November 17, 2021
I recently came across an interview with Belgian psychologist and statistician Dr. Mattias Desmet. His appearance on Aubrey Marcus’ podcast was an eye opener, on so many levels. He referenced a condition known as “mass formation,” a form of mass hysteria that can be created when four psychological conditions concurrently exist in society. When these conditions are present and certain messages are introduced into culture, the result can be a dysfunction of human thinking. People start to act in irrational and often dangerous ways. Desmet postulates that these actions aren’t necessarily done from an evil intent, but are more a psychological process used to survive these conditions that is 95% subconscious:
1 Lack of social bond
According to a national survey in the American Sociological Review, 25% of people said they don’t have a single close friend. 75 million adults aged 18 to 27 comprising the millennials and Generation Z were lonelier than any other US demographic. It’s a psychological social media paradox: people are interacting together online with their avatars, but they aren’t their true selves. They don’t create the intimacy or vulnerability that comes from shared experience, thereby suffering from a crisis of lack of community.
2 People experience life as meaningless or senseless
In David Graeber’s book, Bullshit Jobs, when he asked whether people think their job is meaningful, 50% answered “not at all.” A Gallup poll from 2012 done with people in 142 countries revealed that 63% of respondents admitted to being so disengaged at work that they were sleepwalking through their day, putting time but not passion into their work.
3 Free-floating anxiety
Anxiety is generally connected to a tangible mental image, like being chased by a polar bear. But if people feel socially isolated and that their life has no meaning, their anxiety isn’t connected to a mental representation. This free-floating anxiety is creating a deep psychological discontent. In Belgium alone, 300 million doses of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and sleeping pills are used each year in a population of 11 million. A study from the World Health Organization says that one in five people—over 300 million—actually have anxiety disorders.
4 Free-floating frustration and aggression
People feel frustrated and aggressive without really knowing the cause of their annoyance and anger.
When these four conditions are fulfilled, if a narrative is distributed through the mass media identifying an object of the anxiety and providing a strategy to deal with that object, mass formation can thrive. All the free-floating anxiety and anger, now turning into panic, becomes attached to the object. Sudden connection through this heroic struggle together against the object creates a new solidarity, a social bond that has been lacking, which in turn, creates meaning. People then feel that they can control their psychological discontent by participating in the strategy, even if it’s utterly absurd.
Participation in the strategy has nothing to do with facts; it’s to preserve this new social bond created by fighting together to defeat the object of the collective anxiety. By obeying the strategy, people can go from a negative, isolated state to a state of maximum connectedness. That creates a kind of mental intoxication that makes people willing to go along with anything, even if it is utterly wrong and illogical.
Listening to Dr. Desmet, suddenly my own mind cleared. The world has certainly been tense in the past several years, but COVID seems to have brought a kind of depravity that I have not seen before. Desmet’s information brought a shift in my own thinking, from, “Has everyone gone insane?” to understanding, with compassion, that we are all under this spell.
In the end, Dr. Desmet suggests several steps that will break the bonds of mass formation and bring us back into compassion. All of our work with Einstein addresses this situation. The deep, often traumatized emotions that are embedded within our systems so often marry themselves to the intellectual narrative programmed into us by culture, our parents, teachers, etc that direct us to blame someone outside us for our conflicts. To make the unconscious conscious has always been our goal, in order for us to gain control over our own domain, where all our power lies.
Compassion is the answer
Desmet suggests, in his own way, that this is a time of the evolution of human consciousness. We must learn to rise above the trauma and find compassion for the human race. We must create safe spaces for independent thinking, where people can express opinions that vary from the narrative.
Ask yourself: Am I one of the 30% who follow along lock step, one of the 40% who go along to get along, or am I one who will dare to challenge the narrative and step into compassion, even if those around me aren’t?
Start to take care of your free-floating anxiety in more natural ways. Strive to understand your impact. Reconnect with people in person.
Don’t live in fear. Find meaningful work and do beneficial acts. Rebuild your community. Get outside. Feel and breathe. Slow down. Eat well. Sleep.
Question authority, starting with your own.
We are the ones to be the change. Thank god we’ve been specially trained.