“The masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduce them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.” — Gustav Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind
Diseases of the body can spread through a population and reach epidemic proportions, but so too can diseases of the mind. And of these epidemics of the latter variety, the mass psychosis is the most dangerous. During a mass psychosis madness becomes the norm in a society and delusionary beliefs spread like a contagion. But as delusions can take many forms, and as madness can manifest in countless ways, the specific manner in which a mass psychosis unfolds will differ based on the historical and cultural context of the infected society. In the past, mass psychoses have led to witch hunts, genocides and even dancing manias, but in the modern era it is the mass psychosis of totalitarianism that is the greatest threat:
“Totalitarianism is the modern phenomenon of total centralized state power coupled with the obliteration of individual human rights: in the totalized state, there are those in power, and there are the objectified masses, the victims.” — Arthur Versluis, The New Inquisitions
In a totalitarian society the population is divided into two groups, the rulers and the ruled, and both groups undergo a pathological transformation. The rulers are elevated to an almost god-like status which is diametrically opposed to our nature as imperfect beings who are easily corrupted by power. The masses, on the other hand, are transformed into the dependent subjects of these pathological rulers and take on a psychologically regressed and childlike status. Hannah Arendt, one of the 20th century’s preeminent scholars of this form of rule, called totalitarianism an attempted transformation of “human nature itself”. But this attempted transformation only turns sound minds into sick minds for as the Dutch medical doctor who studied the mental effects of living under totalitarianism wrote:
“… there is in fact much that is comparable between the strange reactions of the citizens of [totalitarianism] and their culture as a whole on the one hand and the reactions of the…sick schizophrenic on the other.”
The social transformation that unfolds under totalitarianism is built upon, and sustained by, delusions. For only deluded men and women regress to the childlike status of obedient and submissive subjects and hand over complete control of their lives to politicians and bureaucrats. Only a deluded ruling class will believe that they possess the knowledge, wisdom, and acumen to completely control society in a top-down manner. And only when under the spell of delusions would anyone believe that a society composed of power-hungry rulers, on the one hand, and a psychological regressed population, on the other, will lead to anything other than mass suffering and social ruin.
Read the rest of the transcript at Academy of Ideas
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