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Mass Formation Psychosis keeps trending. What is it?

“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.”

Charles MacKay; Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

Mass Formation Psychosis is a term that has gripped the public consciousness recently because it identifies a mass behavioral phenomenon which some argue is emerging from the uncertainty and incoherence surrounding the Covid response.

The understanding of Mass Formation Psychosis comes from an European intellectual inquiry into what pathological madness gripped Europe in the 1920s and 1930s –the years leading up to WWII.

It is argued that in this period, in a population of intelligent and educated people, a hypnotic-like madness gripped the collective mind, which drove them to commit inexplicable atrocities.

Professor of Clinical Psychology, Mattias Desmut, of Ghent University (who also has a masters degree in statistics making him perhaps uniquely suited to identify this pathology) explains that Mass Formation Psychosis can form when you have a society that has become decoupled from each other; where people are atomized and socially isolated from one another and there is no common story.

It is a society under stress by this social atomization, a sense of meaninglessness, and a feeling that things don’t make sense. People feel as if they have no purpose. They don’t contribute, and their life is incoherant.

From these first two conditions a third condition arises; a form of free-floating anxiety and free-floating psychological discontent. The signs of this are sometimes evident in high levels of addiction and the use of anti-anxiety medication etc. (Desmut cites that in Belgium, a country of 9 million people 300 million antidepressant doses are administered each year)

The final condition is a lot of free-floating frustration and aggression. Like the third condition, this is a consequence of the first two conditions.

Professor Desmut says “When these four conditions are fulfilled, society is in a mental state where something very specific can happen.”

“If under these conditions a story is distributed through the mass media, indicating an object of anxiety, and at the same time providing a strategy to deal with it, then the following might happen.”

“All the free-floating anxiety is attached to the object of the anxiety in the narrative, and there is a huge willingness to participate in the strategy to deal with this object of anxiety.”

“People suddenly feel connected again in an heroic struggle, and a new kind of solidarity; a new kind of social bond; a new kind of meaning making; and sense making emerges in society.”

In this situation then, their attention gets focused by a leader or series of events on one small thing; just like hypnosis, they literally become hypnotized and can be led anywhere.

One of the aspects of that phenomenon is that the people that they identify as their leaders; the ones typically that come in and say “you have this pain and I, and I alone, can solve it for you” get their unquestioned allegiance. They will follow that person through anything. It doesn’t matter whether they lie to them demonstrably and repeatedly. The data and facts become irrelevant.

The reason people buy into the narrative is that it leads to this new social bond. Prof. Desmut says “People are social beings, and being socially isolated is painful, and through the process of Mass Formation they switch from the very negative state of social isolation to the opposite state of the maximal connectedness that exists in a crowd or a mass, and that leads up to a kind of mental intoxication.

“This is the real reason that people stick to the narrative, even if it is utterly wrong and even if they lose everything that is important to them personally. Mass formation is a kind of hypnosis.”

“Just like in hypnosis, the attention is focused on this very small part of reality, and just like in hypnosis people are completely unaware of everything that is happening outside of this small area of their attention.”

Furthermore, anybody who questions that narrative is to be immediately purged. They are the other; the interloper; the saboteur; the enemy. This particular pathology is central to Mass Formation Psychosis.

Dr Robert Malone, who was recently interviewed by on the hugely popular Joe Rogan podcast, brought global attention to the term when he discussed the international response to the Covid-19 virus. Others argue, however, that there is nothing delusional in following public health guidance on the coronavirus.

It might be fair to say that the complex problem of the covid reaction is emergent and as such is esoteric; is hard to define and explain. It has many implications and it has an inertia which seems impervious to error correction. It has been described as a sort of hypnosis that takes command of the minds of a large minority (about a third) of the population and then forces the whole of society along an implacable and extraordinarily destructive path.

Professor Mattias Desmut has an unusual analytical skill set. He says that he was turned onto the realization that something extraordinary was taking place early in the pandemic when despite the modeled projections of mass deaths proving wrong, the draconian “temporary measures” of lockdown were maintained.

Everyone remembers that lockdown was supposed to be only for two weeks, and yet, despite the “surge of deaths” not occurring, these extraordinary measures of locking healthy people in their homes were maintained without any real public resistance.

He was surprised that these models never took into consideration the collateral damage of the lockdown and other top down social control measures. The narrow focus of preventing covid deaths had an hypnotic effect on the population.

The term “Mass Formation Psychosis” is an observance of group behavior contagion. It is argued that it has occurred frequently in the past as Charles MacKay observed in his seminal 1841 book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds’

Some experts reject the hypothesis, telling the Associated Press recently that the concept resembled what they believed to be discredited concepts, such as “group mind”.

Perhaps it’s worth considering again how McKay described the phenomenon.

“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.”

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