Interview with Prof. Mattias Desmet by Reiner Fuellmich and the Corona Investigative Committee
From the interview:
Prof Desmet (00:01:47): I’m a professor in clinical psychology at Ghent University and I also have a master degree in statistics. But in this crisis, I’ve been taking the perspective of more psychology, yes, indeed. In the beginning of the crisis I had been studying the statistics and the numbers and actually I noticed that they were often blatantly wrong and at the same time people continue to believe in it and to go along with the mainstream narrative. That was why I started to study it rather from the perspective of mass psychology. Because I knew that mass formation has a huge, huge impact on individual’s intelligence and cognitive functioning. I had the feeling that this was the only thing that could explain why highly intelligent people started to believe the narrative and the numbers that were in many respects utterly absurd.
Reiner Fuellmich (00:03:00): So what is it in your view? What is it that, apart from the mainstream media, what is it that has caused this, well, illusion for so many people that they don’t see the reality, but they see a totally different picture of what really goes on?
Prof Desmet (00:03:20): Yes. Four things need to exist or need to be in place if you want a large scale mass phenomenon to emerge. The first thing is that there needs to be a lot of socially isolated people, people who experience a lack of social bonds. The second one is that there needs to be a lot of people who experience a lack of sense-making in life. And the third and the fourth conditions are that there needs to be a lot of free-floating anxiety and a lot of free-floating psychological discontent. So: meaning, anxiety, and discontent that is not connected to a specific representation. So it needs to be in the mind without the people being able to connect it to something. If you have these four things—lack of social bonds, lack of sense-making, free-floating anxiety, and free-floating psychological discontent—then society is highly at risk for the emergence of mass phenomenon.
(00:04:27): And these four conditions existed shortly before the Corona Crisis. There was an epidemic of burnout. Over 40 to 70% of the people experienced their jobs as completely senseless. This is described in the book Bullshit Jobs by this professor of Harvard [David Graeber] of whom I always forget his name. (He died last year, I think.) Then if you look at the use of psychopharmaceuticals, it was huge. This shows how much discontent there was in our society. For instance, in Belgium every year 11 million people use over 300 million doses of antidepressants alone. Over 300 million doses. That’s huge. So you see that these four conditions really existed: lack of sense-making, lack of social bonds, free-floating anxiety, and then a free-floating discontent.
Prof Desmet (00:05:36): Yes. You have to know that free-floating anxiety is the most painful psychological phenomenon someone can experience. It’s extremely painful. It leads up to panic attacks, to all kinds of extremely painful psychological experiences. What people want in this situation is something to connect their anxiety to. They’re looking for an explanation for the anxiety. And now, if this free-floating anxiety is highly present in a population, and the media provide a narrative, which indicates an object of anxiety, and at the same time, describe a strategy to deal with this object of anxiety, then all the anxiety connects to this object and people are willing to follow the strategy to deal with this object, no matter what the cost is. That is what happens in the beginning of mass formation.
(00:06:42): Then in a second step, people start a collective and heroic battle with this object of anxiety. And in that way, a new kind of social bond emerges and a new kind of sense-making. Suddenly life is all directed at battling the object of anxiety and in this way, establishing a new connection with other people. And that, the sudden switch of a negative state, a radical lack of social connection, to the opposite, to the massive social connection that is experienced in a crowd. This sudden switch leads up to a sort of mental intoxication. That’s what makes mass formation, or crowd formation, the exact equivalent of hypnosis. All people who have been describing, who have been studying, mass formation, such as Gustave Le Bon, for instance [William] McDougall, [Elias] Canetti have remarked that mass formation is not similar to hypnosis; that mass formation is exactly equal to hypnosis. Mass formation is a sort of hypnosis.
(00:08:09): What happens is that at that moment, when people experience mental intoxication, it doesn’t matter anymore whether the narrative is correct or wrong, even blatantly wrong. What matters is that it leads up to this mental intoxication. And that’s why they continue to go along with the narrative, even if they could know by thinking for one second, that it is wrong. That is the central mechanism of mass formation. And that makes it so difficult to destroy it. Because for people, it doesn’t matter when the narrative is wrong. And what we try to do is we all try to show constantly that the narrative is wrong. But for people that’s not what it is all about. It’s all about the fact that they don’t want to go back to this painful state of free-floating anxiety
(00:09:11): What we have to realize, if we want to change this state of affairs, is that the first thing we have to do is acknowledge this painful anxiety. To think about why we got in the state of lack of sense-making, lack of social bonds, free-floating anxiety, the massive psychological discontent, and try to tell people, now we don’t need a Corona Crisis to establish a new social bond. We have to look for other ways to deal with the psychological problems that existed before the Corona Crisis and try to find other solutions. We don’t need this kind of mass phenomenon to solve the problems.
(00:09:57): Mass formation is actually a symptomatic solution for a real psychological problem. In my opinion, this crisis in the first place is a large societal and psychological crisis much more than a biological crisis, let’s say. From this state of mental intoxication you can explain all the rest of the phenomenon of totalitarianism. The mental intoxication leads to a narrowing of the field of attention. It makes people only see what is indicated by the narrative.
(00:10:41): For instance, people see the victims of the Corona virus, but they don’t seem to see at the cognitive level, the collateral damage of the lockdowns and all the victims that are claimed by the lockdowns. They are also not able, at an emotional level, to really feel empathy for the victims of the lockdowns. That is not because they are very egoistic. No, it’s just an effect of this psychological phenomenon. And it’s definitely—even as a consequence of mass formation, people do not get egoistic at all. But rather, to the contrary, mass formation focuses your attention so much on one point that you can take everything away of people—their psychological and physical wellbeing, their material wellbeing—you can take it away and they will not even notice it.
(00:11:41): That’s one of the major consequences of mass formation. It’s exactly the same as hypnosis, as classical hypnosis. When a hypnotist—during hypnosis someone’s attention is focused on one point, you can cut in his flesh, the person will not notice it. That is what happens all the time. When a hypnosis is used as a kind of an anesthesia during a surgical operation, a rather simple hypnotic procedure is sufficient to make people completely insensitive to pain. You can, without any problem, cut in their flesh. Even under some circumstances you can perform an open heart operation in which the surgeon cuts straight through the breastbone and the patient will not notice this. That shows us that the focusing of attention is so strong, both in mass formation or in hypnosis, that people are really insensitive to all the personal losses they experience as a consequence.
(00:12:51): Another consequence, that is very typical for totalitarian states, is that people become radically intolerant for dissonant voices. Because if someone tells another story, if someone claims that the official story is wrong, then this person threatens to wake the people up and they will get angry because they’re confronted with the initial anxiety and the initial psychological discontent. So they direct all that aggression at these dissonant voices, at the other voices. And at the same time, they are radically tolerant for their leaders, for the people who pronounce the mainstream narrative. These people can actually cheat and lie and manipulate and do everything they want, but they will always be forgiven by the crowd because the crowd seems to think that they do it for their own sake. That’s also part of the mechanism of mass formation.
Even if we would succeed in waking up the masses now, they would fall prey to a different story in a few years. And they would be hypnotized again, IF, IF we do not succeed in solving the real problem of this crisis. Namely the question: Why did we as a society get in this state in which a large part of the population feels anxious, depressed, experiences a lack of sense, feels socially isolated? That is the real problem. And if we do not succeed in finding out where this problem comes from then the masses will always be susceptible to leaders who try to lure them into a mass formation. So I think the real question in this crisis is: What is there in our view of man and of the world in the way in which we look at life that makes us experience lack of sense-making? In my opinion we must conclude that it is something in our materialistic mechanistic view of man in the world that leads up to a radical destruction of the real social structures and social bonds and of the feeling that life makes sense.
See the full video above.
- David Graeber (1961-2020)
- Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931)
- William McDougall (1871-1938)
- Elias Canetti (1905-1994)
- Crowds and Power, 1960
PDF (pp. 495), Worldcat
- Overview of Crowds and Power
- Classification and Symbols of Masses in the Conception of Elias Canetti (2019)
- Crowds and Power, 1960
- John Ioannidis (1906-1975)
- Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)
- Solomon Asch (1907-1996)