“The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants, and it provides the further advantage of giving the servants of tyranny a good conscience.”
On John Steppling’s Aesthetic Resistance podcast, guest Varun Mathur posited that we are witnessing – on a global scale – an event called “projective identification”.
Something like the reverse of Stockholm Syndrome — when victims identify with their abuser — projective identification in psychoanalysis is the abuser who projects his lesser qualities onto the abused, and then sets about trying to eradicate them in the false version of the much put-upon victim.
Worse, the victim internalizes the projection, taking the projected qualities as his own, and then sets about fixing his illusory self. So you then have two entities foolishly trying to solve the afflictions of an illusory third entity. Interpreters of nonexistent maladies.
Capital and Its Discontents
Could it be that our relationship with the capitalist ruling class has perverted itself into such a state? In which the abusive state, removing rights to satisfy the requirements of corporate profit taking, projects its own profiteering monomania onto the servile population.
The freedom to profit, the libertine excess of avarice, being the sole objective of the system. In the feverish mind of the capital class, labor is forever scheming to take away its wealth and privilege. It sees in the underclass a dangerously unhinged desire to upend meritocracy and reward apathy.
It would feed those who don’t work, employ those without skills, laden lean corporations with higher taxes and needless overhead. So too would the scurvy working class deliver the rulers up to the altar of socialism, that chronic obsession of the downtrodden.
(And in some cases, Park Avenue elites might be delivered up to the guillotine. Or, as some would surely relish, Bill Gates and Anthony Fauci swinging from the Brooklyn Bridge, a grisly reproof of elitism by the populism baying below.)
And so — in this construct — the ruling class projects its own scheming and faithless character onto the very class it exploits. Only the underclass would reward sloth rather than merit, i.e., replace capitalism with socialism.
Same monomania, different ideology.
The ruling class projects its own monomania onto the working class, and then oppresses it in order to curtail what it sees as a dreadful radicalism.
Of course, in so doing the mandarins are vainly trying to salve a conscience made restive in part from the long-lived practice of profiting from the supposed delivery of public health. But health is diminished as profits rise.
The ruling class knows this, and must do all it can to stem the boiling rebellions that surface far beneath it. Cognitive dissonance has a nasty half-life.
Flattering to Deceive
Hence a domestic war on terror to “keep the rabble in line.” A new spotlight cast on loosely defined “extremism” and a reinvigorated effort to censor dissident voices through the vast tentacles of Big Tech. After all, the people that own the country ought to govern it (at least according to Founder Father John Jay).
In place of dissent, we have consensus, a “mile wide and an inch deep,” as a journalist once said referring to the mainstream. A consensus that the government is doing its damndest to keep us safe. All it does is done for the welfare of the people—protecting them from fatal pathogens, mendacious memes, and seditious knaves in viking attire.
But achieving this kind of mass consensus is no easy feat. It requires a massive media campaign, one that:
- a) develops a common, consistent message platform;
- b) assembles the awesome power of institutional and expert authority to confirm and sanction the messaging;
- c) saturates every media channel with the message, in a million iterations.
The goal of this kind of propaganda – or disinformation – campaign is to simply overwhelm the reader, the listener, the viewer, until he or she surrenders to the message, concedes its validity and, crucially, follows its mandates. Masking, social distancing, isolating and quarantining, vaccinating, boosting, and evangelizing the same to others.
As one after another individual falls into compliance, groupthink forms, and resisters are soon conquered by peer pressure. As anyone knows, standing against a crowd is not only frightening but requires a kind of fortitude that few possess.
As Robert Kennedy Jr. notes in his book The Real Anthony Fauci, the protocols introduced to stem a so-called pandemic (reinterpreted by the CDC to enable use of the term without a huge death count, only cases, themselves reinterpreted to include spurious positive tests from a not-fit-for-purpose PCR test) are straight out of CIA handbooks for psychological warfare. They include techniques to:
shatter indigenous societies, obliterating…social bonds, for using imposed isolation and the demolition of traditional economies to crush resistance, to foster chaos, demoralization, dependence and fear, and for imposing centralized and autocratic governance.”
All of this has taken place, through masking and quarantine, the destruction of social life, the foreclosure of the small business economy, the creation of a mental health epidemic via mass isolation, and the authoritarian cast of public health dictates.
As people fall in line, psychologically bludgeoned into compliance, they come to resemble what Hannah Arendt called “schreibtischtäter,” or “desk killers,” usefully noted in a fine meditation by Edward Curtin. In a sense, all who are even nominally compliant are broadly complicit.
Compliance enables, even when we do it to save a job and feed a family. It is the almost the necessary indictment of everyone harnessed by a exploitive system (a reality that, by the way, gives the lie to so much cancel culture, and Twitter warriors who think they are somehow immune to hypocrisy).
But unlike disinformation campaigns about overt and covert wars like the Iraq War, Syrian War, Libyan War, and Vietnam, this kind of campaign must function at an incredibly high level of activity, churning out news and updates at an even greater pace than conventional war campaigns.
Namely because the changes implemented are happening in-country, not in some distant land where events can be easily falsified for the home audience. Unsurprisingly, there are few if any events better suited to a domestic disinformation campaign than a pandemic.
Viruses are by nature unseen, invisible to the eye, a fact that makes it possible to keep citizens in a state of constant fear, permanently alive with trepidation. By contrast, the War on Terror was a clunky, poor absorbed campaign that had to rely on frequent FBI entrapment schemes as well as false flags and fabricated foreign events to keep the population in a state of anxiety and compliance.
After 9/11 we rarely if ever saw foreign terrorists, and today we cannot see the virus. What we can see are the endless reams of statistical fear-mongering rendered by establishment authorities, from death tolls with unreliable attributions, to study after study that escalate the speculation of further horrors.
That we cannot not see. We are bombarded with it daily.
And with it we see the compliant, more vigilant than ever, behaving like citizen corps out to enforce the lockstep of groupthink. The subtle genius of this campaign is that dissent is now considered life-threatening.
But to accomplish this, the campaign had to be so comprehensive, so ubiquitous, that it literally produced a form of mass brainwashing.
Not unlike Mather, psychologist Mattias Desmet has argued that we may be experiencing exactly that, the phenomenon of mass formation, better known as mass hypnosis. Desmet suggests four criteria must obtain for mass formation to take hold:
- Many people feel social isolation
- Lack of meaning
- Free-floating anxiety
- Free-floating aggression
It’s not unreasonable to suggest these criteria exist in our society right now—both as a consequence of the pandemic but also as its precursor. The isolation of quarantine sim fin. The social anomie wrought by soulless cycles of endless consumption.
The anxiety of the gig economy, a breathless treadmill of diminishing returns. The social trauma produced by viewing a ceaseless slipstream of social media videos spotlighting police misconduct, often killings (or murder, depending on your interpretation of events). And the outright fury inevitably conjured by this confection of mishaps.
Together, these circumstances have, to Desmet and others, generated a society of sleepwalkers, placing their faith in authority as people often do in situations of crisis, or perceived crisis (see presidential approval ratings during a foreign war of aggression characterized as an urgent fight ‘to protect our freedoms’).
There’s also something to be said for the idea that, if we are comprehensively aimless as a society (aside from the siren call of money-making), Covid has delivered an urgent purpose to people which they have seized upon with a passion: flattening the curve, stopping the spread, masking up, getting vaxxed, and working together to beat covid.
And, of course, lustily participating in the vilification of the unvaccinated.
All of it — crucially — beyond question.
Consensus in a crisis resists debate. There simply isn’t time, as an extinction-level event forms on the horizon. (One can see the same impatience and contempt for questions about the severity of climate change.)
And this is exactly what mass formation predicts, according to Desmet. The free-floating anxiety is easily attracted to a comprehensive narrative launched in society, one that identifies a cause of anxiety and steps necessary to remove it.
As more people accept and follow the narrative, “a new kind of solidarity” emerges that begins to resolve the sense of isolation people feel and provides meaning for their lives (engaging in an heroic struggle). So the original conditions of mass formation are addressed by the official narrative, the mandates of which become a kind of ritual that the masses participate in together.
We have seen this kind of mass formation before, in disenfranchised communities rooting about for meaning and purpose—desperately trying to shed the comprehensive anomie of post-war Germany. They fell for the fascist uplift of National Socialism, and ended in ruin.
The Nazis alienated Jews on grounds of public health; made them carry health ID cards and promoted the lie that they were carriers of Typhus.
Now we are witnessing the demonization of unvaccinated individuals and the forcible removal of their kind from acceptable society: in Austria, the unvaccinated face prison sentences; in Germany, they are banned from shops; in Italy, wages are withheld; in Canada, they cannot fly; in California, unvaccinated children will be removed from school; in Greece, pensioners will face steep monthly fines for non-compliance; in Australia, the unvaccinated are hustled into internment camps.
All of this as though such measures were absolutely and universally necessary to save humanity from a respiratory virus with an Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) of less than one percent. And for which there are numerous existing therapies available. The science does not appear to support this claim, even if the Science(™) does. But the latter brooks no dissent, while the former is rife with it.
The former is flagged for removal, the latter for promotion. But then algorithms were never impartial, were they?
Beyond Public Health
For many who sense the spectre of mass formation, something else is going on. Something beyond public health. Something, for some, even beyond profiteering.
Is an authoritarian revolution afoot, a not-so-subtle gambit for a global autocracy built on the bottom lines of Big Pharma and Biotech and ruthlessly enforced by a fascist bio-security state?
Can we hear a call in the distance, “Oligarchs of the world–unite!” Or are we instead witnessing the gross excesses of a capitalist system plagued by regulatory capture? Or, finally, as the mainstream would have it, are we simply seeing the scramble of flawed democratic governments to slow the spread, however ineffectually? Good people with good intentions, fatally flawed, as it were? (Sounds like Ken Burns whitewashing Vietnam.)
Ideologically, most people fall into one of these three camps. Yet mass formation, such as it exists, seems to prevent the population from seeing the first two options. The third option—a calamity of good intentions—is all that’s visible to the hypnotized.
Was it da Vinci that said there were three kinds of people: those that see, those that see when shown, and those that don’t see? The victims of mass formation fall where, do you think?
A large contingent of people are fortunately awake to the possibilities beneath the surface consensus—a placid lake of groupthink. This is not unusual. Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser wrote that we are all indoctrinated into the dominant ideology, following Marx’s idea that the dominant ideas of any culture are the ideas of its ruling class.
Prescient and pertinent (regardless of your opinion of Communism). Althusser argued further that a contingent of individuals, maybe a group, could be indoctrinated (his word was, unhelpfully, to interpellate) by a sub-ideology and would have a degree of—sorry—immunity from the mainstream doctrine which is of course only mainstream in its diffusion, not necessarily its acceptance.
This smaller group could then stage interventions in the dominant narrative—up from under, as it were—and begin to fracture its grip on popular consciousness.
This concept of Althusser’s is not unlike the scenario of The Matrix in which a rogue band of rebels upset the techno-tyranny of machines—all of it enforced by a particularly successful kind of mass formation. The red pill/blue pill dynamic exists today, but is fastidiously brushed aside by the official ruling class narrative.
Even twenty years ago, the inescapable relevance of the matrix construct was strong, and the film became a proverbial cult classic. So too did Fight Club, which sought to undermine the prevailing ethos of capitalist society and highlight the anomie of a life of perpetual consumption (of junk goods produced in the Shenzhen manufacturing zone while America turned into a giant rust belt).
In both films, the protagonists—Neo and Tyler Durden—function as portmanteaus for Althusserian interventions by sub-ideologues (rebels) into the system of mass oppression. There’s something of this in our current situation. If you don’t see it, you might have been blue pilled.
If you do see it, you probably came across a fortuitous article in an alternative magazine, listened to an off-the-beaten path podcast, followed a smart and informed social media influencer, or found another way to a more critical perspective. The mainstream would have us believe that these alternative sources are the real disinformation.
While that is partially true – there’s a ton of junk on social media – there is also a wealth of good information to be had in non-mainstream channels. And it is the mainstream that are the chief purveyors of both propaganda and groupthink.
It is not that these corporate outlets are daily fabricating events and stories from whole cloth. Sometimes, (Assange and Manafort in conclave?), but generally they are more clever than that. The best propaganda tells half the real story and shades it firmly in an ideological direction. Or, as the ever-quotable Benjamin Franklin once said, “A half truth is often a great lie.”
(The minority of elite capital owns the leading news outlets and disseminates its minority views to the masses, hoping to indoctrinate them in an alternative to the standard majority view, which tends toward meritocracy and a strong social safety net, as American polls typically bear out. Thus corporate media viewpoints are mainstream in name only.)
The Matrix: Resurrection opens at Christmas. There are many stories in entertainment—from films to graphic novels—that seem to revolve around a common theme: human bodies mediated by technology and eventually enslaved by it. Inevitably, the technology is employed to malign ends by mortal forces attempting to achieve immortality.
As days pass, these silver screen stories seem ever more relevant. After all, you can’t have “science fiction” without the “science.”