other hand, a mass movement, particularly in its active, revivalist phase, appeals not to those intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but to those who crave to be rid of an unwanted self. A mass movement attracts and holds a following not because it can satisfy the desire for self-advancement, but because it can satisfy the passion for self-renunciation.”
“The truth seems to be that propaganda on its own cannot force its way into unwilling minds; neither can it inculcate something wholly new; nor can it keep people persuaded once they have ceased to believe. It penetrates only into minds already open, and rather than instill opinion it articulates and justifies opinions already present in the minds of its recipients. The gifted propagandist brings to a boil ideas and passions already simmering in the minds of his hearers. he echoes their innermost feelings. Where opinion is not coerced, people can be made to believe only in what they already ‘know.’”
“People whose lives are barren and insecure seem to show a greater willingness to obey than people who are self-sufficient and self-confident. To the frustrated, freedom from responsibility is more attractive than freedom from restraint. They are eager to barter their independence for relief of the burdens of willing, deciding and being responsible for inevitable failure. They willingly abdicate the directing of their lives to those who want to plan, command and shoulder all responsibility.”