Following is the transcript of a recording of a live-streamed conversation) between Dan Astin-Gregory (the interviewer) and Mattias Desmet (a Belgian professor of clinical psychology), titled Why Do So Many By Into the Narrative?
[00:00:01] Dan Astin-Gregory
Good afternoon, greetings. Welcome to the Pandemic Podcast. Today we’re asking the question,”why do so many still buy into the narrative?” Does it sometimes feel like you’re surrounded by people who’ve been hypnotized in some way? Well, maybe you are. My guest tonight is professor Mattias Desmet. He’s a professor of clinical psychology at Ghent University in Belgium and his observations over the past 18 months have led him to conclude that the overwhelming majority have indeed fallen under some kind of spell. Except that it’s not actually a spell. There’s no witchcraft here (or maybe there is). But the term for this is mass formation. And right now it’s manifesting as a psychological response—not unlike hypnosis—to the unrelenting single-focus campaign of fear to which we’ve all been subjected over the last 12 to 18 months. So tonight I’m going to be exploring with Mattias some of the triggers and what sustains this mass response. And where this could ultimately lead us and why a minority somehow manage to remain unaffected. And whether there’s anything we can collectively do to break the spell before it’s too late. We’ll be exploring how socialization, isolation, a lack of sense-making, some of the background factors around free-floating anxiety and other factors… how these elements lead to mass formation and ultimately totalitarian thinking, as we’ve witnessed during the coronavirus crisis. So it’s a huge pleasure to welcome, on the back of our interview with Reiner Fuellmich last night, Professor Mattias Desmet, he’s been an expert witness within Reiner’s coronavirus committee and we’ve got him here tonight to explore these important issues. A huge welcome to the Pandemic Podcast.
[00:02:07] Mattias Desmet
Thank you, Dan. Thanks.
[00:02:10] Dan Astin-Gregory
So this is a fascinating subject. You’ve got a background in psychology, you work as a psychoanalyst. What fascinates me is the human aspect of this coronavirus pandemic. And we were discussing prior to broadcasting here, you know, why so many people who are in the field of psychology have taken time to recognize what’s going on. So, I’d like to start by asking you the question, what led you to personally recognize what you’re being told may not be right? Was there a defining moment? Did you know straight away? What led you to recognize that something wasn’t quite right?
[00:02:50] Mattias Desmet
Well, I, immediately, from the beginning of the crisis, I had a feeling that there was something wrong with the mainstream narrative, but I couldn’t really indicate what exactly I thought there was wrong, but I started… actually I have a double degree. On the one hand, I am a professor in clinical psychology, but I also have got a master’s degree in statistics and, at the beginning of the crisis, I actually started to analyze some figures and some graphs and some statistics on the mortality of the virus, the infection fatality rate, the case fatality rate, and all this kind of stuff. And immediately I noticed that most statistics dramatically overestimated the dangerousness of the virus, and I was not alone. There were several other statisticians, sometimes world famous medical statisticians, such as Ioannides of Stanford, for instance, who also warned, tried to warn people and the governments that there was a good possibility that the coronavirus was much less dangerous than most models claimed. But in one way or another, all these dissonant voices did not really have much effect. But, for me personally, by the end of May 2020 it was proven beyond doubt that the initial mathematical models overestimated the mortality of the virus. For instance, we all know that the mathematical models that had most impact on the Corona measures were probably those issued by Imperial College in London. And these models actually predicted that by the end of May 2020 in a country like Sweden, about 80,000 people would die if the people would not go into lockdown. And by the end of May 2020, the virus claimed about six thousand people in Sweden, and no more than that. Which meant that the models actually overestimated the mortality of the virus by a factor of 50. So, which is huge. And the strangest thing for me was that, while the Corona measures actually present themselves as measures that are really scientifically-based, that are based on mathematical modeling and stuff… The strangest thing is that at the moment it was proven beyond doubt that the initial models overestimated dangerousness of the virus dramatically, the measures and the approach was not corrected! It just continued as it… it just continued as in the beginning. And at that moment for me, that was like a turning point for me, I think. I started to take a different perspective than I started. I switched then from the perspective of a statistician to the perspective of a clinical psychologist. And I started to wonder how is it possible that an entire society, even, even the world population, is going along with a narrative that shows so many absurd characteristics. Another example of an absurd characteristic of the story was that from the beginning of the crisis, institutions such as the United Nations actually warned us that probably more people would die as a cause of starvation or hunger in developing countries—because of the lockdowns—than the number of victims the coronavirus could claim even if no measures were taken at all, so which meant as much as that the remedy was far worse than the disease in this case. Still, nobody seemed to notice, and everybody seemed to be focused so much on these Corona victims and on the possible damage caused by the coronavirus, that everybody continued, and the people continue, to be willing to buy into the story and to go along with the story, which is actually extremely strange. And from then on… from May 2020 on, I started to try to understand what psychological processes were going on in society. And it took me about three or four months, I think, it was in August 2020, because I suddenly felt that I could really hit the nail, and that I could say, “what you’re dealing with here is a process of large scale mass formation”. That’s what’s happening, and looking backward and looking back at that it really surprised me that it took me so long because I had been lecturing on mass formation for four years at Ghent University. But at that moment I had a feeling like that’s what going on and I also could really show how exactly this process had been emerging in our society and how it provoked the effect that it had in our society.
[00:08:14] Dan Astin-Gregory
Can I ask you to very briefly define what mass formation is? Could you summarize?
[00:08:18] Mattias Desmet
Yes, mass formation is a specific phenomenon which emerges in a society if a few conditions are met. There are at least four conditions that have to be fulfilled before a large scale phenomenon of mass formation can emerge, and the first and most important condition is that there should be a lot of people experiencing a lack of social bonds, a lack of social connectedness. The second condition is that there have to be a lot of people who experience a lack of meaning-making. And these two are actually associated to each other. People are human; humans are social beings, and if they experience a lack of social connectedness, a lack of social bond, they will probably also experience a lack of meaning-making. And then the third condition is that there have to be a lot of people who experience a lot of free-floating anxiety. This means anxiety that is not connected to a mental representation. For instance, if you see a lion and you’re scared then you know what you’re scared of. Your anxiety in that case is connected to a mental representation. But if it is not connected to a mental representation you end up in an extremely aversive negative emotional state in which you deal with a kind of anxiety that you cannot control. So, first condition: lack of social bonds; second condition: lack of meaning-making or sense-making in life; the third condition: a lot of free-floating anxiety and psychological discontent; and then the fourth condition: a lot of free-floating frustration and aggression, a kind of aggression that is, that you feel inside of yourself but you cannot direct or aim at a certain object or cause. So, and then under these… when these conditions are met. something really typical can happen in a society when under these conditions: a narrative is distributed through the mass media indicating an object of anxiety and at the same time providing a strategy to deal with this object of anxiety. Then there might be a huge willingness in the population to go along, to participate in the strategy, and why? Because all this free-floating anxiety, which is so hard to control, connects to this object of anxiety and in this way, that’s the first advantage: all this free-floating anxiety is now connected to a mental representation. And then just by participating in the strategy, you can mentally control the object of anxiety. For instance, if a narrative is distributed which says that there is a very dangerous virus and that we should go into lockdown—if these four conditions are met, then there might be an extremely extraordinary willingness to participate in the strategy and the lockdowns even when the narrative in itself is absolutely absurd. So then what happens is actually something very important: when people start to participate all together in the strategy to deal with the object of anxiety, a new kind of social bond and a new kind of meaning-making emerges. Which is that there is like a new kind of solidarity that emerges. And this makes the people switch from a highly aversive negative mental state of social isolation, interpersonal isolation, to the exact opposite: to the extremely high level of connectedness that exists in a crowd or a mass. So then people start a heroic battle with the object of anxiety, which leads to a kind of mental intoxication of connectedness. Which is the real reason why people continue to buy into the narrative even if it’s utterly absurd or blatantly wrong. It’s a kind of ritual. It’s a kind of ritual. It has exactly the same function as a ritual. A ritual is a kind of behavior that people participate in to show that they belong to a group, to create a group, to create a collective, to create solidarity. And you can even say about rituals that the more absurd they are from a practical perspective, the better they function as a ritual. Of course! …because then the more absurd they are, the more purely they become a sign that shows that they belong to a group, no?
[00:12:56] Dan Astin-Gregory
Yeah, it becomes unique to that group. I mean just to unpack some of those things, you know, talking about free-floating anxiety in the Western world that we face. I mean just take ourselves out of the present moment. We’ve been living very busy stressful lives. I mean, if you look at any statistic about job satisfaction it shows that most people either dislike or hate their jobs. People are living busier and busier lifestyles; people have health challenges. You know, we live in this very fast-paced consumerist world and life just comes with background tension without people’s… the burden of responsibilities that people have. So undoubtedly this condition is existing at a high level. So what I understand is that this situation gives people the opportunity essentially to attach… it becomes an object of attachment. So they can therefore transfix their own anxieties onto this external object, which therefore then takes away the need to actually do the work to actually tackle their own anxieties, which perhaps they haven’t really got a handle on.
[00:14:08] Mattias Desmet
Exactly. Yes, exactly. These four conditions were met in our society to a high extent. Of course I don’t know if you know the book, Bullshit Jobs, of Graeber, a professor of law from University of London who studied the level of meaning-making people experience in their jobs in the first… in the beginning of the 20th century and of the 21st century, and he discovered that actually 50 percent of the people do not experience any meaning at all. They feel as if their job was completely meaningless and also the free-floating anxiety and depression and the psychological discontent… In a country like Belgium, three hundred million doses of antidepressants were used each year—three hundred million doses in a population of 11 million people. It’s unbelievable! So, these conditions were definitely met and then, as you say, when people can indeed connect their anxiety to a false representation because the real origin of the cause of their anxiety was not this virus. They were already anxious. They were already confronted with a lot of psychological discontent, but then there was this virus narrative which allowed them to connect it to a representation. And in a symptomatic way, for a certain period of time, this corona narrative allows them to deal in a less painful way with their anxieties. It’s a symptomatic solution, and all symptomatic solutions in the end become highly destructive. And the real solution, as you say, as you said, would be to start to think all together how we ended up in this terrible state of social isolation, of lack of meaning-making, of free-floating anxiety, and of all this frustration and aggression. That’s the real question we should ask ourselves: from what in our view on men and the world…what in our society… means that we ended up in these problematic psychological conditions?
[00:16:18] Dan Astin-Gregory
Well, that’s absolutely a big question…really important questions because actually if you look at the background discontent, for instance, in the United Kingdom we’ve been through Brexit, which is hugely divisive. That’s just one example of something that’s created background discontent. But if you take that issue off the table, but look at how the media operate, full stop, you know the media’s become increasingly partisan. It’s increasingly polarizing. And as a result—this is prior to the pandemic, you know—so it divides society and these… to me (and I will come on to talk about this later) is, how do we move forward is the big piece from here, because you’re absolutely right: we’re not asking those questions. This type of conversation is fascinating because it helps us understand not just the problem but some of the root causes of the problem. And as we were discussing offline, prior to 2020 I spent most of my time in entrepreneurship innovation. And one of the first things we look for is, what is the problem? And then what’s the root cause? Because once we identify that, then we could start to look at solutions and I think this, for me, these are big issues. You know, the preconditions of massive issues, but unsurprisingly, have created the foundation for this mass formation. Now, what does mass formation lead to and how has this manifested over the last 18 months during the coronavirus pandemic?
[00:17:39] Mattias Desmet
Yes. So the first and one of the most important effects of mass formation is that it leads to, to a, to a very narrow field of attention. So meaning that people seem to be only able to, to be aware, both cognitively and emotionally, of a very small part of reality, on which the mass narrative focuses their attention. So that’s something extremely problematic. For instance, you see this in the fact that people in one way or another only seem to be sensitive, emotionally. for victims of the coronavirus and then all the other victims: children who starve, who risk to starve, people who lost their jobs, people or treatments that were delayed and there was huge collateral damage, but in one way or another it never had the same effect as the damage caused by the coronavirus. So it’s extremely problematic, the field of attention is so limited that it seems almost impossible to provide arguments that are in conflict with the narrative. Because all the arguments that you can raise rationally against the narrative, they do not fall into this small field of attention that, that, that, that is really counting for, for for people in the mass. So one of the most important effects is that people are, their attention is focused —just like in hypnosis—is focused on a small part of reality, and people are even not aware of the things that are usually extremely important for them in a normal state, like their psychological and physical health, their wealth, their well-being, and so on. And in a condition of hypnosis or mass formation, you can take all these things away from people. They won’t even notice. It will seem as if they don’t notice that they are losing a lot of things that are personally important to them, and in hypnosis this is very clear. And you can, by a simple hypnotic procedure, you can make someone so insensitive to pain that you can cut straight through his flesh, that even you can carry out… perform surgical operations in which you cut straight through [to?] the breastbone. It’s very strange, but a simple hypnotic procedure in which the hypnotist focuses the attention on something positive, for instance, will often make people completely insensitive to physical pain, and in the same way, they are also insensitive to psychological pain, because their attention remains focused on the solidarity and the shared narrative. They will not notice that they are losing the wealth and the well-being of themselves, or even their children… people will be able to take it away without the population noticing it. So that’s one of the most problematic effects, which was also described when the totalitarian states of the first half of the 20th century emerged, in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. One of the most striking observations was that, in a strange way, all these people seem to be willing to really sacrifice everything that was precious to them, as if they didn’t notice it. And then Stalin, for instance, he liquidated 50 percent of the members of his own Communist party. And the strange thing was that these communist leaders, even, did not object or did not protest—they accepted their, uh, the death penalty, as if they admitted that they had done something wrong. but while they actually haven’t been doing anything wrong. The strange way in which people are insensitive to personal losses is one of the most striking consequences of mass formation. And also shows that actually mass formation does not… that you cannot compare the emotional insensitivity that manifests during mass formation with a kind of ordinary egoism. It’s something completely different. People are not egoistic at all in the masses. To the contrary, they are willing to sacrifice all their individual freedom and all their individual advantages in favor of the collective well-being and of this new kind of extreme solidarity.
[00:22:25] Dan Astin-Gregory
Well, absolutely. I mean I’ve spoken about this on the podcast before. I describe it as radical collectivism, or fundamental collectivism, which I believe (we’ll come on to talk about this) becomes the precursor to totalitarianism because—you’re absolutely right—becomes, of course, excess. You know, it’s such excess bias towards collectivism that we forgo individual rights. And there were some fascinating papers written during the pandemic. One, I think in Arizona, one in New Zealand, talking about how the moralization of policy does exactly what you’ve just described: that people could lose out in their education. they could lose their job, they could lose their homes, they could miss out on a major life-changing health diagnosis and willingly accept that for this collective interest of protecting one another or doing this together for society, and the governments, clearly in the UK. have recognised this, you know, it’s all about protecting one another, save the NHS, and all these different things which give people not only a sense of solidarity but a sense of meaning and a sense of higher purpose, which actually, as you described, is something that was missing. I’ve also identified that many of the policy makers now (of course there’s businesses that are profiting from this situation right now, and they obviously don’t want the situation to change because they’re gaining significantly financially) but I think a lot of people are gaining psychologically because they get a sense of purpose. I think, for a lot of the politicians, they don’t want to go back to their normal day jobs—they’re happy operating in crisis mode because it gives them a sense of purpose.
[00:24:04] Mattias Desmet
That’s one of the hidden secrets of this crisis: that nobody wants to go back—or most people don’t want to go back— to the old normal. So if we try to wake people up, we should avoid giving them the impression that you want them to go back to the old normal, because they don’t want to go back to the Bullshit Jobs. They don’t want to go back to this terrible state of anxiety. We should try to show them that there are other ways to change this old normal. That’s the most important thing, I think. And indeed, politicians felt they were losing their grasp on society before the crisis, and now they have to have a narrative which allows them to give direction to society again, to be true leaders again. So, all these kinds… all these factors together make it impossible at this moment to go back to the old normal.
[00:25:07] Dan Astin-Gregory
Yeah, I mean, I just want to touch on another piece before we move on, but you know in the sense of this, I consider myself, you know, I started this show back in October. I’ve probably done over three hundred episodes now, really just to start asking the questions that most seemed unwilling to ask. But as a consequence, you know, I’ve had to suffer in all manner of abuse and insults, accusations. You know, I truly believe I have a solid heart and live with integrity but I’ve had to be… I’ve endured all kinds of insults.
[00:25:39] Mattias Desmet
I know what you’re talking about.
[00:25:42] Dan Astin-Gregory
But I know I’m far from alone, you know… And even people who question things privately…(and I know many of my audience will experience this frustration) …I’ve heard stories from people in my team who have separated from their loved ones, they’ve fallen out with family members, they’ve lost friends, all because they’re asking different questions. And even if those questions lead to very profound, different answers to what we’re seeing in the mainstream media, people are just rationally unwilling to tolerate it. Could you comment on that piece here? Because I think a lot of people on an individual level have lost, you know, fallen out with people and it’s very hard. It magnifies the issue, really.
[00:26:26] Mattias Desmet
Yes, indeed. One characteristic of mass formation is that it makes people extremely intolerant of dissonant voices, for, as for other voices and we can easily understand that these other voices, these different voices, threaten to wake people up and to confront them again with these problematic conditions before the mass formation existed. So, meaning that if someone tries to convince someone that the corona narrative is wrong, or that the mask narrative is wrong, then the person feels that he is at risk of waking up. And in that case, he will be confronted again with the initial free-floating anxiety and the lack of social bonds and stuff. And so that’s one of the reasons why people are highly intolerant, that the masses are highly intolerant for dissonant voices. Second one is, of course, that actually it’s far more easy for someone who is in a hypnotized, or lost in the process of mass formation, to—instead of believing the one who tries to convince them that the story is wrong—it’s far more easy to direct all this free-floating frustration and aggression that existed before the crisis to this dissonant voice. That’s exactly what happens. In a mass, people constantly… masses tend to commit atrocities as if they perform a holy duty or something—that’s very typical. And at the same time, what they actually feel is that by being… by trying to destroy the dissonant voices, we actually protect the collective. And that’s true to a certain extent, they don’t realize it but that’s why it feels to them as if they… it’s something like a holy duty to… a sacred duty to be cruel to dissonant voices. And at the same time, they protect the collective but also they channel all this free-floating frustration and aggression. They concentrate it on one point. And in that way they satisfy a certain need to try to channel frustration and aggression. So, but then Gustav LeBon already described it somewhere in the 19th century: that one of the major characteristics of the masses, of the crowds, is their intolerance for people who do not go along with the masses and they want everything, everyone, to be part of the masses. And at the same time—it’s very strange—at the same time, they will usually not really destroy their last enemy because they need enemies. So the masses can only exist if they have an enemy—if they have an object of anxiety. That’s something that was very well described by Orwell in “1984”, where he talked about the Eurasian warrior who was a constant threat, but nobody actually knew whether he really existed or not. But masses and the totalitarian system always have to invent new enemies, new objects of anxiety, because if there were no object of anxiety, the masses would not have a reason to exist, because one of the main reasons is the control of anxiety. So, the leaders of the masses feel that if there were no object of anxiety anymore, the masses would wake up, and what would they do if they wake up? The first thing they would do is kill their leaders. That [inaudible] something typical because then, when they wake up, they start to realize the losses they suffered while being [inaudible] and they will blame their leaders for their losses. That’s typically what happens. Gustav LeBon also describes that; he says, “everybody who puts himself in charge of a mass better prepare to be killed by them.”
[00:30:39] Dan Astin-Gregory
Well, I would like to hold that thought and come back to that because I think that’s something I’d like to come to towards the next phase of the conversation, because undoubtedly people will think, you know, where are we in the cycle? Because, at some point, I do think that moment will come where people will suddenly realize all the sacrifices they’ve made, were made in vain… were made needlessly in many ways, and at great loss personally and collectively, to be quite frank, because what I don’t understand about the collectivist mindset is that—and my followers who’ve been watching this all the way through will hear me say this over and over again—you can’t save the entire forest by protecting one tree. Now we’re happy to become collectivist around covid cases, but simultaneously allow the economy, education, the health-care system, to basically flat-line. And I say, “what is collectivist about that? …allowing society to collapse?” It doesn’t feel like a very collective methodology to me, but again, that’s rational thought, but they’re not operating rationally. Right?
[00:31:42] Mattias Desmet
Yes it’s, it’s completely irrational and that’s something very strange. So that’s exactly, I think that’s a consequence of all of this, of this narrowing of the field of attention. Yes, people seem to be aware of only one small part of reality and the way in which and… and as a consequence all the decisions are made as if only that part of reality counts. So when all decisions and all measures are really disproportionate, that’s something that was so typical for the totalitarian systems as well. A really imbalanced disproportionate way to deal with reality. Yes. But the difference between a totalitarian state and classical dictatorships is something really important. As soon as you understand that, you understand the power of the masses. And so, like a classical dictatorship… in a classical dictatorship, the population obeys the dictator because they are scared of him, that’s all. But then in a totalitarian state, people are hypnotized by the very totalitarian leaders and they are, in one way or another, this makes the totalitarian state behave in a completely different way than a classical dictatorship. For instance in a dictatorship, a classical dictatorship, the opposition is silenced. If there is no opposition anymore in the public space, then usually the dictator becomes milder. He becomes, he becomes friendlier, because he understands that he has to create a positive image in the population in order to remain the leader. In a classical totalitarian state. exactly the opposite happens: as soon as the opposition is silenced, as soon as there is no opposition anymore in the public space, then the totalitarian system becomes really crazy and starts to commit its most absurd atrocities. That was the case in 1930 in the Soviet Union, and in 1935 in Nazi Germany, actually: as soon as the opposition was silenced, the totalitarian system becomes—to use the words of Hannah Arendt—it becomes a monster that devours its own children and then it becomes radically absurd. It starts to destroy everyone, no matter whether they are loyal to the system or not. And so that’s something extremely important: the difference between a classical dictatorship and a totalitarian system is extremely important, and it shows us one thing, one central quintessential thing in this crisis: we have to continue to speak out, because if the opposition is silenced, then the hypnosis will become even deeper than it is now, and then the masses will start to commit atrocities. That’s so typical; it just, history has shown us time and time again. It’s quintessential that people continue to speak out. They will not be able to stop the process of mass formation, but they will be able… they will prevent the hypnosis to become so deep that atrocities are committed, and… well… so I think usually in a process of mass formation there are three groups. There are always three groups. There is one group, only about 30 percent of the people, that is really hypnotized. That’s something strange. And also in a totalitarian state, only 30 percent of the population is really totalitarian. Then, there is a second group of about 40 percent who usually do not go against the mass or the crowd. So they also… they follow the crowd and, in that way, there is a group of 70 percent who is going along with the system or with the masses. And then there is an additional group of about 30 percent, who is also not hypnotized and who tries to speak out or to do something. And that group is extremely heterogeneous: it’s of all political backgrounds, of all socio-economic status, of all ethnic groups. It’s very hard to define what that group is, this third group, but this third group is usually also about 25 or 30 percent. So, if this group could really unify… as soon as this group is really one group, as soon as this group finds a way to really identify with each other, the crisis is over and the mass formation stops. That’s the challenge.
[00:36:30] Dan Astin-Gregory
Well, I mean there’s some really fascinating distinctions. I think the first important one is the distinction between totalitarianism and dictatorships because there are a lot of people saying, you know, how do we, how do we how do we overturn this, you know. In a classical dictatorship it’s very simple. It’s usually one clear leader and they’ve probably got comrades alongside them, but clearly there’s a clear focal point. But what we’re experiencing is something a bit different to that under this almost-totalitarian global regime. We’ll talk more about that in a minute. The next piece is around this break down: almost 30 percent seemingly indoctrinated and perhaps won’t change their mind no matter what you do. But perhaps this 40 percent, they follow along but could be swayed, maybe more neutral, and then the 30 percent who are more rebellious or dissenting… which leads to my next question, really, is, is, why are some people apparently not affected by mass formation? You know ,if we look at those like myself who are questioning and actively seeking to create change… that 30 percent rebel group effectively. Why are we not affected by mass formation in the same way?
[00:37:42] Mattias Desmet
That’s a very very good question. Many people have tried to answer that question and usually everybody, or most people, or almost always people fail to to give a real answer. I think in this crisis, whether you buy into the story or not, whether you hypnotize or not, has a lot to do with your broader ideological preferences. Like I feel that most people who really go along with the narrative now, and who are really identifying with the narrative, have no problem at all with a very mechanistic, biological, reductionist view on man and the world. I think that most people, for instance, are convinced that vaccines are the best way to boost your immune system and so on. So I think that most of the people who really go along with the narrative now are people who feel good with more… with the broader ideology—the biological reductionist, even the transhumanist, ideology—that is seizing the population now because I’m convinced that if we… if this process continues, we will end up in a transhumanist society, or they will try to re-organize society according to the ideals and the principles of transhumanism. And I think that as far as… I think that people who object and who protest and who are not sensitive to the mass formation now, that usually they are people who really have an aversion to this biological reductionist ideology, that’s my two-cents’-worth opinion
[00:39:41] Dan Astin-Gregory
Do you think,—to link to your previous point around the kind of background factors— is it possible that perhaps those who are more inclined to be indoctrinated, or fall under the spell of this kind of mass formation… Is it possible that they potentially have higher levels of background anxiety and you know, this idea of biological reductiveness, to vaccines? You know, I made a comment on a… there’s an American spiritual leader who was commenting on the situation, and I said. “Is it possible that people’s erosion of faith is what’s leading to this almost dogmatic ideological savior-like response when it comes to vaccines?” They want to place their anxieties into this external solution as a vehicle to overcome their inner anxieties; is it possible that this group have potentially a higher background level of anxiety? And also to comment, if you will, on the, you know, there’s a marker of intelligence. I believe it’s, you know, the people who you would expect—the most educated, the most academic—seem to be the ones that are most compliant with the ideology, and both of these points fascinate me.
[00:40:51] Mattias Desmet
Yes, of course. Of course. Yes, that was something that was already mentioned by Gustave LeBon in the 19th century in his book, The Psychology of the Crowd, he writes that actually, the higher the level of education, the more sensitive people are to mass formation. “Usually”, of course, always “usually”. And also the level of education and even the level of intelligence—actually, the level of intelligence, for instance—highly-educated and highly-intelligent people become exactly as intelligent as everybody else in the masses. It is something very, very typical for mass formation that everybody becomes equally intelligent, which usually means extremely stupid, in the masses. And people… as soon as someone is seized by mass formation, he usually loses all capacity for critical or rational thinking. That is something, some… one of the most characteristic…one of the most salient characteristics of an individual that is in mass formation. What about the level of anxiety? As, maybe does the level of anxiety play a role when it comes to being sensitive for mass formation? I’m not sure about that… because I feel that many people who are sensitive to mass formation now are also very anxious, but the anxiety is connected to a different object and, in one way or another, it’s not attracted by the object of the virus. For instance, in my case, from the beginning, I’ve never been really anxious for the virus. Never. I don’t know why, but I’ve never been really anxious for the virus. Maybe at some moments a little bit in the beginning, I don’t know, but from the beginning of the crisis I had the feeling that there were social dynamics that were emerging and that were emerging, that could be… that could potentially be very risky and that potentially could be very dangerous. And in the first weeks of the crisis, I wrote an opinion paper already, warning that this dynamic showed all characteristics of the first steps of the emergence of a totalitarian state. And I was anxious, too, but I was anxious for these social consequences and not for the virus. So, in my opinion, it could be that the general level of anxiety is higher prior to the crisis in the people than since the mass formation. But I’d rather think that it has more to do with a tendency or inclination to connect your anxiety to a certain object. I think that’s more important here.
[00:43:42] Dan Astin-Gregory
Yes. That’s really interesting. Now, linked to this part, then, you know, there’s this concept of emotional intelligence which Daniel Goldman has written about. I think there’s perhaps a level of emotional intelligence as opposed to the traditional IQ that perhaps plays a role. Have you looked at any aspects around that? Because it feels like the more people are emotionally aware are able to have that intuitive connection. A lot of people I speak to who have perhaps, questioned the narrative have— even if they didn’t realize at the beginning—said that something in their gut, something intuitively didn’t feel right. And I think that’s…having that ability to tune into one’s intuition is perhaps a marker. I think that’s very difficult to study, but would you say that plays a role?
[00:44:36] Mattias Desmet
I doubt it. also. I don’t know. I know a lot of emotionally-sensitive people who are now so much into the story, into the narrative. Yes. And I think it has, for instance, it might have a lot to do with the balance: the internal balance, between individualism and collectivism. Like what’s really characteristic of the emergence of the 20^th^-century masses, was that it were all people who were socially atomized, who were socially… who felt socially isolated, disconnected. And then in one step switched from extreme isolation to extreme extreme connectedness of the mass. Does emotional intelligence have a lot to do with it?
[00:45:36] Dan Astin-Gregory
Perhaps. Perhaps. But perhaps one to explore. You know it’s interesting, it’s just an observation. I think, you know, it’s very difficult to quantify, but nonetheless, it’s interesting. I mean, what I’d like to progress to talking about now we will, you know, you talked about when people come to wake up, they want to tear down the totalitarian state that they are in, when they come to their senses, take down the leaders. But obviously prior to achieving that point it takes a certain percentage of people and 30 percent, you said, will feel a certain way. I think it’s taken us a long time to get anywhere close to that from the beginning. Perhaps some of them are more silent, as I was, actually, for much of the time. I was constantly moaning about it to my wife, but not publicly. So what can we… what insights can we gather, to actually wake, in simplistic terms, wake people up and, as part of the answer, would you mind sharing any insights from your own journey? As you said at the beginning, you didn’t… you were looking at statistics and even though rationally it didn’t make sense but it got to a point where you had a moment of realization. Is there something from your own experience that perhaps is an indicator of what leads people to make these kinds of distinctions?
[00:46:54] Mattias Desmet
Yes, well I, you know, in my opinion, really, the most important thing is to continue to speak out: just to say that you do not agree with the mainstream narrative. That’s the most basic thing because mass formation is a kind of hypnosis and, as such, it is a phenomenon that is provoked by the vibration of a voice, but—really—you have to take this literally. Totalitarian leaders know this very well. They start every new day with 30 minutes of propaganda, in which the voice of the leader constantly penetrates the consciousness of the population. So without mass media, and without the ability to confront people time and time again, with the voice of the leaders, no mass formation would continue as long as it continued in Germany and then in the Soviet Union. So,… and the opposite is also true: if other voices are available in the public space, or some of the public space, then hypnosis will be disturbed or will become less deep. So I think in any case, so what we have to convince each other of, time and time again, is that we all together have to continue to speak out. And sorry, can you come again with the second part of your question?
[00:48:36] Dan Astin-Gregory
Sorry, it’s a bad habit of asking two questions in one. I wanted to ask about your own experience. You had your own point of inflection. You know, was there anything that you observed that led to that point of inflection? …because there’s lots of people that—even within my audience—that if I ask them to share (and perhaps you may want to do this in the comments if you’re watching live), “what was your turning point?” Because I’ve asked the question in many different forums and groups and people often find that there was something that just triggered them and said, “no this doesn’t make sense anymore”. Because I think if we can find these points of inflection and create content around those points of inflection, we create these points of relatability that perhaps could wake more people up. So for the audience watching at home, if there’s a point of inflection for you whether you realize things weren’t quite right, please do share it in the comments. But for yourself, Mattias, at that point where you really recognized this was mass formation, you know, you’d looked at the statistics, was there something that tipped you over the edge?
[00:49:30] Mattias Desmet
No. Because, as I mentioned, as I just mentioned, in the first week of the coronavirus, I wrote my first opinion paper, and the title of the paper was, “The Fear of the Virus is More Dangerous than the Virus Itself”. And, because, from the beginning I had a feeling like, look… the psychological process here is more threatening than the biological danger or the biological [inaudible]. And even more, two months before the onset of the crisis, in December…the end of 2019 and late December 2019… I went to the bank to pay back my mortgage because… and the bank director asked me, “but why do you want to pay back your mortgage? You will lose your tax advantages and stuff. Why would you pay it back?” And I said, “because I feel, and I know, that this society is going through a tipping point.” I had… at University nothing functioned anymore. There were so many burnouts that there was always someone lacking to do a certain task or to finish a certain project. And I knew, I felt, there were several indicators that were negative indicators that were really increasing exponentially. And in December 2019, I went to the bank and I said, “I want to be as free as possible and I want to pay back my mortgage,” and I talked for one-and-a-half hours with the bank director who tried to convince me that he felt like it was not necessary to pay back my mortgage, but I did pay it back. And I knew that two or three months later… I told my wife, look, that’s the tipping point that was about to happen. And so I had the feeling that of course there were certain insights and certain information that sometimes I doubted during the crisis because, for one reason or another, my first opinion paper I was… With my first opinion paper I was suddenly famous in Belgium because everybody, everybody, read it and everybody was talking about it. And then in the weeks after the publication of the paper I was really scared sometimes, because I felt like maybe I was wrong and maybe we are really in danger, confronted with the killer virus here. And of course there was certain information that really convinced me that or that took away my doubts. For instance, as I said, by the end of May, the fact that the models of Imperial College proved to be completely wrong and stuff. But I had the feeling that I was more or less a little bit awake from the beginning of the crisis, yes.
[00:52:19] Dan Astin-Gregory
Well, I think this is the next point I would like to move to, because what you did there, and what you explained there, you then went back to the statistics to rationalize your instinct. And the reason I want to make that point is because actually—you know, we could do a whole episode on this and I’ve got people coming up on the show to talk about this—but you say keep talking, keep sharing information. Now one of the things we’ve recognized over the last 18 months is that we try and we try to influence with logic and statistics and data and evidence. It just seems like it hits up against a brick wall. So are there any principles of influence that you could share? Is there a different approach that we could take in order to psychologically make this process easier?
[00:53:00] Mattias Desmet
Yes, I think indeed, we have to continue to share a rational counterargument because they make the hypnosis less deep. I’m convinced of that, so we should not stop it, but if we do only that, it might be frustrating. And so because, indeed, while the hypnosis becomes less deep you’re never really able to wake people up with these rational argumentations. And that’s something very logical if you consider the process of mass formation. Actually, the beginning point of mass information is an affective process; it is something at the emotional level, meaning, namely this connection. There’s this connect connecting of the free-floating anxiety to the representation of an object of anxiety such as the fighter. So these two things, this free-floating anxiety and the mental representation of the virus, they melted together. And, to use a metaphor, you could say that it were like two pieces of metal that were heated up until they melted a little bit and then were pushed together. And they merged so and that’s why they are connected. They’re connected because they were pushed against each other at the high level of heat in the psychological system at the high level of anxiety. So what you can do is you can make people even more scared of a new object of anxiety. For instance, the risk of a totalitarian state and then the temperature in the psychological system will increase again, and the two pieces of metal will separate. And then if you provide them a new object of anxiety, you might be able to connect the anxiety to this new object of anxiety. And then it makes sense… then you can start to provide rational argumentations. And that’s exactly what happens sometimes. I gave a few interviews here in Belgium and Holland on the risk of totalitarianism, and they got maybe two- or even three-hundred-thousand views. I think it was really… many people watched it and I received many e-mails of people telling me that it was as if they woke up while watching the interviews and it sparked my interest and I asked them like, why do you think… what made you wake up when you watched the interviews? …and some people described it in detail and they said. “it was because I got really anxious of what you were telling about the risk of totalitarianism”. And that’s what happens: if people start to be even more scared of a new object of anxiety, and you also offer a new strategy to deal with this new object of anxiety, you might be able to wake them up and to connect all their emotional stuff and their anxiety to a new narrative. So that’s something that sometimes works quite well and that we’ve always… So I’ve been involved in the making of some movies for some political parties that want to provide an alternative to the mainstream corona measures. And these narratives, these propaganda films, were sometimes quite successful, and I think it was because first we presented some frightening images of totalitarian states and then started to provide rational argumentation. Why the current measures actually were not… were up to no good or not good at all for society, stuff like that. So the basic principle is the following: first you have to deal with the affective component and then you can start to provide rational argumentation. But of course, this is not always possible and I think, nevertheless, that it makes sense to continue to provide, time and time again, the same rational counter-argument. Because in this way, you will not be able to wake the masses up, but you will make the hypnosis less deep or prevent it to become even deeper.
[00:57:10] Dan Astin-Gregory
Yes. In many ways it strengthens the bonds amongst those who are dissident voices, as well, because it gives them greater certainty in their position by having that rational backup. I mean there’s plenty of examples around that. One of the issues I find is that there’s this notion of: “it will never happen to me” or “it will never happen to us”. I take a metaphor from, or a comparison from, the world of health. You know, people make decisions about what they eat and consume today, not really thinking about the health consequences ten, twenty years down the line. They’re not thinking… if they smoke or they drink or eat poor diets, they don’t think about the long-term consequences. But similarly, you could look at what’s happening in Australia, for instance, or other parts of the world, and say, “well that’s never going to happen here”. And that’s kind of the mentality that I see happening, even though it’s happening in a comparable economy. You know, if it’s happening in a… one of the countries they took down their Internet for three days. And you know, you could imagine in the Western world, in the United Kingdom and Belgium, people say, “well the governments would never take down the Internet”. But this is the mentality because, time and time again, we’ve seen over the last 12-18 months: we say, “that will never happen to us”, and then within a month, there it is. We’ve got this lockstep-type arrangement where these things seemingly do happen. So how do you overcome that piece, around “it will never happen to us”? Is there anything you’ve learned that can kind of overcome… to bring a sense of immediacy because unless it feels like an immediate threat, you know,…I share that. I share the fear with you. I fear the totalitarian regime. I fear the erosion of liberties and rights. They are a real anxiety for me. They really are. But I get a sense of immediacy. I see it happening. I have the sense of urgency to act, but to a lot of people it feels like a distant horizon. You know, what can we do to bring that sense of urgency to people?
[00:58:58] Mattias Desmet
Yes, you know, I often ask people what in this kind of logic that now seizes society would prevent you from building new concentration camps? What in this kind of logic if you feel it’s justified to isolate people in their houses, to force pregnant women to wear mouth masks, to make old people die alone and in isolation, and that isolation if you and so on and so on? Why would we not take the next step to building new camps in which we could isolate the people who tested positively on the coronavirus and why would we not take the next steps? That’s what are those forces that’s typical of totalitarianism and totalitarianism: a population is seized by a very simple and absurd logic that transgresses—that makes them transgress—all ethical limits, as if there is no other option. If A is true, then B, C, D, and all the rest follow from it, unavoidably and, she said, “until the end of the deadly totalitarian alphabet”. And so, and indeed, that’s something very typical. If the contaminations increase, we have to go into lockdown again, and so on. It’s like a series of consequences that seemed strictly necessary. And, indeed, that’s what I often try to explain. Like, I don’t believe that we could not end up with the same kind of measures that Hitler considered necessary to create his pure race. Yeah. But that’s how it works. Yes. Yeah. You know, it’ll be… to be honest, I think it will be quite difficult to avoid ending up in a kind of a new totalitarianism, but it will be a new totalitarian authoritarianism. It will be on the one hand, the same as the old totalitarianism of the first half of the 20th century. But it will all be radically different because it will be a worldwide totalitarian system. It will not have external enemies. It will only have internal enemies and it will treat these internal enemies in a different way as the external enemies were treated. That’s something that is really typical for the logic of totalitarian systems. And totalitarian systems need an enemy; without an enemy they collapse. So I think that there is a good chance that the new totalitarian system will tolerate the existence of the enemies, but it will marginalize them, push them outside of mainstream society. That’s one of the things that I think will be hard to avoid.
[01:02:02] Dan Astin-Gregory
We’re already seeing that, you know, particularly—we’re not here to talk about your views on the vaccine but, nonetheless—we’re seeing it with those who are not taking the vaccine. You know, their steps of classification, symbolization, dehumanization, … discrimination. All of these things are happening, you know it’s them-and-us situations whereby you’re all the great unwashed, you’re the ones creating the infections… You know it’s completely false, but it’s creating that internal enemy, and growing that. But that’s the piece that shocks me and concerns me the most, is that mentality and the things I see people coming out with on social media—again: sane, rational people normally, that the kind of things that they’re posting… the kind of things… if social media existed in the 30s I can see that’s what they would be saying. You know it’s just unbelievable to see. But that’s my worry, is that we’re on that path.
[01:02:57] Mattias Desmet
Of course, of course we are. Yes, absolutely. Yes. And the totalitarianism doesn’t care whether their claims are true or not. The only thing that the narrative has to do is it has to connect the people; it has to make the collective stronger. It has to re-organize to bind the anxiety and so on. That’s the only thing that matters. All the rest… the more absurd the narrative is, the better it functions as a ritual. That’s the drama of totalitarianism. Like, our prime minister, two days ago, said in the news that actually this pandemic was a pandemic of the non-vaccinated, and that they had to stop putting the vaccinated at risk. So, that’s so contradictory because if only the non-vaccinated, or vulnerable for contamination of the coronavirus, then the vaccinated are not at risk at all because they cannot be contaminated anymore. So, such claims are truly absurd, but in one way or another, people continue to buy into them and to go along with the narrative. That’s showing that whether the narrative is correct or wrong doesn’t play any role at all. Really.
[01:04:21] Dan Astin-Gregory
Now, I mean I appreciate we’re over time. Do you have time to answer one more question?
[01:02:26] Mattias Desmet
[01:02:27] Dan Astin-Gregory
So you know, the role of the totalitarianism to me, that’s the thing I fear the most. Now, in terms of a counter-narrative in terms of creating an opposition to this, there is a lack of opposition. Do you think if a compelling vision, a more compelling vision for the future, a better alternative can be projected, will that in some way become more attractive to people? Or are they just too… particularly that middle 40 percent, you know… I appreciate the 30 percent may be too far down the track, the ones that are most indoctrinated. But if there’s a more compelling vision for the future, a more compelling vision for society, a more compelling set of solutions to deal with the problems we’re facing, is that going to be enough of a motivator? I know more people move away from pain than they do move towards pleasure typically. But if we create that compelling vision and create an alternative, is that something you think could play a role in transforming the situation we’re in?
[01:05:22] Mattias Desmet
Yes, no. Yes, it can play a role and we have to make our own narrative as strong as possible, as convincing as possible. But what we should realize in the first place is that totalitarianism and mass formation always ends up destroying itself. So, the self-destructive character of mass formation and totalitarianism is something that has been observed and described by all scholars that study the phenomenon. So, on the one hand, if we think about the best strategy to deal with the situation then we should be aware that we are dealing with an extremely strong enemy, but an enemy who will always destroy himself. So the only thing we have to do is we have to make sure that our story continues to be present in public space, and that we survive for a few years: those are realistic goals. And we never should try to beat the enemy because the enemy can only be beaten by himself. But something that really, you can explain it psychologically in a very nice and convincing way, why the masses and totalitarianism are always self-destructive. And as soon as you realize that, you realize that the only thing you have to do is to continue to speak and to make sure that, in one way or another, you can survive outside of the system—these two things. And then you can quietly wait until totalitarianism destroys itself. But of course, I don’t say that it will be easy, but that is the strategy to deal with it and I’m sure that it will work. And you will see that the small group… the small group will survive and that in one way or another, after the collapse, it will play an important role, I think, in the re-building of a society according to new and more human, more ethical, principles.
[01:07:28] Dan Astin-Gregory
I agree, I think in the shell of the old will emerge something more beautiful and vibrant. And that’s where I think that excitement for me comes. Last, in terms of your studies of totalitarianism, where are we on that line? You know, how far away are we from the serpent destroying itself here? You know, is there a typical pattern?
[01:07:52] Mattias Desmet
That’s a good question. Um, well, I think we have to some steps to go actually. Yes. I think so. Um, of course I think this totalitarian system probably will destroy itself much quicker than the totalitarian systems of the 20th century because none of these totalitarian systems has intruded into the bodies of its population in such a systematic and straightforward way. So whether with the vaccination campaigns and so on… and, purely reasoning from a psychological point of view, if you know that all the totalitarian projects ended up as a disaster… That’s something really striking you can read, for example, the book of Hannah Arendt, on the origins of totalitarianism, and then the book of Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago. I don’t know if you know the book, but they all describe the processes in the Soviet Union in a very detailed way and they both conclude exactly the same. Every project that was undertaken by the totalitarian leaders ended up as a disaster and they continued until the population was completely exhausted, exterminated, destroyed, and so on. And that’s why you need a large population for a true full-fledged totalitarian system to emerge. You need a very large population. That’s the only reason why—that’s the most important reason why—in the Soviet Union, totalitarianism was pushed to the most extreme limit because the population in Germany was not large enough and there were totalitarian trends in several other countries, as well, but if the population is too small a full fledged totalitarian system can never emerge, but so everything these totalitarian leaders did ended up as a disaster. It ended it… always for certain very— I’m describing them in my book—for certain psychological reasons, or the nature of the psychological process of mass formation makes that, in one way or another, all projects end in a self-destructive way. And that’s why I’m very, very uh, yeah, that I think that the entire vaccination campaign might end up in the most spectacular disaster we’ve ever seen, at a medical level and then maybe even throughout history. Scientists are human beings and throughout their research and throughout their work in the laboratory they constantly make subjective decisions, and their subjective decisions are driven by psychological powers, psychological factors that they do not have under control themselves. I could give perfect examples of how every scientific process is driven unconsciously by deeper psychological processes. And if people are saturated with destructive tendencies in themselves, eventually they will end up by producing a destructive product. And that’s what we are at risk of, with the vaccination campaign, I think. That’s one of the most complicated and most difficult parts of totalitarian thinking to explain, but it can be perfectly explained why it is so destructive in nature and why it’s always… why all projects—totalitarian projects—end up in self-destruction. Um, uh well… but maybe it would be just too far now to go into this, really…
[01:12:00] Dan Astin-Gregory
Really… yes, yes, no, thank you for answering those extra questions. I think the good news is you know, this is a, was this of course set in motion. We also know from history it’s likely to be self-destructive, but we can all play our part. I believe in accelerating that pathway by continuing to speak out and having the courage to share this type of information. So if you found value in this conversation today… I mean I’ve been trying to take notes as I go along, it’s been so fascinating. Please do share this, just take a moment. What I think is most pertinent about this type of conversation is: it’s not about the virus, it’s not about the contentious issues, it’s about taking that helicopter view… looking at what’s happening socially, politically, psychologically, and actually by doing that you can start to make sense of the different pieces. So I think these types of conversations, in particular, are some of the most powerful. So, please if you haven’t done so hit the share button or send this via Telegram, you know, the contents available on YouTube, Odysee, Facebook, Twitter, you know, go find the platform that you tend to use and share this… share the link to this conversation either publicly or individually because it will help… it’ll help accelerate this pathway out of this.
[01:13:09] Mattias Desmet
It’s one way to speak out.
[01:13:11] Dan Astin-Gregory
Absolutely. And the next piece is for those of you who are really in the game now: in London this Saturday, there’s a major march happening. I’ll be there with the Pandemic Podcast with my team, covering the events of the day. Come and make your voices heard, join us in London this Saturday, do spread the word as well. We hope to see you there. And again, lastly my final call to action is to please subscribe to the Pandemic Podcast. We’ve done over three hundred episodes to date. We’ve reached over six million views. We’re really just warming up and really want to continue to play our role in asking these critical questions and bringing you amazing guests like we’ve had today with Dr. Mattias Desmet… a fantastic conversation. Thank you very much for being with us today. To subscribe to the show please just go to danjgregory.com/supporter and take literally a minute of your time to enter your name and email. And we’ll keep you up to date with fascinating interviews like this one. Mattias, it’s been a real pleasure having you with us here today. What a fascinating conversation and thank you to everyone who’s tuned in live.
[01:14:09] Mattias Desmet
Thank you, Dan, and thank you to the audience as well for listening.
[01:14:14] Dan Astin-Gregory
Great, good night to everyone. I’ll be back again tomorrow giving you an update on some of the current events that we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks and sharing what I believe we can do over the coming months to continue to tackle the situation we face. So good night for now and I’ll see you again on our next episode tomorrow evening. Thanks very much everyone.