“That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction. There wasn’t even an enemy you could put your finger on.”— Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
“It was an act of self-hypnosis, a deliberate drowning of consciousness by means of rhythmic noise.”― George Orwell
“Although we think that we think, most of the time we are being thought by the collective mind, the hypnosis of conditioning.”— Deepak Chopra
“As far as the mass of the people go, the extraordinary swings of opinion which occur nowadays, the emotions which can be turned on and off like a tap, are the result of newspaper and radio hypnosis.”— George Orwell
“All people who have been describing, who have been studying, mass formation, such as Gustave Le Bon, for instance William McDougall, Elias Canetti have remarked that mass formation is not similar to hypnosis but that mass formation is exactly equal to hypnosis. Mass formation is a sort of hypnosis.”— Mattias Desmet
“As a consequence of mass formation, people do not get egoistic at all. But rather, on the contrary, mass formation focuses your attention so much on one point that you can take everything away of people — their psychological and physical wellbeing, their material wellbeing — you can take it away and they will not even notice it.”— Mattias Desmet
“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, and who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”— Alexander Solzhenitsyn
“Even if we would succeed in waking up the masses now, they would fall prey to a different story in a few years. And they would be hypnotized again if we do not succeed in solving the real problem of this crisis.”— Mattias Desmet
Mass formation psychosis leads to totalitarianism? I don’t believe it. Sometimes it may, but not as a general rule. Belgian clinical psychologist Mattias Desmet has just published a book on “The Psychology of Totalitarianism” that claims to link mass formation to mass hypnosis. Given what’s going on today, this could be hugely important. But it doesn’t pass my smell test.
What’s “mass formation” you might wisely ask. Well, it is a group of people, sometimes called a “crowd” or a “mob”, that behaves and thinks alike rather than as individuals. And “hypnosis”? From Wikipedia:
“Hypnosis is a human condition involving focused attention, reduced peripheral awareness, and an enhanced capacity to respond to suggestion. Also referred to as hypnotherapy or hypnotic suggestion, hypnosis is a trance-like state in which you have heightened focus and concentration. Hypnosis is usually done with the help of a therapist using verbal repetition and mental images.”
The New England Psychologist offers this interesting explanation: “What is Mass Formation Psychosis? Is it like Mass Hysteria or Mass Delusion?”:
“’Mass formation’ suggests it is a large-scale event. Much like ‘mob psychology,’ a pop psychology term to describe the behavior of crowds in specific, limited-time environments. Mass formation isn’t a term typically used in psychology or sociology today.”
“Psychosis is when a person’s thoughts or how they perceive the world are abnormal in so much as the person may have difficulty understanding what is real and what is not. Psychosis is extremely rare, experienced usually by people with schizophrenia. Most people don’t experience psychosis (or anything like it) in their lifetime [emphasis added].”
“Putting these two together and we get what is more commonly referred to as mass psychogenic illness (MPI) or, in pop psychology terms, mass hysteria or mass delusion. These are the terms that have some research basis.”
Psychosis is extremely rare
Interesting, yes? Rare, according to psychologists yet. Mass hysteria or delusion can’t be a whole lot more common. But then, neither is totalitarianism:
“Totalitarianism is a form of government and a political system that prohibits all opposition parties, outlaws individual and group opposition to the state and its claims, and exercises an extremely high degree of control and regulation over public and private life.”
Different from dictatorship, which “… is a form of government characterized by a single leader or group of leaders that hold government power promised to the people and little or no toleration for political pluralism or independent media.”
From Mattias Desmet’s book on “The Psychology of Totalitarianism”:
“Dictatorships are based on a primitive psychological mechanism, namely on the creation of a climate of fear amongst the population, based on the brutal potential of the dictatorial regime. Totalitarianism, on the other hand, has its roots in the insidious psychological process of mass formation. Only a thorough analysis of this process enables us to understand the shocking behaviors of a “totalitarized” population, including an exaggerated willingness of individuals to sacrifice their own personal interests out of solidarity with the collective (i.e., the masses), a profound intolerance of dissident voices, and pronounced susceptibility to pseudo-scientific indoctrination and propaganda. 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.”
While “mass formations” – that is, the formation of large groups, crowds, mobs, and similar collections of people – are obviously quite common, it would seem highly unlikely for more than a tiny few of these to transform into a psychotic state. The rarity of totalitarianism itself suggests that the necessary causal psychotic transformation itself is similarly rare.
Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were dictators, not leaders of totalitarian system regimes. Desmet is not writing about these sorts of nasties but instead of a governing system based on mass hypnosis that can be every bit as nasty, strong leader or not.
Do we have a totalitarian system forming (or already formed) today?
This seems to be the central question. Otherwise, we have just an ever-changing set of groups, crowds, and mobs that have been with us forever, with behaviors ranging from clearly insane to mostly just annoying and disruptive.
Desmet offers his sense for how the population is affected by especially widespread “mass psychosis”:
“… we identified three groups that form when a mass rises: the masses themselves, who truly go along with the story and are “hypnotized” (usually about 30 percent); a group that is not hypnotized but chooses to not go against the grain (usually about 40 to 60 percent); a group that is not hypnotized and actively resists the masses (ranging from 10 to 30 percent).”
Got that? While just 30 percent are hypnotized true believers (after Eric Hoffer’s book “The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements”), around 50 percent are not hypnotized but go-along-to-get along (see a previous post on this topic). No idea where Desmet got these numbers but my gut-sense is that they are probably a pretty good estimate.
This means to me that in order to generate a totalitarian system for whatever nefarious purposes requires a substantial part of the target population to be converted into true believers. For even a smaller country, this is a big bunch of people. For a major country or multi-national group, or worse yet globally, the numbers get truly huge. Potentially billions.
Just how do you get even a few hundred million people fully on board with a totalitarian pitch?
Communication is the key to achieving big totalitarianism
Totalitarianism as a large-scale form of government didn’t really exist until the twentieth century. Before this, we had dictators, caesars, rulers, kings, and the like – individuals. Why? Communication limitations.
In old times, it was simply not possible to persuade large numbers of people to follow a particular ruling state description or narrative. They would of course respond to threats and violence driven by a despotic ruler but rarely in large groups to a state-acting-as-ruler.
Technological advances during the last century or so, however, have created extremely effective tools to influence – communicate with – large numbers of people subconsciously. Edward Bernays (1891-1995) was a pioneer in the fields of public relations and propaganda:
“Of his many books, Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923) and Propaganda (1928) gained special attention as early efforts to define and theorize the field of public relations. Citing works of writers such as Gustave Le Bon, Wilfred Trotter, Walter Lippmann, and Sigmund Freud (his own double uncle), he described the masses as irrational and subject to herd instinct—and outlined how skilled practitioners could use crowd psychology and psychoanalysis to control them in desirable ways”.
Bernays and many others took great advantage of the rapidly growing reach and effectiveness of modern communications technologies to influence and guide very large numbers of people. The internet arriving in the late 1980’s put this process into hyperdrive, where it exists today. The impact is now global.
Needless to say, this great new power has not escaped the attention of all manner of people and groups wanting to change the world more to their liking. This requires using communications actively and forcefully to change people rather than simply to inform or entertain them as in past. Very large groups of people, or masses.
Mass formations (crowds) are essential
Leaders and groups have been forming crowds, masses, and mobs roughly forever. Persuading these masses to do what you want has been done by threats, force, and violence also for most of forever. Today, the ambitions of the powerful have extended to large populations in nations, nation groups, and now globally.
The techniques for “persuasion” have become highly sophisticated and effective as communications – now globally – can reach almost everyone. Masses are the new target for persuasion by the powerful and powerful-wannabe’s. But they want not just to persuade but to create masses of Hoffer’s True Believers. Not going along to get along but going along because they truly believe and are truly committed.
You might even say “hypnotized” or “psychotic”. Mass formation psychosis is the currently popular term for this mental state. Is it real? A recent post had a look at this question.
Global totalitarianism requires hundreds of millions to be hypnotized
The World Economic Forum (WEF) led by Klaus Schwab and many high-level supporters (often corporate executives and government leaders) are currently the most visible leaders pushing toward a one-world government (New World Order (NWO)), Great Reset, Fourth Industrial Revolution, etc.). These are also known as “globalists”.
Such wannabe-totalitarians appear to have had some success by not letting the good COVID crisis go to waste and by infiltrating many major governments, corporations, and organizations in top positions. COVID quite clearly has done a great job in the hypnosis department.
Globally. Using the COVID-vaxxed counts of roughly 5 billion people as of mid-2022, and allowing for many of these vaxxed being under mandates rather than belief or fear, it seems quite likely that a billion or more people have become “hypnotized”. True believers and supporters.
Is this a critical mass that might allow a totalitarian regime to take global control?
Well, probably not, in my sometimes humble opinion. The WEF globalists have some serious competition. Such as Russia, China, and their emerging supraregional associations. The main battle today seems to be between the “West” – the US, UK, EU, Japan, and friends – and the rest-of-the-world, or Eurasia.
This means that the population of the seriously hypnotized has to be split up accordingly. Note that Russia and China are more in the strong leader (individual, or dictator) realm with Putin and Xi currently leading their nations and friendlies. Now being called Eurasia as a group, they account for over 70% (5 billion) of the world’s population.
So, by this reckoning, the WEF-led “West” has at most 3 billion people. Using Desmet’s 30% true believers guesstimate (see above) gives the “West” maybe a billion true believers. That’s enough probably to force totalitarianism (“globalism”) on the “West”, but not globally. Russia and China do not seem to be moving anywhere close to a state-run government, or until the strong Putin and Xi leaders are replaced or get on board with the “West”.
My bet: the dictatorships will win over the totalitarians
The numbers seem pretty convincing to me. The “West” can influence (attempt to hypnotize) at most 30% of their subject global population. The big 70% is run by strong dictators who prefer threats, fear, and violence to get what they want. The globalists don’t appear to stand much of a chance in this battle.
Of course, this situation could change in a flash if a nuclear WW III gets rolling.
The totalitarian hypnotism currently existing may have reached a critical mass (or mass formation, if you like) but it’s base in the West is missing about 70% of the world’s population located in Eurasia. The best that the West can do is try to enforce a totalitarian (globalist) regime on the hypnotizable 30% in the West. My bet is that the real count of True Believers in the West is a few hundred million at most. A big mass formation for sure, but it has to overcome the 50% of the West that is just “going along”, plus 20% more actively opposing it. These latter folks seem very unlikely to go along much further than they already have with the totalitarian bit here. Won’t happen in my view.
- Joe Pierre MD writing in Psychology Today asks: “Does “Mass Formation Psychosis” Really Exist?”
- Mass formation psychosis” is not an appropriate psychiatric term or a clinical diagnosis to describe “groupthink.”
- Terms like “mass delusion” and “mass psychosis” are being used inappropriately as pejoratives to denigrate our ideological opponents.
- Psychiatric terminology should not be used to advance political agendas.”
“Mass psychosis,” “mass delusion,” “mass formation psychosis,” and “mass delusional psychosis” are terms being thrown around a lot lately to describe our ideological opposites. This is a pejorative and inappropriate use of psychiatric terminology as I explained in my previous post.”
“Psychiatry has always been careful not to label culturally sanctioned beliefs—like religious beliefs—as delusions. Accordingly, delusions are defined as fixed and false beliefs that are idiosyncratic to the believer and not shared within a culture or subculture. That said, it has long been recognized that delusions are sometimes shared between people. This traditionally occurs within a dyad like a parent and a child where one person is delusional and the other is impressionable—this has been referred to as “folie à deux” or the “insanity of two.” Shared psychosis, or shared delusion, has sometimes been applied to a handful of people sharing a delusional belief, but the term was never meant to describe what the journalist Charles Mackay called “Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds” back in 1841. Groupthink, whether it occurs in religion or politics, is not a matter of delusional thinking, psychosis, or mental illness and it’s a disservice to those who have mental illness to claim it is. It’s also a disservice to ourselves because it distracts us from the real social forces that lead to widespread false belief.”
- Margret Kopala, an Ottawa-based author and policy analyst, writing in the online publisher C2C Journal: “When the Whole World Goes Mad: Mattias Desmet’s The Psychology of Totalitarianism”:
“For Desmet’s book comes as something of a sequel to Hannah Arendt’s seminal The Origins of Totalitarianism, published in 1951. The German-born political scientist and philosopher had been a fugitive from Nazism, finding refuge in America before the Second World War, where her ongoing studies of imperialism, racism and anti-Semitism culminated in a world-famous report on Nazi war-criminal Adolf Eichmann’s 1961 trial in Israel. Arendt portrayed Eichmann, who helped carry out the Holocaust, as an unreflective but ambitious bureaucrat essentially unaware of the enormity of his actions in the mass extermination of Jews. Thus, Arendt famously concluded, Eichmann exemplified the ‘banality of evil.’ Although her interpretation was hotly contested, her description of a mere bureaucrat capable of executing monstrosities without conscience never lost its resonance.”
“The Psychology of Totalitarianism raises profound questions about the uses, abuses and limitations of rationality, science and technology in our fraught times and their role in creating a deeply disturbing mass psychological phenomenon. Desmet’s analysis of the response to Covid-19 seeks to fill the gap left by the exclusion of psychological factors from the existing scholarship on totalitarianism. In so doing, he shows how whole populations, atomized by but collectively caught in a technological mindset that sees science as the answer to everything, can be overtaken by totalitarianism. Desmet believes this was occurring in the pandemic’s earliest days and continues today.”
“Like Arendt, Desmet clarifies the key distinction between totalitarianism and mere dictatorship. Dictatorships retain power by bestowing favour or creating fear based on direct brutality. Totalitarianism, on the other hand, “has its roots in the insidious psychological process … a kind of group hypnosis that destroys ethical awareness robbing [people] of their ability to think critically.” It develops within, engages and envelopes the better part of society – the masses. Initiating this process is mass formation.”
“The term ‘mass formation’ apparently stems from the French polymath Gustav Le Bon, whose influential book The Crowd: a Study of the Popular Mind, published in 1895, warned that the ‘masses could take hold of society, leading to the emergence of a new form of governance.’ The phenomenon itself goes back even farther. Early examples were Medieval witch hunts, which denuded whole villages of their women, although were localized and ephemeral. Much larger in scale and effect was the French Revolution. Then came Fascism, Stalinism and Nazism, which not only took hold of leading nations but would ruin whole continents and threaten civilization itself.”