“People inside of belonging systems are very threatened by those who are not within that group. They are threatened by anyone who has found their citizenship in places they cannot control.”— Richard Rohr, American Franciscan priest and writer on spirituality
“One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing. In fact, fitting in is one of the greatest barriers to belonging. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”— Brené Brown, author
“When you know and respect your Inner Nature, you know where you belong. You also know where you don’t belong.”— Benjamin Hoff, author
“Do you think there’s a difference? Between belonging with and belonging to?”— Jenny Han, author
“A sense of belonging is not physical. We can’t find it by changing where we live or what we do. We have to carry it within us.”— P. C. Cast, author
“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”— Brené Brown, author
“Although I am a typical loner in my daily life, my awareness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice has prevented me from feelings of isolation.”— Albert Einstein
“You cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it, unless you see yourself as belonging to it and responsible for changing it.”— Grace Lee Boggs, American author, philosopher
I am deeply troubled by the concept of mass formation psychosis. It is a type of insanity. I do not know a single person who fits this description. But many – too many – are in an unshakeable dedication to demonstrable falsehoods. Reason and facts have no impact.
Over the years, I have met quite a few smart, intelligent folks who were “normal” in every other respect except for a very strong, irrational (to me at least) commitment to a particular practice, belief, or cause. No amount of discussion changed their beliefs at all. If anything, even raising the issue often resulted in hostility or denial.
We could talk pretty much openly about almost anything else. How could this be?
I have been unable to make any headway in understanding this strange (to me) behavior. These were all rational people, basically nice folks. Until I brought up the untouchable, unmentionable topic. What to do?
These people are true believers
And then I started reading about crowds, groups, or other masses of people. This post is roughly the starting point. Mattias Desmet described their situation as “mass formation psychosis” (or mass formation hypnosis, more recently). Psychosis is a type of insanity, which psychologist Desmet would know.
Others, like Gustave Le Bon in his The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1895), made the case for people behaving very differently in crowds. The crowd itself replaced much or all of the individual’s behavior and thinking in many respects. And then there was San Francisco longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer who didn’t need crowds or masses to explain behaviors and beliefs. Hoffer wrote in his The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951) that such people were swayed more by a sense of belonging than any hypnosis or charismatic leadership.
I think now that Hoffer was on to something important.
What if the crowds and “masses” often consist of true believers in a cause or understanding? Perhaps they are not really mind-controlled crowd members in this respect but just individuals sharing a common belief – still as individuals.
Belonging may well be the key.
We all need to belong
Belonging is much different than I had imagined. They don’t teach belonging at engineering and business schools, at least in my experience. But it is fundamental to us human critters (and probably many other critter-types as well).
Kendra Cherry wrote in VeryWellMind.com a nice introductory piece: “What Is the Sense of Belonging?”:
“The need to belong, also known as belongingness, refers to a human emotional need to affiliate with and be accepted by members of a group. This may include the need to belong to a peer group at school, to be accepted by co-workers, to be part of an athletic team, or to be part of a religious group.”
“A sense of belonging involves more than simply being acquainted with other people. It is centered on gaining acceptance, attention, and support from members of the group as well as providing the same attention to other members.”
“The need to belong to a group also can lead to changes in behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes as people strive to conform to the standards and norms of the group.”
The last paragraph really seems to be on target as a possible explanation for much crowd and mass behavior today. People don’t give up their thinking but instead try as best they can to conform to the group. They don’t become insane in any respect. They belong to a group because that’s who they are.
Even the Mayo Clinic weighs in on this clearly important topic: “Is having a sense of belonging important?”:
“Having a sense of belonging is so important, considering the groups and labels we give ourselves and others. We are members of families, sporting teams, hobbyists, spiritual groups, charities, political parties, cities, countries, and nationalities, to name a few. Nearly every aspect of our lives is organized around belonging to something.”
“The sense of belonging is fundamental to the way humankind organizes itself. If it was unimportant, we would live solitary lives only coming together for procreation then quickly kicking the children out of our lives as soon as they could walk. We would have no families, communities, or organized government.”
“We cannot separate the importance of a sense of belonging from our physical and mental health. The social ties that accompany a sense of belonging are a protective factor helping manage stress and other behavioral issues. When we feel we have support and are not alone, we are more resilient, often coping more effectively with difficult times in our lives. Coping well with hardships decreases the physical and mental effects of these situations.”
Belonging, actively belonging, seems to be vital to our physical and mental health. Not-belonging, then, may be detrimental to one’s mental and physical well-being. Maybe even making us even somewhat insane?
Belongingness has of course been studied in some detail
Psychologists Roy F. Baumeister and Mark R. Leary (1995) published an article that seems to have become a foundation piece: “The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation.”
“Abstract. A hypothesized need to form and maintain strong, stable interpersonal relationships is evaluated in light of the empirical literature. The need is for frequent, non-aversive interactions within an ongoing relational bond. Consistent with the belongingness hypothesis, people form social attachments readily under most conditions and resist the dissolution of existing bonds. Belongingness appears to have multiple and strong effects on emotional patterns and on cognitive processes. Lack of attachments is linked to a variety of ill effects on health, adjustment, and well-being. Other evidence, such as that concerning satiation, substitution, and behavioral consequences, is likewise consistent with the hypothesized motivation. Several seeming counterexamples turned out not to disconfirm the hypothesis. Existing evidence supports the hypothesis that the need to belong is a powerful, fundamental, and extremely pervasive motivation.”
Wikipedia summarizes the main points of belongingness:
“Belongingness is the human emotional need to be an accepted member of a group. Whether it is family, friends, co-workers, a religion, or something else, some people tend to have an ‘inherent’ desire to belong and be an important part of something greater than themselves. This implies a relationship that is greater than simple acquaintance or familiarity.”
“Belonging is a strong feeling that exists in human nature. To belong or not to belong is a subjective experience that can be influenced by a number of factors within ourselves and our surrounding environment.”
“Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary argue that belongingness is such a fundamental human motivation that we feel severe consequences for not belonging [emphasis added]. Were it not so fundamental then lacking a sense of belonging would not have such dire consequences for us. This desire is so universal that the need to belong is found across all cultures and different types of people.”
Belonging unites people around a common cause or set of beliefs
Most often, the groups to which people belong have admirable, or at least credible, acceptable, beliefs. Belonging to such groups helps these folks stay sane. But, like so much else, this behavior can become perverted and destructive in the hands of a misguided (or worse) individual or group in a leadership role.
The most common example of group behavior gone seriously bad is the German population in World War II. This was not just a bunch of truly bad guys at the top but involved a large portion of the population. These were not bad people pre-Hitler so what changed?
Margaret Anna Alice Through the Looking Glass offered an explanation that centers on perverted belonginess:
“The shame culture, making conformity a prime virtue, impelled ordinary Germans in uniform to commit terrible crimes rather than suffer the stigma of cowardice and weakness and the ‘social death’ of isolation and alienation vis-à-vis their comrades. This dynamic was intensified by several other factors. The first was that the ‘pleasures’ of comradeship and the ‘joy of togetherness’ derived from a heightened sense of belonging could be enhanced even further through transgression against the norms of members outside the group. ‘Nothing makes people stick together better than committing a crime together,’ Kühne noted. And second was the pernicious Nazi invention that Kühne dubbed the ‘morality of immorality.’ Both Hitler and various military commanders made the coercive zero-sum moral argument that pity and lenience toward the enemy and failure to overcome one’s personal scruples was a ‘sin’ against one’s comrades and future generations. The combination of all these factors created a ‘competition for mercilessness’ and a ‘culture of brutality’ within units. For Germans at large, the ‘outcome was the national brotherhood of mass murder—Hitler’s community.’”
“As for the question of how everyday, decent folks are transmogrified into perpetrators of atrocities and instruments of tyranny, as you put it, I think you answered that yourself with the Le Bon, Bauman, and Zimbardo quotes. Again, most people will conform to whatever type of societal structure is imposed on them by force as long as their basic needs are being met. Totalitarianism doesn’t transform people into monsters. It transforms the structure of the society such that they must behave as monsters in order to remain ‘normal,’ i.e., in good standing with the totalitarian regime, and avoid being punished for nonconformity.”
“I think it’s difficult for those of us who place great value on personal autonomy to accept that there are people who don’t, but there are, and they are the majority, and they have been the majority throughout history. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with these people. They just have different values, different priorities. Which is to say, we are not going to ‘cure’ them or ‘awaken’ them. As Bauman noted in that quote you cited, we are the exceptions, the freaks, not them.”
We are not going to ‘cure’ or ‘awaken’ them
Normal people can become monsters if their society transforms them. It is not the people who are monsters or insane but the social structure in which they must live. To survive and belong, they are forced to adopt the behavior and beliefs of their society. Not belonging is not an option in such cases. Belonging is required – forced – to avoid being ostracized, imprisoned, or even killed.
This brings up the question of how many true believers such a warped society requires in order to sustain itself. A recent post addressed just this question, albeit from Mattais Desmet’s mass formation hypnosis (psychosis) point of view:
“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).”
So, it takes a core group of believers – about 30% – to sustain a set of beliefs and behaviors, good or bad. Roughly half of the group “goes along to get along”. These are not believers but want to be part of – belong to – the driving group.
This driving group gets cured or awakened only when their whole belief structure collapses. Often catastrophically.
The fundamental human need to belong creates good and bad groups
We humans are going to seek belonging to groups forever or longer. That’s just what we do. Groups will form for an infinity of reasons. Some, or most, will be harmless at worst and highly-beneficial socially at best. Unfortunately, a few will pursue rather nasty aims and will ultimately destroy themselves in the process.
It is the very few truly bad groups (aka crowds, masses) that cause most of the world’s problems, pain, and suffering. Our need to belong assures such groups of the ability to attract members. That is typically the easy part, now aided and enhanced by highly-developed communication, propaganda, and psychological techniques.
Once a set of seriously bad guys gets a core of true believers, then the transition to some variety of tyranny seems almost inevitable.
It is not the group members who are fundamentally bad. These folks are simply trapped by their inherent, strong needs for belonging and a naïve trust in the group leadership.
So, where does all of this belonging stuff leave us?
A need to belong is part of human nature. It will not go away or be changed to any degree. It’s just who we are.
Consequently, we will forever have groups forming around sound and unsound ideas, causes, and leaders. These groups will attract members – some, many members, while others will attract few and fade into obscurity or disappear entirely. There will always be some mix of good and bad groups everywhere.
What it seems, to me at least, is that group members are likely to be relatively sane, not hypnotized or psychotic. They seek to belong for quite a variety of reasons that probably makes good sense to each individual.
We will of course have a residual group of folks who really do qualify for “abnormal” behavior, but they are probably a small minority in general.
Trouble comes when a strong, charismatic leader and close followers gain influence over a sizable group of otherwise normal folks. If this leader has abnormal tendencies, then the core group may accept and adopt these as well to avoid being forced out or worse.
This has happened with distressing frequency over the ages, probably often enough to be regarded as a not-happy but fundamental aspect of human nature. It is not something that will go away or be “cured”. It is us, part of who we are.
Consequently, there is a real danger in regarding such true believers as victims of mass hypnosis or mass psychosis. For the most part it seems, they are not. They truly believe that their group’s purpose and actions are justifiable, and even socially valuable. Us so-called normals – non-belonging – may disagree and resist, but we may not always be right.
America was founded by a relatively small group of dissenters from British rule. They ultimately prevailed, albeit with huge sacrifices and efforts. Early Christians were vilified and attacked but their cause was strong enough to not just survive but thrive over the centuries. In each case, the leader or leaders were considered for some period to be bad, and probably insane, by the social majorities.
Neither the new group’s members nor their era’s social resisters were hypnotized or insane. Each of the new groups may well have failed, or come very close to failure a number of times. Success, if achieved, came the hard way, as almost always.
The Globalists, Great Resetters, and followers are not insane or hypnotized
No matter how much we may disagree with what these groups are doing, they are probably just as rational as their opponents and resisters. Their true believers that belong to their groups strongly support their causes and actions. Will they prevail? Impossible to predict. Will they cause a great deal of suffering and struggle? For sure.
Those who are in opposition to the globalists and great resetters seem to be fairly fragmented at the moment. Shortages, supply chain problems, COVID responses, political upheavals, early-stage wars, population uprisings – all appear to be seriously messing up globalist plans. But then, probably no one told these New World Order folks that their path to a one world government would be easy.
My take on all of this current global mess is that there is little insanity or hypnosis involved. Both sides, or more accurately all sides, are likely all as sane as anyone else. The leaders know pretty much what they are doing, whether their opponents like it or not, and they are very strongly committed. They have relatively large groups of believers and followers who are no less sane and committed. But they make mistakes. Sometimes very big ones.
Napoleon, in retrospect, made a very bad move when he decided to attack Russia. Not insane but a huge ego-driven gamble. Wise Russian military leaders allowed his two million strong army to get as far as Moscow, just in time to be decimated by the brutal Russian winter. Hitler effectively repeated this disaster in pressing to capture the southern Russian city of Stalingrad. Again, Russian winter played a major role in Hitler’s defeat. Neither Napoleon nor Hitler was insane or even misguided. Both made huge gambles and lost. Bad things happen, even to major dictators and tyrants.
Whatever not-good that is going on today is rational and intentional
Lots of not-good (aka bad) stuff going on today that seems often to be tagged with the “insane” label. Not so, I think. The nasties know exactly what they are doing and have pretty clear paths and goals to follow. Oddly enough, they also have a habit of telling us what they are going to ahead of doing it. Think WEF here.
The reaction to their nefarious plans? Mostly denial, it seems. A few voices crying out here and there, but these are largely ignored or drowned out. My guess is that these not-good folks will have their way with us unless stopped by their own mistakes and inherent weaknesses.
An example? How about the great idea by the West to sanction Russia over the Ukraine situation. The West – US, UK, EU, and a few friends – seem to have been quite badly damaged by sanction consequences, while target Russia seems to be doing exceptionally well. And, with China, busy realigning the world into a multi-polar, Eurasian state. Goodbye petrodollar. Nice work guys.
It’ s getting a bit hard lately to tell the “good guys” from the “bad guys”. One might even be forgiven for not seeing any “good guys” at all. “Good” and “bad” seem to be mostly a matter of where you live, with the locals or agreeables being “good” to at least some extent, and the “bad” being most of the others out there.
Then we have the considerable mess being caused by drought, floods, heat, and similar natural inconveniences – which are helpfully labelled as “climate change”. Since climate has been changing forever, this label seems okay.
And, of course, we have endless and growing shortages of more and more stuff. Stuff that we need to stay warm, eat, and make things. Shortages were supposed to be a temporary COVID thing, but COVID seems to be largely gone while shortages are exploding. Just like the production facilities that make things, especially important stuff.
Need I mention also inflation and its current buddy, recession?
If you are a not-good guy or group (which may well include every guy/group), this situation has gone way beyond inconvenient. How can you possibly rearrange the world more to your liking if events and situations keep messing with progress?
Human nature is taking care of human nature
Human nature, including belonging, is certainly causing a bunch of trouble these days. But we are being helped mightily by human nature interfering with whatever human nature is trying to do. It is getting to look like we are our own worst enemy.
This, in the end, may well be what saves us. We are definitely going to experience great pain and suffering – just like humankind has experienced forever. But humans, good and bad, have survived all of this nastiness and will probably continue to survive indefinitely. The mix of good and bad may vary quite a lot, but we seem destined to have both with us forever.
We are mostly not suffering from insanity despite what the mass formation hypnosis (psychosis) advocates may think. We appear instead to be suffering from our fundamental human need to belong. This, even to the extent that not-belonging may be what is damaging to our mental health. Our unfortunate habit of belonging to some quite nasty groups and leadership is largely beyond our control. We join groups for our own personal reasons that may in retrospect turn out to be not-so-good. We remain quite sane despite such belonging mistakes.
And then there is Pepe Escobar via The Saker who regularly expresses his gently-worded opinions on many matters of global importance – in this case, various disaster scenarios nicely taking shape at the moment:
“Dmitry Medvedev, relishing his unplugged self, has laid down the law on the Special Military Operation (SMO). Bluntly, he affirmed there is a “one and a half” scenario: either to go all the way, or a military coup d’Etat in Ukraine followed by admitting the inevitable. No tertium applies.”
“That’s as stark as it gets: the leadership in Moscow is making it very clear, to internal and international audiences, the new deal consists in slow cooking the Kiev racket inside a massive cauldron while polishing its status of financial black hole for the collective West. Until we reach boiling point – which will be a revolution or a putsch.”
“In parallel, The Lords of (Proxy) War will continue with their own strategy, which is to pillage an enfeebled, fearful, Europe, then dressing it up as a perfumed colony to be ruthlessly exploited ad nauseam by the imperial oligarchy.”
“Europe is now a runaway TGV – minus the requisite Hollywood production values. Assuming it does not veer off track – a dicey proposition – it may eventually arrive at a railway station called Agenda 2030, The Great Narrative, or some other NATO/Davos denomination du jour.”
“As it stands, what’s remarkable is how the “marginal” Russian economy hardly broke a sweat to “end the abundance” of the wealthiest region on the planet.”
“Moscow does not even entertain the notion of negotiating with Brussels because there’s nothing to negotiate – considering puny Eurocrats will only be hurled away from their zombified state when the dire socio-economic consequences of “the end of abundance” will finally translate into peasants with pitchforks roaming the continent.”
“It may be eons away, but inevitably the average Italian, German or Frenchman will connect the dots and realize it is their own “leaders” – national nullities and mostly unelected Eurocrats – who are paving their road to poverty.”
“You will be poor. And you will like it. Because we are all supporting freedom for Ukrainian neo-nazis. That brings the concept of “multicultural Europe” to a whole new level.”
“The runaway train, of course, may veer off track and plunge into an Alpine abyss. In this case something might be saved from the wreckage – and “reconstruction” might be on the cards. But reconstruct what?”
“Europe could always reconstruct a new Reich (collapsed with a bang in 1945); a soft Reich (erected at the end of WWII); or break with its past failures, sing “I’m Free” – and connect with Eurasia. Don’t bet on it.”