Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and the Greek Myths: the prosaic truth behind real monsters and mythical monsters

Garrett Ryan, “Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and the Greek Myths” (Toldinstone, 21 August 2021)

Part of a collaboration with NORTH 02, a YouTube channel dedicated to palaeontology and human evolution, this video in the Toldinstone series explores possible inspirations for some of the monsters known in Greek mythology: fossils of dinosaurs and prehistoric beasts from the Cenozoic Era that came after the Cretaceous Age ended some 65 million years ago. In particular, historian and narrator Dr Ryan looks at the griffins – creatures with lions’ bodies but the heads, wings and tails of other animals – and a possible connection with fossils of Protoceratops dinosaurs from Central Asia. He also examines the possibility that the skulls of dwarf mammoths and elephants on some of the Mediterranean islands inspired the monsters known as Cyclopes. Dr Ryan then turns his attention to mammoth fossils and the likelihood that they inspired the giants who fought Zeus, his siblings and their allies in the titanic battles that were the Gigantomachy.

After mentioning these creatures and the possible links to dinosaurs, mammoths and their relatives, Dr Ryan cautions against assuming a causal relationship between dinosaurs and griffins, or between mammoths and the giants and Cyclopes. Dr Ryan points out that the griffins existed in Greek myth long before the Greeks became aware of the worlds beyond the territories of their Scythian neighbours in Central Asia and the area now known as Mongolia where the Protoceratops fossils were found. The possible connection between dwarf proboscidean skulls and Cyclopes might seem to be on firmer ground: the Greeks did not know of elephants or their relatives until late in their history as an independent people; and, on seeing the fossil skulls of prehistoric elephant relatives, would have been awestruck and obsessed with finding an explanation for the presence of a giant cavity between the eye sockets. Again though, until definite evidence can be uncovered, we should not be rash and assume that dwarf mammoth and elephant skulls were the direct inspiration for the Cyclopes. The Cyclopes existed in Greek mythology for a very long time and discoveries of dwarf mammoth and elephant skulls came some time after the myths of Cyclopes became widespread. In other words, it is a case of making evidence, real or not, fit the narrative, rather than following the evidence to see where it goes. In addition Greek mythology happens to teem with monsters stitched together with various human and animal body parts: the Minotaur, Cerberus and the Medusa are just some of the hideous creatures infesting the myths. Also in describing Greek technological and engineering achievements of some 2,500 years ago, we should not forget that the ancients did not have the scientific method and their worldview may not have been as rational or as enlightened as we assume it to be.

The video is lavishly illustrated with photographs and film stills that echo the myths Dr Ryan refers to. While viewers may be disappointed that dinosaurs and mammoths were not directly or indirectly responsible for the creatures of Greek myth, they can at least take comfort in the fact that the Greeks had vivid imaginations and endowed their myths, legends and stories with flawed heroes and the most monstrous demonic beings.

Why the Sparta you know never existed: a militaristic culture stereotype revealed as no different from landed gentry

Garrett Ryan, “Why the Sparta you know never existed” (Toldinstone, 8 April 2022)

Classical Sparta has long been perceived as not much more than a highly martial society that trained all its male citizens for little more than to fight wars and prepared all its women (that is, the daughters of Spartan citizens) for marriage to Spartan citizens and bear them sons for war. Undoubtedly the unique and highly regimented nature of Spartan society for its male citizens, and the rigorous education of boys for their future role as soldiers that such a society demanded, have contributed to the popular stereotype. However as historian Dr Ryan explains in this episode of his long-running Toldinstone series, Spartan society was actually more complex than it at first appears. In a short space of time (just under 13 minutes), Dr Ryan quickly describes the lives of Spartan male citizens, their womenfolk and the helots (slaves) who served them.

Spartan men and women are revealed to have lived the lifestyles of what we might call the landed gentry and aristocracy, with men engaged in soldiering, exercising in gymnasiums, hunting for pleasure and dining with their friends, and their womenfolk involved in running their households, directing their domestic slaves, raising young children – and often also running their own businesses. The lives of helots, who far outnumbered the Spartan citizenry, could be brutal and miserable – but they were necessary to carry out the functions of Spartan society so that Spartan citizens could effectively live lives of luxury. Dr Ryan then compares Spartan and Athenian societies and points out that most differences between the two city-states in their politics, their class structures and the lifestyles of their elites are really differences in degree.

It is true that all male Spartan citizens trained to be soldiers for the state – but what they had to do was perhaps equivalent to modern male citizens living in a society where conscription is compulsory and all men of draft age (18 years to early 60s) are regarded as part of their country’s national reserve, to be called to serve at short notice. When the country is at piece, then male citizens are more or less free to live their own lives, provided they maintain their weapons and participate in regular training programs as required. If Spartan boys were taken from their families to train in physical education in special state facilities to prepare for their future adult lives as soldiers, this was not much different from, say, the British practice of enrolling upper and middle class children in boarding schools for several years with the aim of instilling British values and belief in British uniqueness and superiority in the children and prepare them to govern and control the lower classes and British overseas colonies. If the lives of the helots (slaves) under Spartan rule were harsh and humiliating for them, parallels in Western societies can be found: Anglophone settler societies in North America, Australia and elsewhere employed slave labour, convict labour and indentured labour to do their dirty work while their ruling elites enjoyed lives of relative ease and pleasure; and similar might be said for settler societies founded by other European nations in areas they colonised in the Americas, Africa and Asia.

The revelation that Spartan society and culture are really not so very different from Athenian society and culture – or even from modern Western society and culture – is less surprising than at first it might seem. Perhaps what we really should be surprised at is how we have been persuaded over the decades to see Classical Athens and Sparta and their relations as a metaphor for Cold War relations between the West (western Europe, North America and their allies) and the East (Russia / USSR, China and their allies) and how the two ancient Greek city-states ended up being shoehorned into stereotypes with Athens supposedly being gold-standard democratic and Sparta being the antithesis of Athens.

Unfortunately Dr Ryan doesn’t go far enough into his video to explore why Sparta has had such bad press from its Athenian enemy and from modern Western nations anxious to portray themselves as a sort of New Athens … but then, such an exploration would require questioning how and why Classical studies has been politicised and used to justify Western political and cultural superiority towards non-Western nations, usually with the aim of dominating those other nations, repressing their peoples and cultures, and stealing their lands and resources.

How did Roman Aqueducts work? – an entertaining introduction to Roman engineering prowess and its support of Roman culture and values

Garrett Ryan, “How did Roman Aqueducts work?” (Toldinstone, 19 March 2022)

At last historian Dr Ryan tackles the topic every eager student of Roman civilisation wants to know: how did Roman aqueducts work, why did the Romans build aqueducts and how successful were the aqueduct systems? The aqueducts and their networks represent perhaps the peak of Roman engineering and the Roman flair for practical thinking and planning. Most of all, aqueducts fully represent how Roman values and lifestyles, centred around the city, were supported and maintained by Roman technological achievements.

Dr Ryan introduces his topic with a beautiful photograph of Rome’s famous Trevi fountain followed by other stunning visuals and a history of aqueduct evolution from Ancient Greek times through the Hellenistic era to the Romans who hit on the idea of using arched bridge technology to help bring spring water from hillsides and mountains to their cities. Dr Ryan stresses that aqueducts were not built to supply drinking water; instead they were built to supply water for public baths (sponsored by elites) and for private use by wealthy families. Building an aqueduct was actually a difficult and arduous process: the downward gradient of an aqueduct had to be gradual and gentle, and for this Roman engineers relied on specialised instruments to measure relative distance and height between two distant points and achieve ideal water levels. Aqueducts usually ran underground for much of their length, following the contours of the land. Arched bridges help to maintain the gentle downward gradients of aqueducts when they emerged from underground, and rows of arched bridges (such as the famous and spectacular Pont du Gard in France) might be built for such maintenance. In some valleys, Roman engineers might build inverted siphons if arched bridges could not be built.

When aqueducts reached the cities they were intended for, the water they carried – and they could carry up to billions of litres a day – ended up in primary distribution tanks and then secondary distribution tanks branching off from the primary ones. From the secondary distribution tanks, water would be piped to public baths, public fountains, factories and private luxury homes. Those who could afford having water piped into their homes applied to the Roman Emperor for permission to have a calix (a metal, usually bronze, connector; bronze was used as it was hard for thieves to tamper with) installed into a local secondary distribution tank; a pipe would be run from the calix to the customers’ homes. Water bills were paid based on the size of the calix. When customers died or sold their homes, the calix would be removed and the buyers would have to apply anew for a calix. Those who had water pumped into their properties often used the water extravagantly in the form of fountains, private baths and gardens.

Aqueduct maintenance was constant and often difficult; not all cities that had aqueducts cleaned them regularly and aqueducts often ended up clogged with mineral deposits carried by water.

Dr Ryan concludes his mini-lecture by noting outstanding examples of aqueduct systems that served cities long after the Roman civilisation fell in the 5th century CE. One such example is the aqueduct of Constantinople which carried water into underground cisterns in the city and which was maintained well into Ottoman times: the Ottomans themselves used the aqueduct to supply water to their imperial palaces and maintained, repaired and even extended the system.

As is usual with Dr Ryan’s mini-lectures on Classical civilisation in his Toldinstone series, this instalment is informative and entertaining, and illustrated with spectacular photos of aqueduct systems, diagrams and maps. The talk might have been longer and more complete if Dr Ryan had added something about how waste water was used to flush public toilets and to clean streets, and then disposed of in underground sewers and ultimately into rivers.

Surprisingly Dr Ryan touches very briefly on the topic of whether the lead used in aqueducts and the pipes attached to them might have caused lead poisoning that is presumed to have contributed to Ancient Rome’s decline. While the talk does not say whether the lead pipes did or did not, two things from the talk stand out: water was constantly moving from gravitational pressure through the aqueducts so it would not have picked up much lead; and (ironically) aqueducts not regularly cleaned would have been coated with mineral deposits like calcium carbonate from the water which would have prevented direct contact between the water and the inside lead pipe surfaces.

This mini-talk serves as an introduction to a fascinating aspect of Roman life, culture and technology, and how the technology serves culture and reflects it and its values. Viewers will be astonished that the aqueducts were not built to benefit ordinary working city people – the hoi polloi had to get their drinking water from public fountains, and use public baths and toilets – but instead to benefit the wealthy. The realisation that Rome was not a society structured around caring for people but instead around exploiting people hits hard indeed.

Obstacles to the China Path in Latin America: a talk that fails to address the elephant north of Latin America

Paul Cockshott, “Obstacles to the China Path in Latin America” (19 December 2021)

This video is a recording of a brief talk that UK economics academic Paul Cockshott gave to a panel at the World Association of Political Economy in Shanghai, in December 2021. The talk is accompanied by a small series of slides which essentially illustrate significant points in Cockshott’s talk. The main thrust of this brief lecture is that without significant land reform in Latin America, the continent will be unable to replicate China’s path from poverty in the 1970s to global success with the world’s largest economy and largest middle class – and the political clout that goes with that economic success – in the space of roughly 45 years.

In his talk, Cockshott quotes from 18th-century British classical economists Adam Smith and David Richardo, both of whom noted that in a society where the bulk of national income or the income from production goes to a landlord class that spends the income on unproductive uses (such as gambling, property speculation or spending on luxury goods), there is little capital accumulation that can be directed into investing in production. Production cannot expand and new jobs cannot be created for workers. In a later century, Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto wrote that the unproductive landlord class had to be abolished through heavy progressive taxation, the abolition of inheritance rights and the abolition of property in land, with rent income from land to be used for public purposes. These principles were followed by the Communist Party of China after 1949, with rent income going to communes for local investment purposes or, in the form of taxes, to the government for national public projects; the result has been that China has been able to accumulate large amounts of capital necessary for investment in major economic projects and enterprises, both public and private. In turn, labour productivity rises, new jobs are created, the demand for labour rises rapidly, and real wages (what people are able to buy with the money they earn) rise quickly as well.

There are other principles that Marx noted in The Communist Manifesto – the centralisation of credit in the form of a national bank controlled by the State; State centralisation of the means of communication and transport; extending factories and State-owned instruments of production by improving soils and bringing waste-lands into productive use – which the CPC has also followed, with the State controlling or regulating China’s financial industry and transport networks, investing in or controlling essential industries, and carrying large-scale conservation projects that have turned huge areas of desert into forest and land that can be cultivated.

For Cockshott, the path that Latin American nations need to follow is clear: these nations must do what China did and get rid of their unproductive, parasitic and corrupt landowning classes (who may also dominate politics and the media, financial and transport industries) and establish governments under the leadership of workers and peasants.

Unfortunately in his brief talk, Cockshott does not say how the power of the landowners in nations like Brazil, Chile or Ecuador can be broken and transferred to the working classes; neither does he note that all Latin American nations may have distinctive characteristics that mean that following China’s path precisely may either be difficult or need to follow a different path. The failure of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez to revive agriculture in his country and make it more self-sufficient in staple foodstuffs because, among other things, the oil industry offered more money and easier working conditions to labourers illustrates that Venezuela’s particular path must take a direction that acknowledges the country’s particular characteristics and economic context in which dependence on energy resources will hamper efforts towards economic autarky. Above all, in carrying out revolutionary economic reforms aiming at redistributing wealth, especially land, among the working classes and being able to control credit and capital accumulation for investment purposes, Latin American nations risk the ire of a huge and jealous power to their north, one that will not hesitate to overthrow their governments either directly or indirectly and replace them with governments that maintain corrupt elites whom that jealous power the United States can control.

Were the Romans Close to an Industrial Revolution? (Part 2): a lesson and a warning to post-industrial societies

Garrett Ryan, “Were the Romans Close to an Industrial Revolution? (Part 2)” (Toldinstone, 5 March 2022)

You guessed it … after the first video in which he presents evidence of the Romans being a pre-industrial society, narrator Dr Garrett Ryan brings forward in Part 2 the cultural, political and economic barriers that ultimately prevented the Romans from developing an industrial society. And these barriers are considerable: the lack of financial institutions that would fund research and development; the disdain of political elites for technological innovation; poor communications throughout the Roman empire; an education system – or rather, lack of one – that would encourage the spread of scientific and engineering knowledge; the lack of a large market for mass produced goods like textiles; and the oversized domination of a landholding aristocracy and its values, favouring investment in property and luxury goods over production, in Roman society and politics that had the effect of discouraging the formation and growth of an entrepreneurial class and its associated values and beliefs. All these barriers, singly and together, worked to prevent the rise of a culture that would favour industrialisation and the social, political and economic transformation that it would have brought to Ancient Rome.

The depth that Dr Ryan achieves in presenting the reasons for Roman failure to industrialise, in such a short film, is impressive though the speed with which he packs in the information is nothing short of breathtaking (ahem!) and viewers would be well advised to listen to the video again (if not watch it) again for as many times as they wish for everything he says to soak in. I often say with Dr Ryan’s Toldinstone videos that they could be slower, with perhaps more pauses between statements of fact, and this observation applies more to this video than to others in the Toldinstone series because the arguments the professor makes come thick and fast. Comparisons with the social, political and economic context of late 18th century / early 19th century Britain are apt though comparisons with other cultures that were also in a pre-industrial state (such as China at various stages of its history, or Japan during the Tokugawa shogunate) could also have been made.

The real lesson to be learned from Part 2 is not so much why Ancient Rome failed to industrialise but why Britain succeeded in industrialising, and knowing the context in which this success took place. By emphasising that Ancient Rome lacked the financial structures that made financing mass production on a large scale possible; that Ancient Rome did not have an education system that reached out to all its people regardless of their class or wealth and which might have given them the general scientific and engineering knowledge and skills to carry out research and make new discoveries and inventions; and moreover, that Ancient Rome and its politics were dominated by landowning elites who poured their money into property acquisition and conspicuous luxury consumption, the video makes its case in a backhanded way that a context in which various social, political and economic ideologies and belief systems, that favour particular trends in science, engineering and technology, come together at the right time in the right place must exist for breakthroughs to occur. Often such ideologies and belief systems put the common folk and their needs, individual and collective, before the needs and desires of a small privileged class.

In an age where the English-speaking world is now obsessed with class and hierarchy and the values of its political elites have become much the same as those of the Roman elites (property acquisition and speculation, conspicuous luxury consumption, privatising education and knowledge rather than spreading knowledge and skills to everyone regardless of class) to the extent that money is going into non-productive avenues instead of productive ones, this video should serve as a warning to us all.

Were the Romans Close to an Industrial Revolution? (Part 1): evidence that Ancient Rome was a pre-industrial society

Garrett Ryan, “Were the Romans Close to an Industrial Revolution? (Part 1)” (Toldinstone, 26 February 2022)

This video and its second part could have been combined into one exploring and explaining why the Roman Empire never experienced an Industrial Revolution on the scale that took off in Britain in the late 1700s / early 1800s and spread to continental Europe. On the other hand, such a video, longer and self-contained, would have had to cut out the entertaining story about the Roman noble who invented a steam-powered engine that generated vibrations in a building he shared with an annoying neighbour that introduces this first part which looks at the potential the Roman Empire had for large-scale industrialisation and manufacturing. Dr Ryan firstly dispels modern myths and stereotypes about Roman society that argue that Roman culture and technology discouraged the use of labour-saving devices. In particular, Dr Ryan points out that the Romans were keen on opportunities for making profit – and the technology that enabled such opportunities – as exemplified by the dense trade networks within the empire and between it and other cultures, and that the institution of slavery was a costly investment for large landowners who would have looked favourably on technologies that either gained more output from the slaves they had or dispensed with slave labour entirely if the outputs generated with the technologies justified getting rid of slaves.

After dispensing with the myths, Dr Ryan makes a strong argument for Roman imperial society being on the verge of an Industrial Revolution: mass production in pottery and Roman garum (fish sauce) along with standardisation and the energy and labour systems and facilities needed to support such production was present; mining across the empire was organised on a massive scale; power sources based on water were used; and individual Roman scientists and engineers experimented with using steam to power turbines.

As always with his videos, Dr Ryan argues for the Romans being more innovative and technologically minded than we give them credit for, clearly and succinctly with examples and anecdotes backed by colourful photographs and other visual illustrations. This first part could have been a bit longer and its pacing a bit slower for viewers to savour more fully. There is a sense of a steady escalation towards a climax that will appear in Part 2 and a slower escalation would heighten audience anticipation of that climax.

The presentation is quite sober and not as droll as other videos in the Toldinstone series though the topic of whether Rome could have had an Industrial Revolution has attracted enough attention (and perhaps enough ridicule of Roman society as being too stagnant to have had such a breakthrough) that perhaps more entertaining stories would have made the video appear more facetious than serious.

How Warm was the Roman Climate? – a brief survey of evidence for the Roman Warm Period

Garrett Ryan, “How Warm was the Roman Climate?” (Toldinstone, 23 February 2022)

In this instalment in his Toldinstone series on Youtube, Dr Garrett Ryan surveys evidence from dendrochronology (the study of tree rings) and other physical proxy phenomena that the Roman Empire experienced a long period of warm climate from the second century BCE to the second century CE known as the Roman Warm Period. The first part of this mini-documentary deals with the physical evidence that the late Roman Republic / early Roman Empire experienced warm summer temperatures in the Alpine region of about two degrees Celsius higher than they are today. Other physical evidence from places as far apart as Britain, Spain, Italy and southwest Turkey also suggest average annual temperatures of about two degrees Celsius higher than their current late 20th-century equivalents.

The second part of the mini-documentary emphasises that the Roman Warm Period was specific to the Mediterranean World and Europe, and that other parts of the world did not experience similar phenomena. The Roman Warm Period is thus not comparable with current global warming. The documentary concludes by looking at what impact the Roman Warm Period and its end might have had on Roman history and deducing that this climatic phenomenon and its aftermath had much less impact than might be assumed; while it is true that the Roman Warm Period could have allowed Hannibal to take his elephants over the Alps, and changing climate in Central Asia could have caused a long drought that forced nomadic Hunnic tribes there to travel across western Asia into Europe during the fifth century CE, the period’s warmth was neither uniform nor consistent across the empire’s territory and the empire’s final downfall was due to internal economic and social causes.

Illustrated with photographs and maps, the video is very informative though perhaps not quite as entertaining as others in the series – the topic doesn’t quite lend itself to a colourful roaming travelogue showing art, the ruins of formerly imposing and magnificent buildings or literature – and Dr Ryan’s narration seems more terse and less humorous. There is still much food for thought though, as to how the Roman Warm Period might have influenced the physical settings in which the dramas and events that made the Roman Empire what it was then and what it is to us today played out.

Celebrating the achievements of Roman-era civil engineering in “Were Roman Roads more Durable than Modern Highways?”

Garrett Ryan, “Were Roman Roads more Durable than Modern Highways?” (Toldinstone, 5 February 2022)

Here’s another entertaining and informative episode in the ongoing history documentary series Toldinstone, this one compares Roman-era road networks and infrastructure with their modern equivalent in the West. Vividly illustrated with photographs, maps and sketches, narrator Dr Garrett Ryan describes the extent of the Roman imperial road network through Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, showing how the roads traversed a variety of often difficult and even extreme physical environments and climates: semi-desert conditions in North Africa, humid and damp environments in northern Europe (especially Britain) and Alpine regions. He quickly goes over how the roads were built and what materials were used in different parts of the Empire – there were many regional variations – and how they were often built by Roman troops. Milestones often indicating the name of the reigning Emperor at the time as well as distances to or from the nearest towns would mark the boundaries of the roads. The most frequent users of the road networks were the Roman Army itself – indeed, roads were constructed in such a way (mostly straight and wide) as to allow foot soldiers to move swiftly – and messengers carrying post with farmers, traders and shepherds with flocks also using the roads.

Like their modern counterparts, Roman roads had traffic police and toll booths, and Roman engineers performed great feats of civil engineering in building bridges and mountain tunnels, many of which survived well into the 20th century. The Puente Romano in Mérida, Spain, was still being used for road traffic as late as 1991; even now, it is in use for foot traffic. The most significant part of the video though comes in the comparison of Roman and modern roads: just as with modern roads, Roman roads needed frequent repairs due to wear and tear from traffic and weather and other physical extremes. In some ways, the comparison is not fair as modern road networks are built to withstand far heavier loads and more frequent and faster traffic than Roman roads had to endure, and often in much more extreme physical and climatic conditions. The video mentions that the amount of traffic crossing North American highways in a day might be equivalent to the amount Roman roads experienced in a calendar year! At the same time, modern roads have to be cost-effective in terms of the materials, technologies and processes used, and (even with regular maintenance) most are built to last only a few decades before they have to be replaced completely. In that sense, Roman-era roads are indeed more durable than modern roads but one has to remember they were built by a society with very different values and these values are reflected in the roads themselves: their construction, their materials, even the fact that they join in a network, reflect Roman imperial power and the importance of the Roman Army in maintaining that power and ensuring peace and stability wherever the Roman Empire dominated. As Dr Ryan notes, this of course does not detract from the achievements of Roman-era civil engineering, many if not most of which were the innovations and breakthroughs of their time.

The mini-documentary is well structured and narrated to answer a particular query put to Toldinstone about one aspect of Roman civil engineering and technology that is one of the Roman Empire’s most enduring legacies to Western civilisation.

The Manufacturing of a Mass Psychosis – Can Sanity Return to an Insane World?: how the insanity begins and how it can be cured

“The Manufacturing of a Mass Psychosis – Can Sanity Return to an Insane World?” (Academy of Ideas, 24 April 2021)

In past centuries, mass psychosis in Western societies took the form of witch hunts and persecutions, religious wars and genocides, and even dancing manias among nunneries; in the 20th and 21st centuries, mass psychosis has also been expressed in the form of totalitarian state societies where all power is concentrated in a central government and all institutions, codes and systems of authority and governance are created and controlled by that government. In such societies, the rights and freedoms of individuals are given by the government which also reserves the right to deny them to the citizenry. The people are divided into two groups: the rulers (always a minority) and the ruled (the majority), and both groups undergo a mass psychological transformation in which the ruled regress to a passive child-like status dependent on the rulers who become their gods and who believe that they alone have the knowledge, power and authority to rule the masses.

The video explains in a rather general way how the minority of rulers seizes power and maintains it by using shock tactics on a regular or semi-regular basis to sow fear and terror through the masses. Shock tactics can include the use of a threat, real or imagined or deliberately created, and might involve scapegoating a particular group of people such as gypsies or Jews to channel the masses’ anxieties and aggressions. Propaganda, fake news and disinformation, the abuse of statistics, lying by omission and suppression of the truth by labelling truth-seekers as conspiracy theorists (and thereby scapegoating them and portraying them as deplorables or trash) are some of the tools the rulers use as shock tactics, usually in combination, to unsettle the ruled and keep them in a state of fear, anxiety and hysteria.

A further step totalitarian states take to keep people in psychological darkness – what Dutch psychoanalyst Joost Meerloo called “menticide” – is to divide them and isolate them, thereby breaking up social interactions and ultimately fragment communities based on common interests. Break-up and fragmentation can be achieved by seizing the lands and resources of communities and forcing them to live on crowded reservations with other communities; at the same time, the rulers may take away the children of these communities, breaking family, social and cultural continuities. The children have no access to their cultures and languages, and are treated as tabulae rasae to be indoctrinated with whatever the rulers deem fit for them to know to take their place as worker bees and slaves in society.

With menticide being a multi-pronged strategy, the way to counter it, defend against it and to push it back to the point where societies can overthrow their diseased ruling elites and replace them with true democracy is also to adopt an agenda of many tactics and tools with common goals. Breaking free of mass brainwashing, discovering the truth and proclaiming it to as many of the brainwashed as possible, using humour and ridicule to attack the rulers, and creating parallel structures, networks and institutions that exist as a parallel society within the dysfunctional society are ways in which the people can erode the power and authority of hated elites. It has to be said though that such a strategy is a long-term one that often lasts longer than the life-times of the people involved in it. On this though, the video is silent; we are not told that such work is greater than the individuals who initiate it, who labour in it and who ultimately may benefit from it, one day well into the future.

The video’s artwork (much of it by Hieronymous Bosch) ranges from fevered and bizarre, as if inspired by dreadful nightmares, to the surreal and grotesque. The work of Joost Meerloo (“The Rape of the Mind”) is a major source of information and quotations for the video.

This video and its immediate AoI predecessors which also deal with aspects of mass psychosis and the modern totalitarian states that are founded upon it may well have been made by AoI as their response to and criticism of Western nations’ reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic by locking down societies at short notice for long periods, forcing the public to isolate with threats of the disease’s contagiousness, using propaganda and fearmongering tactics to take away individual rights and freedoms, instil anxiety and dependence on government, and to encourage the break-up of groups and communities by scapegoating people who refuse to take up dangerous mRNA injections claimed to protect against COVID-19 or its worst symptoms. If we take the video’s advice, the solution to the transformation of Western so-called liberal democracies into totalitarian dystopias is to apply a complex multi-varied approach of strategies and tactics, not all of which are necessarily going to make sense together, but which share common goals and objectives. Creating parallel structures, networks and institutions to spread truth and to counter mainstream propaganda and disinformation, and also to be a foundation for a new society when the dysfunctional society ultimately destroys itself, are needed; by implication, this is a collective activity to be undertaken by as many individuals and groups working together as possible, The work is greater than the individuals or groups involved in it, and this is something the video neglects to mention. AoI has a clear individualist stance perhaps akin to anarcho-capitalism so to advocate for collective action over individual action or groups of people working either in parallel or together as still self-interested actors – as opposed to people working together because they have decided to sacrifice some of their aims or freedoms to achieve a collective goal or goals that might not benefit them personally – would be beyond the pale for AoI. The result is that the film is very weak on suggesting pragmatic action and remedies for the problems it identifies.

A transcript to the video can be found at this link.

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.