Resilience Factors against Mass Formation (Pre-Reading)

«When I was just twelve years old and feeling out of place at school, my dad told me something very important: Be comfortable with being the most hated person in the room — if you can master the feeling and start to enjoy it, there’s nothing you can’t do.»

One term that came up during the past two years of Covid was «mass formation» by Mattias Desmet. Going by his recently published book «The Psychology of Totalitarianism»:

Mass formation is, in essence, a kind of group hypnosis that destroys individuals’ ethical self-awareness and robs them of their ability to think critically. This process is insidious in nature; populations fall prey to it unsuspectingly. To put it in the words of Yuval Noah Harari: Most people wouldn’t even notice the shift toward a totalitarian regime. We associate totalitarianism mainly with labor, concentration, and extermination camps, but those are merely the final, bewildering stage of a long process.
Mattias Desmet

I haven’t actually started reading the book yet, just did a quick search for definition for this posting. I wanted to write down prior to reading it … what were factors that some people did not join the Covid pro-lockdown pro-Covid-vaccines movement?

Not sure, but things that made me skeptical were …

  • Knowing how science actually works, including which incentives are toxic.
  • Knowing how nudges work and the ethical issues in using them.
  • Knowing that you can’t vaccinate that well against a fast-mutating RNA virus with animal hosts.
  • Being (thankfully) underwhelmed by all they dying people in the streets (there were none, sure, people died, but this wasn’t Venice during the Black Death).
  • Becoming very skeptical when science speaks with one voice and people should follow it uncritically. Complex phenomena a rarely that clear-cut.
  • Becoming very skeptical when science and politics agree completely and there are no differing voices.
  • Becoming very skeptical when the focus is on one variable only (Covid, not, say, negative consequences of lockdowns).
  • Some knowledge of how easy it is to follow inhumane orders (e.g., Milgram Experiment).
  • A general distrust of authority for authority’s sake (I have to thank the German military service for that one).
  • Knowing that totalitarian societies start small and that you have to be wary of the beginnings.
  • Being an outsider in school and thus being used to be socially ostracized and seeing things from the outside. Frankly, I lived that Odo quote: «Being an outsider isn’t so bad. It gives one a unique perspective.» Odo in Star Trek DS9: «The Search, Part II» and still do.
  • Having meaning and a source for moral behavior in my everyday life and thus not needing it from outside sources like «fighting against a pandemic» or «saving lives». Also, the major foundation is freedom.
  • Not being fazed by name-calling — it completely undermines opponents positions if you are called names in a scientific discussion.
  • Seeing my father die for 16+ hours in an ICU after he was without family support in that ICU for a week. Left me with the knowledge that my view on death holds true even when someone I love dies in front of me.
  • The knowledge that I have compromised my integrity a few times during my youth, and stopped doing it when I got older, and not wanting to go back to compromising it again.
  • Knowing that threats loom larger when you focus all your attention on them (e.g., Covid dashboards, you’d be scared shitless to drive if you had a car-crash dashboard).

Hmm, and likely a few other things, but that’s it on the top of my head (and with a few notes here and there).

And yeah, there are some heuristics among these things. And yup, it could have been that Covid would have been a killer in 2020 to 2021. It might even become an actual killer virus in 2022 or beyond. It can mutate. It’s just very unlikely. And in essence, nothing much has changed to how we were living before. That risk was always there, just not that focused attention on it.

Hmmmm, will be interesting to see what the future will bring. And what is actually in that book.