Is this a global 'psychic epidemic'?
An extract from 'A State of Fear' adds to the theory of #MassFormation
Since Professor Mattias Desmet’s theory of #MassFormation is trending on Twitter, I’ve decided to share a short extract from A State of Fear: How the UK government weaponised fear during the Covid-19 pandemic. I hope it can assist in contributing to Desmet’s very interesting theory.
The idea that you might be caught up in mass hysteria, mass formation or a psychic epidemic is a threatening one. Bear in mind, it’s just a theory. Read the extract and watch Desmet’s interview with an open mind.
An extract from the chapter “Cults, Conspiracy Theories and Psychic Epidemics”:
“It is tempting to blame the whole mess on a malevolent cult, a cabal or an evil leader. After all we could then find them, expose them and take them down. They can’t hide in the shadows forever. While I don’t think we will find anything so simple, convenient and predictably evil lurking in the shadows, I think we should look to our own shadows for the answers.
Carl Jung wrote about the ‘shadow’ and the danger of psychological projection. Our shadow is the instinctive and irrational side of ourselves. Essentially, it is more comfortable to remain ignorant of our failings, so we project them onto other people, or mythic figures: ‘baddies’. The devil is the ultimate projection of our shadow. Jung recognised that there is a tendency within collectivist movements to project elements from the shadow onto others. The vast scale of the global fear response to Covid and the shocking social re-engineering it has instigated leads me to intuit that there are deep, collective unconscious forces at work.
Although Covid is a real disease and SARS-CoV-2 is a real virus, some of the response felt ‘unreal’ if you were not caught up in the cult-like response. We have not just endured and tolerated but even demanded the curtailment of our freedoms, for a disease which has a median Infection Fatality Rate of 0.05% for under 70-year-olds globally. Our response felt unmoored from the gravity of the threat – why?
I spoke to Jungian psychotherapist, James Caspian, about mass delusions. He pointed out that Jung lived through the striking and destructive collective movements of the world wars and the Cold War. What he said then about mass movements, the shadow and projection can be applied to what is happening in the world now. ‘In times of distress people turn to visions of Utopian or Apocalyptic scenarios,’ Caspian said. ‘Jung said the really dangerous point is when insight and reflection are crushed by the mass movement and the state succumbs to a fit of weakness in that scenario. I think that’s happening. The state is afraid of some of the mass movements, such as political correctness. Rational argument is only possible if the emotionality of a situation does not exceed a critical degree. In that case reason will be supplanted by slogans and fantasies. A collective possession develops which turns into a psychic epidemic.’
The looming collective shadow has resulted in mass delusions and mass hysteria before. Humans do this, more often than you would think. Here is a collection of eclectic examples. During the Salem witch trials in 1692–93 there were hundreds of accusations of witchcraft and ultimately 19 executions. A laughter epidemic in a girls boarding school in Tanganyika in 1962 saw up to 159 girls laugh continuously for days in an outbreak of mass hysteria. The ‘glass delusion’ was a mental illness particularly affecting the noble classes most common in the 16th and 17th centuries, whereby aristocrats believed they were made of glass and could literally shatter to death. The 1528 ‘dancing plague of Strasbourg’ was an inexplicable instance of mass delusion, with hundreds of people compelled to dance, some to the death.
In other examples of mass hysteria, if not psychic epidemics, The War of the Worlds radio broadcast caused panic among listeners in the United States who thought the Martians really had invaded. And James Thurber wrote in My Life and Hard Times about the day when everybody in his town, Columbus, thought the nearby dam had broken and ran miles to escape, shouting ‘Go East!’. The dam hadn’t burst and, regardless, the water never could have reached the town anyway. It was a fascinating insight into the contagion of fear and its ability to affect the rational mind. No one had questioned where the rumour started, or noticed the reassuring lack of water, and they hadn’t even got on their horses or started their cars. They just ran, like lemmings.
I asked Caspian how people can protect themselves, and how can societies protect themselves, from psychic epidemics? ‘Jung wrote a book called The Undiscovered Self,’ Caspian told me, ‘and he talked about the plight of the modern individual. To become truly individual that person would need to mis-identify from the collective. Most people are caught up in the collective and in movements and live out their life like that. It’s easier and more comfortable to be swept along. To individuate means in practice that we say there is a collective movement but we think critically about it and we are not prepared to be swept along by it.’ Jung said that it is not microbes, not cancer, but man himself who is the greatest danger to man.
If the UK, and maybe much of the world, is suffering a psychic epidemic, how do we learn from this experience and recover now, but importantly protect against the next one? A psychic epidemic has the potential to be far more devastating than the worst of natural catastrophes. The supreme danger which threatens individuals as well as whole nations is a psychic epidemic, not a viral epidemic.
After Hitler’s defeat, Jung concluded, ‘The phenomenon we have witnessed in Germany was nothing less than the first outbreak of epidemic insanity, an eruption of the unconscious into what seemed to be a tolerably well-ordered world.’ The role of the government should be to moderate and contain a psychic epidemic and mass delusion, not to exaggerate and multiply it. If fear was an open door in spring 2020, the UK government did not allow us to walk through it, but used a battering ram to knock it down.”
If you want to know more about mass formation and psychic epidemics, I recommend The Undiscovered Self, by Carl Gustav Jung.
“Under the influence of scientific assumptions, not only the psyche but the individual man and, indeed, all individual events whatsoever suffer a levelling down and a process of blurring that distorts the picture of reality into a conceptual average. We ought not to underestimate the psychological effect of the statistical world picture: it displaces the individual in favour of anonymous units that pile up into mass formations. Science supplies us with, instead of the concrete individual, the names of organisations and, at the highest point, the abstract idea of the State as the principle of political reality. The moral responsibility of the individual is then inevitably replaced by the policy of the State (raison d’état). Instead of moral and mental differentiation of the individual, you have public welfare and the raising of the living standard. The goal and meaning of individual life (which is the only real life) no longer lie in individual development but in the policy of the State, which is thrust upon the individual from outside and consists in the execution of an abstract idea which ultimately tends to attract all life to itself. The individual is increasingly deprived of the moral decision as to how he should live his own life, and instead is ruled, fed, clothed and educated as a social unit, accommodated in the appropriate housing unit, and amused in accordance with the standards that give pleasure and satisfaction to the masses. The rulers, in their turn, are the plight of the individual in modern society just as much social units as the ruled and are distinguished only by the fact that they are specialised mouthpieces of the State doctrine. They do not need to be personalities capable of judgment, but thoroughgoing specialists who are unusable outside their line of business. State policy decides what shall be taught and studied.”