The Psychology of Totalitarianism

The Psychology of Totalitarianism is a book written by professor of psychology from Ghent University in Belgium, Dr. Mattias Desmet. In his book he illustrates his concepts of mass formation psychosis that has led to the irrational behavior of the masses in response to Covid over the past two and a half years. Wearing masks, lockdowns, coerced vaccination, denying healthcare to the unvaccinated, wearing masks in your car, continuing to get boosters when both safety and efficacy are in question, and so on.

One refreshing aspect of the book is that it undermines scientific authority which paradoxically enhances science. Specifically, he cites the work of legendary researcher Dr. John Ioannidis, epidemiologist and professor of medicine at Stanford University, and his research affirming that most medical research is not able to be replicated. Either through researcher bias or outright fraud, most published research, is simply, not valid.

I say this enhances science when Desmet points this out because it undermines the assumption of scientific authority. Science is supposed to be an open ended search for the truth that is inherently self corrective. Once science claims the role of authority and seeks to limit discussion it is no longer science. Censorship and science can’t coexist. In fact, using ‘authority’ to aid an argument is one of the four basic logical fallacies taught in basic scientific research classes. The others are attacking the messenger, i.e., the argument is flawed because the messenger is flawed, the false dichotomy, and assuming a temporal relationship automatically means causality.

Essentially, the isolation of people, or as Desmet calls it, the atomizing of people, the cutting off of general societal bonds mostly due to technology, leads to a free floating anxiety and frustration with no tangible cause. The introduction of a perceived threat, especially the ‘invisible enemy’ of the virus, galvanizes people into a new group to fight this common enemy. Thus, mass formation into a group identity. The introduction of ritualized behaviors such as masks, walking six feet apart, following lines in stores, all reinforce the new cultlike group identity. This disintegrates all critical thinking and blind obedience ensues. In essence we are left with a kind of group hypnosis.

As a psychotherapist that specializes in clinical hypnosis, I’d like to offer a few insights. First, of course, and Desmet points this out, this type of blind obedience does not occur in clinical hypnosis because the subject knows they are being hypnotized and knows why. Actually, group brainwashing may be a better word for what is occurring, but that may come off as harsh. The ritualized behaviors mentioned above, such as mask wearing, these, as he mentions, are designed to reinforce group blind allegiance and acceptance into the new group. They are also both convincers and trance deepening techniques.

There are a few social psychology studies that truly apply to the current situation in America and the world at large. Desmet mentions Asch’s studies on conformity. In these studies, there was a line on the board and three other separate lines and the subject was supposed to state which one matched the original line in length. The matching lien was obvious. The catch was that there were 12 confederates in the study that all stated the same wrong line. The participant stated the incorrect line as a result third of the time and attributed this afterword to social pressure and for some participants they even began to doubt their own cognitions. Interestingly, in this study, when there was another confederate that stated the correct line, the participant also stated the correct line 95% of the time.

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