Discover more from Panocracy
“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.” - 'K' to 'J', Men in Black
This time we're looking at one of those things that can bring an end to civilisation as we know it. War is of course the most prominent player here, but other apocalyptic setbacks have played their part throughout history.
If you try looking up the term mass formation on a search engine then you'll come up against a raft of 'fact checks' attempting to debunk the idea, especially as it applies to the public response to the disastrous Covid mitigation measures. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” as Hamlet's mum opined.
An administrative system like our Panocracy has to be robust against takeover by daft ideologies and the formation of cults – as this happens regularly in human societies and causes us all untold damage.
Throughout history people have experienced problems - droughts, famines, plagues, witches … - that had no easy explanation. But the demagogues, charlatans and spin doctors found easy explanations anyway. Actually trying to understand the causes of these 'punishments from God' was a late entrant to this race which, after a strong start, has stumbled in recent times.
As we saw last time, everyone is a special case: each of us has his or her own skills, personality, prejudices and their own agenda so it's paradoxical that cults form at all. And rather easily at that.
A creature that evolved for life in a community of a couple of hundred fellows (panocracy 33) is in no way adapted to life in a city or a nation let alone a 'global village' of billions. We simply are not clever enough to understand the ramifications of building and maintaining such a network. And yet we have barged ahead regardless. We still behave as though we live in a tribe that inhabits an isolated valley where it raises its own food, is in thrall to its tribal chiefs and is terrified of the river spirits and the tribe in the next valley.
Indeed, when rumours of danger circulate, a tribe looks to its shamans to come up with the diagnosis and to its chieftains to make it go away.
A recent paper has amusingly pointed out an instance of the exaggeration of fear (so-called Monkeypox). (Thanks to el gato malo for this heads-up!). This was possible because we know the outcome – Monkeypox was a damp squib. The authors of the paper, Benjamin Knudsen, Tracy Beth Høeg and Vinay Prasad concluded that
“Credentialed Twitter users were 4.6 times more likely to tweet inaccurate than accurate messages. We also demonstrated how incorrect tweets can be quickly amplified by retweets and popular accounts. In the case of Mpox in children and young people, incorrect information exaggerated the risks 100% of the time.
… Multiplying accuracy by followers and retweets, Twitter users were approximately 974x more likely to encounter inaccurate than accurate information.”
What we have experienced in the Covid catastrophe with its crazy, ineffective and downright dangerous diktats has been a staple of human socio-political life since time immemorial.
The psychosis that gripped people in 2020 and beyond, where some were screaming for ostracism, incarceration or death for dissenters, is what is called a mass formation: a large body of people rapidly takes on a quasi-religious belief that lacks verifiable or falsifiable evidence, is self-reinforcing and gives its adherents a strong sense of belonging to a collective with a world view that they think makes them safe.
Characteristics of this psychosis include dismissal of dissenting opinion and unquestioning devotion to the pronouncements of the collective's leader(s).
People caught in this psychosis have great difficulty in seeing it themselves, just as some people can't see past their football team or political party. Their beliefs act like a drug to make them feel better about themselves. These beliefs are reinforced frequently by those running the show and by the other members of their 'community'. They ultimately hold critics and dissenters responsible for the failures of their own defective system rather than the leaders who misled them.
They themselves can do no wrong.
In case you don't think this is so, consider our current drug culture. You sick, you go see medicine man and he give you magic potion make you better. You unhappy, you go see drug dealer, he give you magic powder make you happy.
Not everyone takes drugs, legal or otherwise, but you cannot deny that the pressure to do so is rife in modern society. Most of us are true believers in the redemptive power of pharmaceuticals.
We all subscribe to a greater or lesser extent to some set of beliefs that we can't justify. It was the triumph of the scientific 'method' and the Enlightenment that many more of us were able to recognise such failings in ourselves and start to question them. Sadly, that horse is the one that has stumbled recently.
The Paradox of Mass Formation
It is not considered correct nowadays to believe that the ills of the world are due to, say, witchcraft. But beliefs like that demand some explanation.
Mattias Desmet in his book the Psychology of Totalitarianism suggests that we are subject to two conflicting urges: anxiety about the future and a desire to have a place in society.
We can book our place at the trough of consensus by embracing its easy answers wholeheartedly which at the same time removes our anxieties: “they'll take care of my problems”. The consensus that witches are responsible is bound to fail at some point. For example, when we haven't been turned into toads. As it becomes harder to support the hypothesis when the evidence begins to show the contrary, the anxiety rises and the consensus becomes more shrill. Now the mass trumps up evidence and starts burning witches at the stake. Because it becomes ever more important to demonstrate their solidarity with the crowd.
On the other hand you can tackle your anxieties with reason, reject the consensus and thus risk the victimisation that the crowd may impose. You will be more confident that reality will support your position but it's a risky strategy and so it's not hard to see why few go for it. Those who follow that path must be prepared for a long period of hardship before they're vindicated. Going with the flow is just a lot easier.
My personal experience in the bout of Covid lunacy we've just seen was that people just 'clammed up' rather than risk being seen as a dissenter. It's impossible to say how many of them actually believed the 'narrative'. That particular psychosis has largely dissipated now. but don’t worry, there’s always ‘climate change’.
Mitigating the Madness
“people who have nothing to believe in will believe anything” - Neil Oliver
We could argue that religious belief is the ultimate expression of mass formation. For much of the history of the West, religion in the form of Christianity and at the level of the entire culture has played a dominant socio-political role. This religion has endured for 1500 years since the Council of Niceae established its official creeds and only recently has seen its grip on western society loosened.
We need to remember that the 'triumph of the West' – the industrial revolution and the scientific enlightenment – happened while this particular mass formation held sway. It may be significant that the decline of the West has paralleled the decline of its master religion.
We can speculate that widespread belief in the Christian liturgy shut out the toxic creeds that have increasingly appeared recently. Perhaps we can believe in only so many impossible things before breakfast and religious beliefs partly inoculate us against falling for the really poisonous ideologies that are routinely adopted in these secular times. If you already believed that Jesus was coming down to save us all at the second millennium then you wouldn't need to think it was going to be aliens. This seems to have worked given a religion with a penchant for forgiveness (even though that was often ignored by its practitioners) as opposed to superstitions like ‘lockdowns’, 'vaccination' and 'climate change' which actively persecute heretics or 'deniers' as they are now known.
So we suggest that our panocracy heeds these lessons and offers something to believe in and worth believing in. At the moment it requires a belief that true democracy will sort out our problems and that all those who participate in it will be doing so both for themselves and for everyone else. It encourages the belief that critics and dissenters are to be welcomed as opposed to being merely tolerated, dismissed out of hand or even persecuted. Dissent is to be understood and not grudgingly tolerated or insincerely forgiven.
Panocracy also engenders a sense of belonging in that we can each see what other people are thinking on some issue and know we can challenge it if we want.
Whether that's enough is a question for the future.
Because there are no official leaders in a panocracy, such as a cabinet with a prime minister or a president, that particular route for exaggerating and propagating silly ideology is absent. The public simply couldn't be subjected to daily press conferences by some grandstanding political muppet scaring them with tales of the bogey man du jour.
The absence of ‘useful idiots’ in the panocracy also makes it harder for vested interest groups to sway opinion via propaganda, subterfuge and advertising. This doesn't mean it won't happen. Mass formations are exactly what advertising and propaganda are there to do. Big Pharma has used its capture of biomedical researchers, journalists and regulators to great effect in directing research towards profitable, patentable compounds and suppressing negative results. The people who are in thrall to the Big Pharma dollar know that their next grant or advertising contract just won't materialise if they step out of line.
It remains to be established who under a panocracy would commission and pay for biomedical research in general and drug research in particular. We can easily imagine a few RFCs that would keep such matters in the public domain but that is a political matter and therefore the domain of everyone.
Mass formations are a fact of human life. All we can expect from our system of government is that they are not amplified by the people at the top. Even this seems to have been too much to ask for with Covid and the health and economic disaster that our leaders unleashed upon us.
The only solution to this kind of problem that doesn't involve constructing some kind of AI that's immune to nonsense but that we must all obey is a panocracy in which enough people see through the idiocy and can point it out to the rest of us.
I hope to spend more time on developing a panocracy 'sandbox' over the next few months at panocracy.net so this column may become even more sparse.
In the meantime I must thank you for staying with me so far! Please let your friends (and foes) know about this series.