Mass Formation and Group Narcissism
According to Gustav Le Bon, individuals, relieved of individual responsibility, will behave in a more primal fashion. He asserts, 'by the mere fact that the individual becomes part of an organized crowd, a man descends several rungs on the ladder of civilization.'
This description of mob behavior characterizes the regressive and psychologically immature aspects of groups. These groups are primitive, impulsive, unintelligent, restrictive, potentially destructive, and driven by a contagion of emotion. In these groups, members remain unconscious, minority voices are repressed, and internal conflict stays unresolved.
Mattias Desmet – Professor of Clinical Psychology at University of Ghent has argued convincingly that why the dominant narrative for promoting a failed vaccine is so successful is something called mass formation. It overlaps with much of my own work on regressive groups. Let’s first examine Desmet’s ideas and then connect his ideas with my own work on regressive groups. Finally, I offer a strategy on how we might wake up the hypnotized masses one person at a time by using paradoxical interventions.
Mass Formation is like mass hypnosis where people are collectively deceived into believing in a proposition that is false. Once they have succumbed to the deception, they will defend it ferociously. Desmet identified four conditions that need to be present to induce mass formation. These conditions are interrelated and evolve from circumstance that are present in society before the formation takes place.
Some have argued that the country has been in a form of collapse since 1970 (Greer, 2005). In a sense our systems are winding down and over the past 50 years that unwinding has been accelerating. Our political system is broken, and each political party so entrenched in their hatred of the other that no compromise is possible. The political system is controlled by corporate money and politicians are no longer accountable to the voters for their job security.
Our educational system is broken. Children are passed along from one grade to another with little regard for learning, much like an assembly line in a factory. Our universities are broken beholden to corporate donors and driven by the need for more and more tuition dollars to stay afloat offering only a mediocre education in return to ensure that students continue to stay and pay. Colleges are further undermined by the evolution of personal grievances that now dominate on college campuses, in one sense students crying to be recognized and treated as individuals.
The distribution of wealth is so distorted that only a few people control most the of the wealth in this country. The wealthy benefitted from a federal policy of very low interest rates and their wealth has soared in the last ten years. The latest data from the Federal Reserve shows that the top 1% has more wealth than the middle 60% of the income distribution (1). Moreover, inflation is devaluing wages by 6% in 2021. A recent survey estimated that 50 percent of all adults would have difficulty paying for a $400 emergency expense.
The media once comprised of many small news outlets is controlled by a few large corporations making it easy to manufacture consent. Social media is also in the hands of a few and all information including scientific studies that contradict the promotion and advocacy of vaccines is censored and the authors of such material are banned from social media sites.
Most work is meaningless and over 50% of workers hate their jobs. Much of the work is repetitive, routine, and soul- deadening.
Our judicial system is broken where wealthy clients can escape any accountability for crimes they commit, and the supreme court no longer rules according to law but favored ideologies. Most recently the Sackler family killed thousands of people with their unchecked promotion of the very dangerous opioid OxyContin and when called to account escaped any criminal penalty.
Social media has mesmerized people with banality, and on average spend 144 minutes a day (4) on their phones and other platforms scrolling through the daily detritus comparing themselves with how other people live their lives. Many young people are heavily influenced by social media and have lost their connection to self. Everyone is desperate for an identity and now insist on their own personal pronouns.
Mental illness is rampant. One indication in the United States are the 20.5 million antidepressant drugs that were prescribed between October and December 2020, up 6% from the previous year (1). It is estimated that the US has the highest number of stressed and anxious people in the world with 33% reporting some mental health issue. From April of 2020 to April of 2021 there were 100,306 deaths from drug overdoses. An increase of 28.5% from the same period the year before (2).
All the trends that I have identified above have been accelerating, increasing over the past 50 years to where people feel overwhelmed, anxious, unmoored, adrift, helpless, and fear the future. The very conditions that are necessary for mass formation.
The Germans faced similar circumstances in the 1920’s and 1930’s which led to the rise of the totalitarian state of Nazism. In Stalin’s Russia millions of those who opposed him were murdered by the state. Today with the general malaise, discontent and overwhelmingly anxiety of being unmoored from any meaning the conditions are ripe for mass formation that show characteristics of totalitarianism. These conditions I have described above prepared the fertile ground for mass formation brought about by the Covid pandemic that has been driven by fear.
Here are the four conditions that Desmet identifies as necessary for mass formation:
1.. A lack of social connection or bond
2. A lack of meaning
3. Free-floating anxiety - not connected to any mental object or representation.
4. Free - floating aggression and anger – internal – that cannot be aimed at a specific target
To begin, note that the chance of survival from this Covid virus is 99.9% and 94.7% if you are over 70. If you are old, sick, have immune disorders, and are obese your risk of dying is quite high. In fact, 73% of people who have died from Covid were obese. Otherwise, you have almost no chance of serious illness or dying from this virus. This is especially true among young people and children who may experience the virus like they might experience a common cold.
The vaccines may have killed thousands of people and may have caused 10s of thousands adverse effects. More people have died from this vaccine then all the other vaccines put together.
Had we simply handled this virus as we have done with other viruses with early treatment interventions there would have been no pandemic. I also suspect had we turned off the television set and ignored the mainstream media there would have also been no pandemic. But the mishandling of this virus from the beginning and the promotion of fear surrounding it, led many to believe in sinister motives and plotting that took place to promote the policy of mass vaccination. I will leave this speculation and argument for others.
However, as Desmet points out, that the promotion of a narrative of a Covid pandemic through mass and social media gave the free-floating anxiety that many people were experiencing beforehand an object on which to project that anxiety. Public health lockdowns and the mask mandates drove anxiety and increased feelings of social isolation and fear. Moreover, the solution to that anxiety was also provided -- the vaccines. Government and medical officials promoting the Covid pandemic also utilized that anxiety to produce fear, overwhelming fear, and that worry was directed toward a solution that alleviated that fear.
The masses were conscripted by panic into a battle with the pandemic and they evidenced a willingness to go along all in service of alleviating or controlling their anxiety. They also had a reason to live, a higher purpose.
They started a heroic battle with the object of anxiety, the pandemic. It became a kind of a religious quest to overcome and conquer the scourge of Covid with vaccinations and no matter what evidence was presented that the vaccines had little effect, even boosters, they were wildly defended. Even now when evidence suggests that those with vaccinations will be more susceptible to the Omicron variant, vaccines are defended. For those outside the bubble of mass formation it all seems irrational and absurd to continue down a failed path. But, as Desmet notes, the more absurd it is, the more support for the policy of vaccination which shows a sign of their commitment and connection to the group.
When people come together on an issue, such as the Covid pandemic, they feel a social bond, a connectiveness - meaning making - they move from extreme isolation to a high level of connectiveness to belonging to a group. This is quite like group narcissism that I describe in my own work.
Healthy and well - functioning groups are held together by cohesiveness, a sense of “we-ness,” a pride in belonging to the group, a sense of esprit de corps, that makes members proud to be a member of such a group.
Dysfunctional groups are held together by group narcissism, a malignant form of cohesiveness that holds members together by projecting their own dark side onto an out-group or enemy group. In this case the unvaccinated. These groups are primitive, impulsive, unintelligent, restrictive, and potentially destructive. In these groups, members remain unconscious, minority voices are repressed, and internal conflict stays unresolved. What gets projected is one’s own self-loathing, one’s self-hatred, one’s aggression, and aspects of self that have been pushed into the shadow outside of conscious awareness. It can also be aspects of the self that are shameful, or feelings of rage, or aggression, or lustful feelings, all hidden away from the public persona that seeks to present a more pleasant image to the world. This projection is known as scapegoating. Here are a few examples taken from comments to opinion pieces in the NYT.
“ …also believe hospitals and insurance company should simply adopt the policy that the unvaccinated always go to the back of the line for care. They should be stated as a simple policy matter and not with a combination of threats and accusations of stupidity on the part of the unvaccinated.”
“It is time for mandatory vaccination before a person is allowed on any commercial airliner, passenger train, or interstate bus service. And perhaps there needs to be a disincentive for Americans to remain unvaccinated, such as higher insurance costs or restricted admission to emergency rooms.
“Sadly, our political leaders have underestimated this virus from the beginning and many people have not moved from their initial view of it despite all the data in the world. I know people who would rather play Covid roulette than take the vaccine. My local feed store can't keep ivermectin on the shelf. "No "untested" vaccine for me but I'll chug horse wormer to keep away the Covid because I saw it on the Internet" Yeah, right, that makes perfect sense. Enjoy that sweet pony paste, my friend--and maybe you might want to put on a face mask in the store.”
This past weekend I visited a 87 year old friend who lives in a 55 apartment complex. She told me that there is a group of a half dozen older men, in their 80s, who don’t want to be vaccinated. They play cards in the common areas, walk around the halls without ever wearing masks, and just act like it is their right to spread their germs everywhere. Yet there are about 100 people there over 70. The selfishness is astounding.
Dependence on the Leader
Another characteristic I find relevant in regressive groups is reliance on the leader. People deskill themselves and project those skills onto the leader. Tony Fauci has embraced that role and unto him the hypnotized have projected messianic powers. Members who are bewitched also relinquish individual responsibility for their behavior and the behavior of the group. They are enfolded into the group, losing individual identity, and can commit atrocities with impunity.
A final characteristic of regressive groups that I find relevant to the current hysteria is the absence of conflict and dissent. All dissent or opposing opinion is silenced and censored and there is never dissent within the in- group. Although when the fog begins to lift members of the in-group will often turn on one another. In another comment from an opinion piece in the NYT I saw that one commentator was blaming (scapegoating) the vaccinated for not getting their booster shots.
Combined these conditions identified above can lead to a totalitarian state in which people are willing to sacrifice freedoms without notice for the sake of the collective. They don’t mind that they lose things importance to them. They give them up willingly for the greater good – like personal freedoms.
According to Desmet mass psychosis results in a very narrowly focused cognitive and emotional view. The field of attention becomes very small and limited. Any argument against the dominant narrative does not fall into this field of attention
People become insensitive to their own pain and to the pain of others. There are stories of many families breaking up over the vaccine mandates, i.e., unvaccinated grandparents forbidden to see their grandkids. Hannah Arendt noted that the totalitarian state “becomes a monster that will devour its own children.” She continues by saying that the masses are “seized by absurdity that makes them transgress all ethical limits.” Masses will commit atrocities if given the chance. It becomes a holy duty much like the witch hunts.
The object of the projected angst must be refreshed from time to time. The variants of the virus do just that, Alpha, Delta, and now Omicron. When one variant begins to wane almost magically another appears that is pronounced as more dangerous and more deadly than the previous one ratcheting up the fear level again and increasing the number of people who want to be vaccinated.
In Orwell’s book 1984 the country of Eurasia, real or not, was always poised to attack and threatening the population of Oceania so the fear was constant and used to control the masses.
Desmet estimates that about 30% of the population has gone down the rabbit hole and are completely hypnotized. The middle 40% go along to get along preferring conformity to rocking the boat and the final 30% a totally diverse group of people are not hypnotized and try and wake up the masses by logic and rational means which never works. Although Desmet proposed that keeping dissent and contrary opinion alive is important in waking the masses. Continue to speak out he says telling them, “I do not agree with the narrative.”
Mass Formation and totalitarianism and totalitarian states always end in disaster and Desmet believes the current mass psychosis will end disastrously maybe the most spectacular disaster we have ever seen at the medical level and throughout history. When people wake up from the hypnosis and realize what they have given up they usually kill the leaders.