Am I an expert in Mass Formation or a Trojan Horse?
Response to Breggin and Breggin (Part 1)
Three weeks ago, American psychiatrist Peter Breggin and his wife Ginger Ross Breggin formulated some harsh criticism of my new book, The Psychology of Totalitarianism. They did so in a book review published in three parts (here, here, and here), asserting that in describing the mass formation that took place during the Covid-19 pandemic I was blaming the victims and absolving the perpetrators. Even more, Breggin and Breggin claim that there hasn’t been such a thing as a mass formation during the corona crisis. People were not allowed to meet – how could they have formed a mass?
I reached out to Peter Breggin and his wife immediately after their review was published, proposing to have a constructive public or private conversation about their review. It is about two months later now, and it seems that they refuse to accept my invitation. That’s why I will respond here.
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This seems to be their core criticism: that I argue there was no intentional manipulation at work in the crisis, and no conspiracy—only a spontaneously-emerging mass formation from the population itself. For Breggin and Breggin, that means I am blaming the victims (the population) and psychiatrically labeling anyone who thinks there was, in fact, conspiracy at play.
It is correct that in my book, I describe the societal dynamics of the coronacrisis as an emergent phenomenon, driven by a certain narrative of man and the world—the mechanistic-rationalist-materialist ideology—which created a certain elite and put the population in a certain state that made it vulnerable to mass formation. In The Psychology of Totalitarianism and numerous podcasts, I describe that mass-formation can emerge in a more or less spontaneous way (as happened in the first stages of Nazism in Germany) or that it can be artificially provoked through indoctrination and propaganda (as in the former Soviet Union). In this process, both the elite and the population itself shoulder responsibility—the first because they actively manipulate the population and the second because they prefer to stay blind and, ultimately, commit atrocities towards those who don’t join them.
However, I never claimed that there was no intentional manipulation or planning. Quite to the contrary, on p.100 of my book, for instance, I claim that long term mass formation, as it existed in the coronacrisis, cannot be maintained withoug indoctrination and propaganda distributed through the mass-media. Nor did I claim there was no conspiracy. Consider the following paragraphs from my book:
Is there any steering and manipulation at all then? The answer is a resounding yes, there most certainly is all kinds of manipulation. And with the means available to today’s mass media, the possibilities are simply phenomenal. Such steering, however, is rarely done by individual persons; the most fundamental steering is impersonal in nature. The steering is first and foremost driven by an ideology—a way of thinking. Ideologies organize and structure society progressively and organically. As we have described in detail in the previous chapters, the dominant ideology is mechanistic in nature. This ideology derives its appeal from the utopian vision of an artificial paradise (see chapter 3). The world and mankind are a machine and they can be comprehended and manipulated as such. The hitches in the machine that cause suffering can be “repaired.” In the long run, it will even be possible to eliminate death. Moreover, all this can be done without man having to reflect on his role in his own misfortune, without questioning himself as a moral and ethical being. This ideology makes life easy in the short term. The price for convenience will be paid in arrears (see chapter 5).
It is at this fundamental level that we have to situate the “secret” forces that direct individuals in the same direction and ultimately organize society as a whole. Remember drawing the Sierpinski triangle; if everyone follows the same rules, strictly regular patterns emerge. Like iron filings scattered in the force field of a magnet, individuals arrange themselves in a perfect pattern under the influence of these forces. Man has always fallen prey to the aforementioned “temptations”—the illusion of rational understanding and control, the resistance to question oneself critically as a human, the pursuit of short-term convenience. Within the religious discourse, these temptations were considered dangerous, but that changed with the rise of mechanistic thinking. From then on, they became anchored in the dominant narrative, which also became justification of such temptations. Leaders and followers were captivated by the limitless possibilities the human mind seemed to offer. The evolution towards a hyper-controlled technological society—the surveillance society—is unavoidable as long as the human mind remains trapped in that logic and is (to a large extent unconsciously) controlled by those attractors. It is this ideology that redesigned society, created new institutions, and selected new authority figures. The transition from a democracy to a totalitarian technocracy, in which the corona crisis was a Great Leap forward, formed part of the logic of the mechanistic ideology from the very beginning. In a mechanistic universe, it is inevitably the technical expert who has the last word, based on his superior mechanistic knowledge.
Based on this ideology, institutions were created that make plans about what future society should look like and how the ideal future society should respond to crisis situations. The Lockstep scenario of the Rockefeller Foundation,12 Event 201 of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (in collaboration with John Hopkins and the Rockefeller foundation),13 and The Great Reset by Klaus Schwab14 are examples of such endeavors. For many people, these events and publications are the ultimate proof that the social developments we’re experiencing are planned and the product of a conspiracy, since long before the outbreak these “plans” described how society would go into lockdown as the result of a pandemic, that a biopassport would be introduced, and that people would be tracked and traced with subcutaneous sensors.
If we keep in mind the definition of a conspiracy—a secret, planned, intentional and malicious scheme—we immediately notice two things: it’s not much of a secret since all the aforementioned “plans” are available on the internet. And whether those plans guide the discourse and action of experts through targeted instructions is, at least, questionable. The experts’ communication is full of contradictions and inconsistencies, retractions and corrections, clumsy wording and transparent errors. This is nothing like a streamlined execution of a pre-established plan. If these are conspiracy theorists, they are the lousiest ones ever. Obviously, psychological warfare may also make use of confusion and confusing messages, but that does not explain experts trying to correct their mistakes of the day before, or of feeling visibly at unease and discomfortable.
The only consistency within the experts’ discourse is that the decisions always move towards a more technologically and biomedically controlled society, in other words towards the realization of the mechanistic ideology. For this reason, we see exactly the same problems in the corona crisis as those revealed by the replication crisis in academic research: a maze of errors, sloppiness, and forced conclusions, in which researchers unconsciously confirm their ideological principles (the so-called allegiance effect, see chapter 4).
In the process of exercising power—i.e. shaping the world to ideological beliefs—there usually is no need to make secret plans and agreements. As Noam Chomsky put it, if you have to tell someone what to do, you’ve chosen the wrong person.15 In other words: the dominant ideology selects who ends up in key positions. Someone who does not share the ideology is usually less successful in society, apart from a few exceptions. Consequently, all people in positions of power automatically follow the same rules in their thinking and in their behavior and are under the influence of the same ‘attractors’ (to use a term from complex dynamical systems theory). Furthermore, they all succumb to the same logical fallacies and the same absurd behavior, independently of each other, or at least without having to gather in secret meetings. Compare it to computers running on the same, wrong software: their “behaviour” and their “thinking” will all deviate in the same direction, without “communicating” with one another. This is what the Sierpinski triangle shows us: mind-blowingly precise and regular patterns can arise because individuals independently follow the same simple rules of behaviorand are attracted to the same set of attractors. The puppet master is the ideology, not the elite.
Plans and visions for the future are not so much “forced” on the population. In many ways, the leaders of the masses—the so-called elite—give the people what they want. When fearful,the population wants a more controlled society. For many people, the lockdowns were a liberation from the unbearable and meaningless routine of working life, the fragmented society was in need of a common enemy, and so on. The “plans” do not precede the developments, as a conspiracy logic suggest. They follow them. Those who guide the masses are not real “leaders”in the sense that they do not have the capability to determine where the masses will go. Instead they sense what people crave and they adjust their plans in that direction. They may relish pretending to have control and direct the chain of events, but they are more like a child sitting on the bow of a ship and turning a toy steering wheel every time the tanker changes direction. Or we can think of King Cnut, who stood before the sea at low tide, ordered the waves to retreat, and narcissistically beamed with pride because it happened. Some of those institutions have even adapted previously released films, suggesting that they could predict the future (for example, the Digikosmos16 film was adapted in such a way that it seemed to predict the course of the corona crisis exactly as it happened). Ironically, conspiracy thinking confirms the leaders’ narcissism by taking them seriously, acting as if they are steering the ship, or causing the waves to recede.
There are countless other examples that seem to point in the direction of a plan being implemented, such as: the fact that the definition of “pandemic” was changed shortly before the corona crisis; the definition of “herd immunity” to imply that only vaccines can achieve it;the counting method for corona deaths was adjusted by the WHO so it was higher than the number of flu deaths; that the registration methodology of vaccine side effects led to serious underestimation (by, for example, labelling those that become apparent during the first fortnight after vaccination as not vaccine-related); that all key political positions when the crisis started were held by politicians who were pro-technocracy (all people referred to as the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders).
These are examples of how an ideology gets a grip on society, not evidence of the execution of a conspiracy. For instance: similar things happing during almost all major re-organisations in large companies and government institutions. Indeed, anyone who would like to reorganize a company or institution and holds the right position(s) will try to adjust the rules, in ways that they are conducive to their goals. And they will do their best to install the right people in the right positions on the beforehand and will try to mold their minds for the reorganization and restructuring through all kinds of formal and informal influence. Anyone who experiences this up close at a company or institution will probably not experience this as a conspiracy. We could even say that every biological organism does the same: it tries to adjust its environment in the desired direction.
At certain points, however, the aforementioned practices may turn into something that does have the structure of a conspiracy. Large institutions use all kinds of questionable strategies to impose their ideals on society, and the means to do so have increased spectacularly in recent centuries. The whole mechanization, industrialization, “technologization” and “mediatization”of the world has indeed led to the centralization of power and no sane person can deny that this power is being exercised with scrupulous attention to ethics and morality. It is well documented: whether in governments, the tobacco industry, or the pharmaceutical lobby, there is bribery, manipulation, and fraud. If you don’t partake in these practices, it’s hard to remain at the top.
In their endeavors to impose their ideals on society, institutions and people do indeed cross ethical boundaries, and when things get out of hand, their strategies may indeed devolve into a conspiracy: a secret, intentional, planned, and malicious project. It is also well known that, as the process of totalitarianization continues, the totalitarian regime is increasingly organized as a fully-fledged “secret society.”17 We have seen that the Holocaust came about through a mind-boggling process of mass formation that blinded both the perpetrators and the victims and drew them into an infernal dynamic (see chapter 7). However, there was also an intentional plan, which had as its purpose to systematically optimize racial purity through sterilization and elimination of all impure elements. There were apprxoimately five people who patiently andsystematically prepared the entire Holocaust destruction apparatus and they managed to make all the rest of the system cooperate with it in total blindness for a long time. Those who did see what was going on—namely that the concentration camps were in fact extermination camps—were accused of being a ... conspiracy theorist.18
The preparation and implementation of such plans are by no means the exclusive privilege of totalitarian regimes. Throughout the twentieth century, large numbers of men and women whose genetic material was considered “inferior” have been sterlized under the the doctrine of eugenics. By 1972, the term eugenics had taken on a too negative connotation and was replaced by “social biology,” but the practice remained the same and continued into the 21st century (for example, the sterilization of California inmates without informed consent)19 . Do we have good reason to believe that, in recent years, such practices have ceased?
I just wonder: did Peter and Ginger Ross Breggin really look over these and other paragraphs in my book? Do they really believe that I claim that long term mass-formation arises in a completely spontaneous way, without someone ever intentionally steering and manipulating the masses? Did they really overlook that there is an entire chapter in my book about the leaders of the masses? I leave open all possible interpretations of their response. The onus to answer these questions rests upon them.
Does this mean that Breggin and Breggin have no point at all? It depends. If the aspect of intentional planning in this crisis is extremely important, then you could say that it makes no sense and is even counterproductive to continue to focus on mass formation. Further, have I been cowardly to suggest such a thing?
I was very careful, indeed. It wasn’t easy to speak out as a professor. Focusing on conspiracy would have meant silmultaneously pushing the boundaries of my expertise as a professor in clinical psychology and putting myself at risk of being cancelled so thoroughly that my speech would not have an effect anymore. I acknolwedge that this is hardly an excuse. If crimes happen, if large numbers of people die, it doesn’t matter what your expertise is. Every decent human being will recognize as his or her duty to simply articulate what everyone can see. But there are other reasons why I was careful not to interpret what happened too much in terms of conspiracy.
I believe we always have to be careful with interpretations in terms of intentional, malevolent planning. Before we accuse people of conspiring and evil intent, we must eliminate the other possibilities. Otherwise, we make a grave ethical mistake. Furthermore, I think it is a mistake to believe that evil is the province of only the elite. Without those of us who bring our money to the bank—willfully blind to how that money is used to speculate and create famine and war—there would be no ultra-rich and powerful bankers.
The rich and the poor, and everyone in between, struggle with evil. As Solzhenitsyn said, ‘‘If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, and who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Unlike Breggin claims, I do not blame the victims; I simply try to show that we all carry a certain responsibility and that, in this sense, we don’t have to remain passive. I try to show people that they have agency, in the firs place because they can tackle that part of evil that resides in their own hearts.
It's not only an ethical mistake, it also an intellectual mistake to hold the elite and only the elite responsible. Systems theory teaches that the flapping of butterfly wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas. In other words: the cause of things can be situated everywhere. Some causal explanations make sense, and others don’t. But there is never a compelling argument to situate causality at one and only one level.
Does it, after all, matter how exactly we analyse the situation? Yes it does. Dependent on our analysis, we will make different strategical choices, or, in other words, we will act differently. If you analyse a situation only in terms of conspiracies, in which an evil elite is the one and only cause of the misery, then the inevitable conclusion is that this elite must be destroyed through a violent revolution. Such a revolution, however, would most probably lead to the radical destruction of the ‘freedom movement’ itself. It would, indeed, rather be a Godsent gift for the elite, as it justifies destruction of the opposition through harsh repression.
And maybe even more important, even if the violent revolution against the elite would be succesful and the elite be destroyed, the problem wouldn’t be solved. Not at all. the population would immediately recreate another elite with the same totalitarian tendencies if they continue to be in the grip of the same mechanist-rationalist ideology. That’s is what I explain about mass formation in The Psychology of Totalitarianism: The enemy is not another human being, the enemy is primarily a certain view of man and the world, a mechanist-rationalist-materialist way of thinking; not another human being.
My desire for the future is more ambitious (and more optimistic) than that. We have to finally cut this mechanistic-rationalist-materialist ideology off at the root. What we need is a new consciousness, a new awareness of what the essence of life and the essence of our human existence is, a new awareness of the central importance of ethical principles; a new awareness of the irreplacable function in society is of what the ancient Greeks called Truth Speech and what I sometimes call ‘The art of good speech’. This is what I explained in my book The psychology of totalitarianism; this is what we will explore here on this Substack: If we practice that art, if we continue to practice it no matter what it might cost us, then totalitarianism makes no chance and the Freedom Movement will be victorious, without any violence needed.
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