The Mass Psychosis and the Demons of Dostoevsky: how ideas and ideologies lay the groundwork for mass psychosis and control

“The Mass Psychosis and the Demons of Dostoevsky” (Academy of Ideas, 31 March 2021)

Drawing on the work of psychoanalysts Carl Jung and Joost Meerloo, this video explores the impact that ideas and ideologies can have on societies and predispose them to the fears, anxieties and insecurities that in turn drive them and individuals towards collective mass psychosis that legitimises scapegoating and persecution of minorities, supports war and encourages mass murder and genocide. These ideas are described in the video as demons and this metaphor, attributed to the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, is expanded into the suggestion that, like demons, ideas can possess humans and direct their thinking, behaviour and actions.

The video gives a general description of what these ideas and ideologies are or might involve – they can promote passivity or learned helplessness, or depict humans as imperfect beings incapable of self-improvement; they can set up humans in a hierarchy in which some humans are exceptional and others are not (and deserve to be driven to extinction); or they can justify the existence of a small elite before whom the majority must bow in obedient slavery – and then goes on to explain how these ideas or ideologies spread in societies aided by the political, social, cultural or economic tools available to them.

As is usual in their videos, AoI use paintings, other artworks and historical film archives (mainly old Soviet film) to illustrate their voice-over narrative. Quotations drawn from Jung, Meerloo and others are also repeated as text on inserted title cards. There is an anti-Communist bias in AoI’s choice of historical news and documentary film but I suspect if AoI had tried to be more even-handed and neutral in their choice of films, they might possibly run afoul of censors in Canada. AoI’s selection of quotations from Meerloo’s work “The Rape of the Mind” (which was also critical of the House Un-American Activities Committee and its actions in the US during the 1950s) might suggest the film-makers are more even-handed than their video at first appears.

One chilling observation featured in the video is that those possessed by such ideas and ideologies that lead to a totalitarian mindset and the quest for power and control believe that what they are doing is good, not just for themselves but for others and the whole of society that they seek to dominate. They are blind to the possibility that they are setting themselves – and by implication, others and even entire nations and regions – up for ruin.

The transcript of the voice-over narrative appears at this link.