We’re publishing an original essay today by Kathrine Jebsen Moore, a freelance writer based in Edinburgh who exposed the woke capture of the online knitting community in a now famous piece for Quillette in 2019. In this piece, she writes about the eagerness with which apparently liberal people have blamed the unvaccinated for the waves of Covid infection currently engulfing parts of Europe, even though the evidence for that is questionable at best. In this extract, she draws on the work of Mathias Desmet, a clinical psychologist at the University of Gent in Belgium, to try and understand this sinister development.
The clinical psychologist Mathias Desmet from Ghent University in Belgium has an interesting explanation. In a conversation with Markus Aubrey, he argues that society was ripe for what took hold in the spring of 2020: a phenomenon called ‘Mass Formation’, a precursor to full-blown totalitarianism, which explains why people who would otherwise not agree with draconian measures and the vilification of other people happily do so during a crisis of this kind.
According to Desmet, various conditions have to be present for the phenomenon – which can be compared to a kind of mass psychosis – to take hold.
For instance, there must be widespread social isolation and disconnectedness. This, he explains, is exemplified by the number of people who find their jobs meaningless. Around 50% of workers in so-called ‘bullshit jobs‘ don’t see any purpose in their roles, for example. When the grand narratives such as religion fall away, we are left looking for meaning elsewhere. For many, the ‘health and safetyism’ of the Covid state filled that gap.
The lack of meaning feeds into social isolation, which is widespread and has increased in the past few years. When people lack close friendships and social bonds, the result is a what Desmet calls free-floating anxiety, aggression and discontent. With a high level of general anxiety – anxiety that is not attached to a single object – the population is ready to attach its aggression and angst onto something. When the virus came along, the narrative that was constructed about it served as a perfect receptacle for negative emotions. By channelling these emotions into something concrete, people started to feel the connection and meaning they’ve been lacking. In joining the ‘fight against the virus’, a new kind of social bond and sense making emerged.
Desmet explains: people suddenly feel connected again, in a heroic struggle, and that’s the reason why people buy into the narrative and why they are willing to participate in a strategy even if it’s utterly absurd. The reason why they follow it has nothing to do with the fact it’s correct or scientific, but because it leads to a new social bond. People are social beings, and being socially isolated is painful, and through the process of ‘Mass Formation’ they switch from the very negative state of social isolation to the opposite state of maximal connectedness that exists in a crowd.
Desmet draws on the work of Gustave Le Bon, the father of crowd psychology. When an individual becomes part of a crowd, he undergoes a profound psychological transformation and ceases to operate as an individual. Le Bon argues: “He is no longer himself, but has become an automaton who has ceased to be guided by his will,” he writes in The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind.
Worth reading in full.
Stop Press: Read novelist Paul Kingsnorth’s account in UnHerd of why the demonising of the unvaccinated caused him to switch sides in the vaccine wars.