“Four things need to exist … if you want a large-scale mass phenomenon to emerge… there need to be (1) a lot of socially isolated people, people who experience a lack of social bond… (2) a lot of people who experience a lack of sense-making in life… (3) a lot of free-floating anxiety, and (4) a lot of free-floating psychological discontent—meaning anxiety and discontent that is not connected to specific representations. It needs to be in the mind without people being able to connect it to something. If you have these four things… then society is highly at risk for the emergence of mass phenomena, and these four conditions existed shortly before the corona crisis… mass formation is not similar to hypnosis but is exactly equal to mass hypnosis… at that moment when people experience this mental intoxication, it doesn’t matter anymore whether the narrative is correct or wrong, even blatantly wrong… they don’t want to go back to this painful state of free-floating anxiety… mass formation focuses the attention so much on one point that you can take everything away from people—their psychological and physical wellbeing, their material wellbeing…”
– Professor Mattias Desmet
“Propaganda is organized, persuasive communication which has become on some level manipulative. It’s not about persuading people or getting people to agree with you. It is actually about manipulating people, so propaganda then becomes defined as attempts to deceive or incentivize, or to coerce people… to think things that they wouldn’t otherwise think. It’s a non-consensual process.”
– Professor Piers Robinson
I have stood by quietly as both friends and strangers have engaged in an escalating campaign to vilify and socially exclude “the unvaccinated,” a new minority that they feel must be subjected to coercion and punishment. The time has come to push back.
Hundreds of millions of people throughout the world have recovered from Sars-cov-2 infection, or they are too healthy to be at risk from it, so they have justified grounds for not wanting to submit to the known risks of the vaccines as well as to the temporary illness that comes after vaccination. The vaccines have proven to be much less effective and more dangerous than promised. Everyone thought there would be “zero covid,” but the authorities hid an important truth. Smallpox and polio were eradicated through vaccination because they infect only humans. Corona viruses continue to exist in animal reservoirs after vaccination of human populations. If you want a scapegoat, look to the wild deer population in North America.
With the booster shot now being recommended, even the vaccinated have essentially become unvaccinated. Ironically, they are now the targets of their own hatred. The best we can say about the vaccines is that they have prevented the worst outcomes for those most at risk because of pre-existing health conditions. It is a problem that many such people don’t want the vaccine, but surely hatred and harsh enforcement are the least persuasive measures one could think of. They are obviously entranced in a mass psychosis tied to religious and political affiliation, and in this state, they have been immunized against logical arguments. However, the weirdness of this situation is compounded by the fact that those trying to persuade the vaccine-hesitant are also entranced by a belief system that cannot be penetrated by fact-based arguments. If you point out that in Israel, Iceland, and Gibraltar—three places where almost every adult is vaccinated—officials are alarmed by the number of vaccinated people developing serious infections, the vaccine fanatics will simply not hear it. No, it couldn’t be. It’s the unvaccinated who are the breeding cesspools of deadly germs. Europe and North America are in a state of double mass psychosis.
There is no confirmed scientific finding that the unvaccinated are a danger to the vaccinated, despite what corporate media outlets want us to believe. The belief is illogical on the face of it. If the vaccines don’t provide safety from infection, what are they good for? But the reality is that no one knows what is happening or what will happen. The pandemic takes many strange twists and turns regardless of what humans do to counter it. We should be humble enough to admit that even the peer-reviewed science is contradictory and inconclusive. Much about the pandemic eludes our understanding.
Regardless of whatever threat unvaccinated people might pose, it would be unethical to deprive them of their rights, freedoms, and access to medical care. Doctors get frustrated by having to care for alcoholics and drug addicts, but they do it because it’s the right thing to do. Society provides healthcare to all kinds of people who make bad choices—even death row inmates. The ethical response should be obvious. And it should be obvious that hospitals would be nearly empty if all those who had made arbitrarily defined “bad choices” were turned away at the door.
If we really wanted to target the group that is most responsible for spreading the disease and causing widespread economic harm, we could look elsewhere. Let me make it clear that I am not advocating for such discrimination, but I mention this in the hope that it will give pause to those who are now screaming like budding genocidaires for something to be done about the unvaccinated. If you’re pointing at someone else, look at the three fingers pointing back at your own fatty liver.
The most significant factor causing serious infection and death during the pandemic has been high blood glucose (insulin intolerance), a condition which includes all the chronic diseases that flow from it: obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, organ failure, metabolic disease… It has been very rare to record a Covid death that did not involve one or more comorbidities, so it is clear that the pandemic would have had little social impact if levels of chronic disease had been much lower.
Not getting vaccinated is a choice that involves some risk, but over a long period people have made many other risky choices that led to chronic disease, or they chose to do nothing to reverse chronic disease. Individual responsibility only goes so far, of course, because to a great degree, chronic diseases arise not from personal choices but from the economic system imposed on everyone, or from being born into unfortunate circumstances. We would be much better off if people snapped out of the trances they are in and focused attention on long-term systemic solutions rather than their unvaccinated neighbors.
However, considering the human tendency to look for scapegoats in times of social turmoil, if things had played out just a little differently, we might have seen the formation of a mass psychosis involving little Nuremberg rallies with a demagogue calling for rounding up the chronically ill in concentration camps. Perhaps this hasn’t happened because the chronically ill are the majority that has been able to form a mass hysteria directed against the unvaccinated.
While we have this rage against the unvaccinated, the vaccine stormtroopers seem to have taken for granted how generous the young and healthy have been toward the chronically ill for the last year and a half. They have sacrificed much for the sake of others. Perhaps this will be the next demographic to wake up and understand all that they have lost.
When the chronically ill need emergency medical care, it has always been given to them without any moralizing judgments about their “stupid choices.” There have been no rabid twitter rallies chanting, “No healthcare for the obese. Let them die. They put everyone at risk by using up precious medical system resources.” Social media has been raging with such comments about the unvaccinated ever since the “delta wave” emerged and shocked everyone into realizing the vaccines were a bust.
So I implore everyone to snap out of it. Wake up and listen to yourselves. There are better solutions to this problem. If the unvaccinated are a threat at all, they are a minutely small threat compared to all the other risks you live with, and a small threat relative to all the social and ecological disruptions that loom on the horizon.
I finish with two short transcripts of talks given by social scientists on the topics of mass psychosis (mass formation) and propaganda. The relevance to the corona crisis should be too obvious to require the mention of specific examples.
I also implore people to support the statement by Professor Max Forte, (Concordia University, Montreal), on the necessity of resisting the illegal decrees governments are using to deprive citizens of their most basic freedoms. Do it now. It will soon be too late:
Full transcripts on Propaganda and Mass Psychosis Formation
There need to be very specific conditions before mass formation and totalitarian thinking emerges in a society, and these conditions are as important as the media itself. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that without mass media, you cannot create mass formation or crowd formation at the scale like we experience it now and at the scale it was experienced shortly before the Second World War in Nazi Germany and in the first part of the twentieth century in the Soviet Union. You need mass media to create mass phenomena at that scale. That is true.
You are a psycho-analytic psychotherapist. You are a lecturing professor at Ghent University in Belgium, and you specialize in the mechanisms of mass formation and totalitarian thinking. Is that correct?
I’m a professor in clinical psychology at Ghent University, and I also have a master’s degree in statistics, but in this crisis, I’ve been taking the perspective of mass psychology. In the beginning of the crisis, I had been studying the statistics and the numbers, and I noticed that often they were blatantly wrong, and at the same time, people continued to believe them and to go along with the mainstream narrative. That is why I started to study it from the perspective of mass psychology because I knew that mass formation has a huge impact on individuals’ intelligence and cognitive functioning, and I had the feeling that this was the only thing that could explain why highly intelligent people started to believe a narrative for which the numbers were in many respects utterly absurd.
Four things need to exist or need to be in place if you want a large-scale mass phenomenon to emerge. The first thing is that there need to be a lot of socially isolated people, people who experience a lack of social bond. The second one is that there need to be a lot of people who experience a lack of sense-making in life. The third and the fourth conditions are there needs to be a lot of free-floating anxiety, and a lot of free-floating psychological discontent—meaning anxiety and discontent that is not connected to specific representations. It needs to be in the mind without people being able to connect it to something. If you have these four things: lack of social bonds, lack of sense-making, and free-floating anxiety and free-floating psychological discontent, then society is highly at risk for the emergence of mass phenomena, and these four conditions existed shortly before the corona crisis. There was an epidemic of burnout. Forty to seventy percent of the people experience their jobs as completely senseless. This was described in the book Bullshit Jobs, by a professor at Harvard. I always forget his name [David Graeber]. He died last year, I think. Then if you look at the use of psycho-pharmaceuticals, it was huge. This shows how much discontent there was in our society. For instance, in Belgium every year Belgians—population eleven million people—use over 300 million doses of anti-depressants. Over 300 million doses! That’s huge. You see that these four conditions really existed: lack of sense-making, lack of social bonds, free-floating anxiety, and free-floating discontent.
You have to note that free-floating anxiety is the most painful psychological phenomenon someone can experience. It’s extremely painful. It leads to panic attacks. It leads to all kinds of painful psychological experiences. What people want in this situation is something to connect their anxiety to. They are looking for an explanation for the anxiety, and now if this free-floating anxiety is highly present in a population and the media provide a narrative which indicates an object of anxiety and at the same time describes a strategy to deal with this object of anxiety, then all the anxiety connects to this object and people are willing to follow the strategy to deal with this object no matter what the cost is. That is what happens in the beginning of mass formation. Then in the second step, people start a collective and heroic battle with this object of anxiety. In that way, a new kind of social bond emerges and a new kind of sense-making. Suddenly, life is all directed at battling the object of anxiety and this is a way of establishing a new connection with other people. There is this sudden switch of a negative state—a radical lack of social connection—to the opposite—to a mass social connection that is experienced in the crowd. The sudden switch leads up to a sort of mental intoxication. That is what makes mass formation, or crowd formation, the exact equivalent of hypnosis. All people who have been describing, who have been studying mass formation, such as Gustave Lebon, * for instance, McDougall, [name indistinct] have remarked that mass formation is not similar to hypnosis but is exactly equal to mass hypnosis. Mass formation is a sort of hypnosis. So what happens is that at that moment when people experience this mental intoxication, it doesn’t matter anymore whether the narrative is correct or wrong, even blatantly wrong. What matters is that it leads up to this mental intoxication and that’s why they continue to go along with the narrative, even if they could know by thinking for one second that it is wrong. That is the central mechanism of mass formation, and that is what makes it so difficult to destroy. It is because for people it doesn’t matter when the narrative is wrong. We all try to show constantly that the narrative is wrong, but for people that is not what it is all about. It’s all about the fact that they don’t want to go back to this painful state of free-floating anxiety. So what we have to realize if we want to change this state of affairs is, first, to acknowledge this painful anxiety, to think about why we got in this state of lack of sense-making, lack of social bonds, the free-floating anxiety, this massive psychological discontent, and try to tell people we don’t need a corona crisis to establish a new social bond. We have to look for other ways to deal with psychological problems that existed before the corona crisis and try to find other solutions. We don’t need this kind of mass phenomenon to solve the problem. Mass formation is actually a symptomatic solution for a real psychological problem. In my opinion, this crisis, in the first place, is a large societal and psychological crisis much more than a biological crisis. From this state of mental intoxication, you can explain the rest of the phenomenon of totalitarianism. Mental intoxication leads to a narrowing of the field of attention that makes people see only what is indicated by the narrative. For instance, people see the victims of the corona virus, but they don’t seem to see, at the cognitive level, the collateral damage of the lockdowns and all the victims that are claimed by the lockdowns. They are also not able, at an emotional level, to really feel empathy for the victims of the lockdowns. That is not because they are very egoistic. No, it is just the effect of the psychological phenomenon. As a consequence of mass formation, people do not get egoistic at all. To the contrary, mass formation focuses the attention so much on one point that you can take everything away from people—their psychological and physical wellbeing, their material wellbeing—you can take it away and they will not even notice it. That’s one of the major consequences of mass formation. It is exactly the same as hypnosis, as classical hypnosis. During hypnosis when someone’s attention is focused on one point, you can cut the flesh and the person will not notice it. That is what happens all the time when hypnosis is used as a kind of anesthesia during surgical operations. A rather simple hypnotic procedure is sufficient to make people completely insensitive to pain. You can without any problem cut their flesh. In some circumstances you can even perform an open-heart operation in which the surgeon cuts right through the breastbone and the patient will not notice it. That shows that the focus of attention is so strong, both in mass formation and hypnosis, that people are very insensitive to all the personal losses they experience as a consequence.
Another consequence that is very typical for totalitarian states is that people become radically intolerant of dissonant voices. If someone tells another story, or if someone claims that the official story is wrong, then this person threatens to wake the people up, and the people will get angry because they are confronted with the initial anxiety and the initial psychological discontent, so they direct all their aggression at these dissonant voices. At the same time, they are radically tolerant of their leaders, of the people who pronounce the mainstream narrative. These leaders can actually cheat, lie, manipulate, and do everything they want, and they will always be forgiven because the crowd seems to think that the leaders do it for the sake of the crowd. That is also part of the mechanism of mass formation.
* Gustave Lebon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1895).
David Miller: The term propaganda comes from the Vatican’s Congregation for the propagation of the faith. It is about propagating the faith in the sense of getting people to join in the church to become believers in the church. It is propagation in the same senses as propagating plants. You grow something. So the original sense is of organic changes in society. Since then, propaganda was adopted as a term for the kinds of communications that happen especially in wartime. Propaganda has become a term which mainly relates to communication, to posters or political speeches, or communications through the media. And one of the things that is important when we think about propaganda is it’s important to go back to the original sense. When people talked in the eighteen-hundreds about organizing a propaganda, they meant a body of people to change society. It’s about trying to organize conduct as opposed to just change minds, so you hear the phrase “hearts and minds” quite often in relation to propaganda, or other similar terms. Yes, it’s about minds, and yes, it’s about hearts, but it’s also about organizing behavior in the world in the interests of those who are the propagandists.
Piers Robinson: Propaganda is organized, persuasive communication which has become on some level manipulative. It’s not about persuading people or getting people to agree with you. It is actually about manipulating people, so propaganda then becomes defined as attempts to deceive or incentivize, or to coerce people to get people to think things that they wouldn’t otherwise think. It’s a non-consensual process.
David Miller: The term propaganda came to be used for communication in wartime especially in the First World War, and it got a bad name in the 1914-1918 war, especially with atrocity stories about “the Hun,” the Germans, which helped to bring the British and the Americans into the First World War. As a result there were many people who saw the power of propaganda to change minds and to organize conduct. They decided that propaganda was too controversial a term and that they had to find another term. The father of this activity, Edward Bernays, came up with a new term and that was “public relations,” and so public relations became a term for propaganda which started to replace propaganda from the 1920s onwards, but especially after the Second World War. But, of course, the problem with that is that when people start to understand public relations, they start to become skeptical of that, so there’s a constant attempt to change what we call propaganda because it gets a bad reputation. The terms become soiled, and so there’s been a whole succession of different terms: “psychological operations,” “psychological war,” “strategic communication,” “information warfare,” “marketing” and “advertising” are new terms as well which essentially all refer to the potential to propagate ideas and behavior in society.
Piers Robinson: It’s a question of whether or not deception or lying was involved in the British government’s September Dossier which was produced in the run-up to the Iraq War. The conclusion which we reached in the case of the dossier is that the British government wasn’t lying. It didn’t claim that there were WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) in Iraq knowing there weren’t any, but it did deceive intentionally through deception based upon exaggeration and omission of information.
An early incarnation of the September Dossier was actually known as the “four-country paper,” and it was a paper which was looking at North Korea, Libya, Iran and Iraq, looking at all of these countries in terms of the threat they posed because of their programs for weapons of mass destruction. It’s known as the four-country paper, and very early on, an internal debate emerged that said the problem with having the four-country dossier is that Iraq actually looks to be the least threatening of all of these countries. So if we are trying to mobilize opinion to support military action against Iraq, then having all these countries in a dossier alongside Iraq isn’t really helpful here. John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee who was the overseer of the dossier—we have in an actual email saying—it actually states very clearly—that perhaps the government should think about removing the other three countries because that would have the benefit of “obscuring” the fact that in WMD terms, Iraq really isn’t that serious. So that’s a very good example of omission. You have a dossier that says we don’t want the public to know about those other countries because then they’re going to simply ask the obvious logical question: if you’re so concerned about WMD, why are you going after Iraq and not going after countries which have got far more significant WMD capability, according to the intelligence.
The core of this paper is what has come to be known as “Report X.” Report X was essentially a piece of sub-sourced intelligence given to a source on trial which said we know somebody who knows that Iraq is currently accelerating production of chemical and biological weapons, and this person will provide the evidence within three weeks. And that was the report which suddenly came onto the scene a week before the dossier was published. This was seized upon by people involved in the dossier and used in order to take the intelligence which was essentially saying, “Well we think there’s probably a WMD capability, but we can’t say for sure.” That intelligence was taken. You can obviously see from my description how flimsy that intelligence was. That intelligence was taken and used in order to transform the dossier to state very clearly that Iraq was currently producing chemical and biological weapons. That’s clear exaggeration of the overall intelligence picture in order to make the dossier more persuasive and take the threat from a possible future threat, which is really what the intelligence was saying, into an immediate threat with which a government could then make the case that we need to take action now.
David Miller: One way in which you have non-consensual communication is through the use of deception. People are not making informed decisions because they’ve been lied to, but another way in which there’s non-consensual communication is through coercion. A very, very clear example of that is when Western states are engaged in invasions and military operations such as, for example, the invasion of Iraq in 1990-91 and again in 2003. The US and the UK dropped leaflets on those countries for the local people, and the leaflets said, “We will bomb this area soon. Either you will be a target at that bombing if you don’t remove yourself from here, or if you leave here, we will spare you.
Piers Robinson: That’s understood as propaganda, but it’s clearly coercive propaganda because the meaning of those propaganda leaflets is getting people to surrender and it is underpinned by the very real threat of military force, so people are being persuaded into surrendering. It’s not just a propaganda message itself doing that work. It’s also the fact that you have a credible deployment of US military force, and that’s a form of coercion. When you start to theorize propaganda in terms of organized persuasive communication, you bring in all of these different ways of organizing conduct. You start to see, potentially, how widespread these activities are. And ultimately very serious questions are raised about the level of consent which is operating within democracies when you have, even before you get to the realm of incentivization and coercion, if you have a culture which accepts spin, exaggeration, and omission, which are actually primarily forms of deception, and you have a culture which sees that as natural and acceptable, then you know you’ve got widespread deception occurring. If you have widespread deception occurring in the context of a democracy, you don’t have genuine consent going on. This is clearly a non-consensual process. When you add to this mix the full range of incentivization and coercion which can go on as well, then the world starts to look far less consensual and very undemocratic, and that’s the major issue underpinning all of this.