Is a Mass Psychosis the Greatest Threat to Humanity? (Academy of Ideas, 27 February 2021)
Academy of Ideas is a Canadian-based website that explores and explains the ideas, philosophies and psychological theories of selected past thinkers and psychologists such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Soren Kierkegaard and Carl Jung among others, with the aim of encouraging self-empowerment and individual action, and helping readers cope with media disinformation. AoI also run a Youtube channel, posting short videos on philosophy, psychology and particular topics that may be relevant (though in a limited way) to viewers’ current social / political contexts. Over the past couple of years AoI has released videos on social psychology, in particular on the phenomenon of mass psychosis in human societies.
In this video, with the use of paintings, drawings and archived film from the 1930s and 1940s, AoI investigates what mass psychosis is and gives historical examples (some of the more recent ones in the 20th and 21st centuries appear to be cherry-picked: for example, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union under Stalin, China and North Korea) of societies that experienced such a phenomenon. The impact of mass psychosis on individuals, as explained by voice-over references to quotations by Carl Jung (reinforced with the text in inserted title cards), can be severe: individuals in such societies can be overcome and dominated by emotional, fearful and panicky thinking, and can end up carrying out acts including murder that they would normally consider repugnant. A society under psychosis is detached from reality, believing in and influenced by delusions about its place in the world and about other societies in that world, and acting accordingly. The psychosis can be driven by governments, corporations, other organisations (including mass media organisations) and individuals with self-serving agendas and ideologies.
The video goes on to explain that populations can be made fearful and vulnerable to manipulation leading to mass psychosis by threats that can be real or fabricated. Emphasis is put on the background cultural context of the targeted population as AoI sees it: if the society is made up of what AoI considers to be self-reliant, resilient and inwardly strong or inner-directed individuals, those people will confront and overcome the threat (no matter how arduous that effort, be it intellectual, physical and/or moral, may be) with strength and will power both individually and collectively. Once a population is in a state of panic, augmented by fearmongering tactics by mass media, its fears and anxieties can be directed into scapegoating minority groups or into supporting war against perceived enemies, with all the devastating consequences that can follow.
There is not space in the video to explain how pre-existing conditions in a society can influence whether it will respond in a positive or negative way to a crisis or threat: that explanation is given over to another AoI video. The artwork featured in the video – much of it by Hieronymous Bosch and Francisco Goya – is dramatic with strong if dark colouring and features depictions of violence.
While indeed some past 20th-century authoritarian societies do appear to be classic examples of mass psychosis, one also has to explain how these societies rallied against serious external threats, as the Soviet Union did against the Nazi German invasion in 1941 and defeated it, and how these societies managed to end their collective psychosis. On this, the video is silent, perhaps because it takes more than self-reliant and inner-directed individuals, whether acting on their own or together, to overcome mass psychosis: a culture and ideology that emphasises positive thinking and development, and which favours particular collective values and behaviours that might involve self-sacrifice and giving up one’s freedoms, must be present too.
A transcript of the video can be found at this link.