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HomeCulture WarDawn after darkness: Mattias Desmet on the irrepressible human spirit

Dawn after darkness: Mattias Desmet on the irrepressible human spirit


A NEW steel and glass building is opening in my town. This ‘community diagnostic centre’ shows how the health service is shifting from individualised, face-to-face care to computerised assessment and data analysis. The Covid-19 regime undermined people’s perception of their own bodily wellbeing with the notion of asymptomatic infection, detectable only by testing. NHSX (‘Digital transformation in health and care’) is a transformation programme, in tune with the World Economic Forum’s concept of the fourth industrial revolution. We are heading towards a transhumanist internet of bodies.

Such reductionism is a theme of Belgian psychotherapist Mattias Desmet’s book The Psychology of Totalitarianism. Desmet regards the reaction to Covid-19 as a ‘mass formation’, a behavioural disturbance akin to hysteria. First described by Gustave le Bon in 1895, mass formation is a collective delusional belief, typically induced by authoritarian leaders in response to an existential threat.

The trajectory towards control continues with every contrived crisis. Whether or not you believe the official story of aeroplanes destroying the Twin Towers in 2001, the security grip has never been released since. Danger is always useful to the authorities. As Desmet notes, after terrorist attacks in Brussels in 2016, hundreds of cameras were installed in Antwerp’s Jewish quarter. An Orwellian global surveillance state is being built around us.

For Desmet, such misuse of digital technology is the result of centuries of scientific illusion. Technocracy is the bastard child of the Enlightenment. Nineteenth-century French philosopher Auguste Comte introduced the doctrine of positivism, asserting that everything in the universe is knowable, thus predictable and controllable. Despite twentieth-century scientists’ revelations on the limits of physics, and the rise of postmodern phenomenology, the materialist-mechanistic paradigm prevails.

Such thinking is irrational and dehumanising, according to Desmet. Unlike influential Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, who expects the replacement of God, the soul and free will by genetic engineering, Desmet does not regard consciousness as mere output of biochemistry. He places mind over matter, giving the example of surgery conducted under hypnosis. But minds can be manipulated into a malign collective force; as le Bon remarked, ‘crowds are only powerful for destruction’.

For Covid-19, governments went into overdrive to induce fear in their populace, a necessary condition for compliance and unprecedented removal of basic liberties. Society had been primed for the pandemic by social isolation and loss of meaning in life, causing high prevalence of anxiety and depression. Anomie, a concept devised by Emile Durkheim (surprisingly not mentioned by Desmet), may be caused by mechanistic systems devoid of human understanding. Computer says ‘No’. 

Facing an invisible microbial enemy, people were told to ‘follow the science’. A minority of sceptics saw through this message as being more for control than public health. It was not rational to enforce mask-wearing, dubious testing or ineffective experimental vaccines. But the vast majority obeyed their leaders and approved experts. Indeed, many seemed to relish the sudden shift to a prohibitive and punitive regime.

Totalitarianism thrives on anxiety (a tactic also used with climate change and terrorism) and it appeals to a desire for order. In the mass formation of Covid-19, people were primarily motivated not by money or other tangible rewards, but by authoritarianism itself. They became cogs in the wheel of a tyrannical machine, spewing out those awkward human parts that didn’t fit.

Desmet divides society into three groups. The hypnotised amount to about 30 per cent. A larger middle, perhaps half of citizenry, complies but is not mesmerised; they believe that the virus is hazardous and are persuaded that restrictions and vaccines are necessary. A minority of dissidents, no more than 20 per cent at the peak of pandemic propaganda, resisted the bombardment. Only the latter group are awake to the delusional thinking of supposedly intelligent people illogically asserting that although they became ill and tested positively for Covid-19 after taking the vaccine, their malady somehow proves the effectiveness of the injections as they would have needed hospital treatment otherwise.

Seeking salvation in vaccines is a symptom of mass formation. From politicians to ordinary people, any criticism of these ‘miracles of science’ is heresy. The authorities, having pushed everyone to take them (only the dissidents refusing), refuse to consider the adverse effects, simply repeating the mantra of ‘safe and effective’. This is not a scientific approach, but a twisted scientism. Even if the vaccines worked as intended, coercion would be abuse of power.

Science shows us what we can do, not what we should do.  Synthetic blood and microchip brain implants may be technological advances, but moral judgment is needed to protect humanity from the Frankenstein monster of technocrats. Ethics are irreducible to a logical-factual discourse.

We are at the crossroads. The wrong turning is to seek ‘the solution in an even more (pseudo)scientific ideology, false rationality, false certainty, and technological control; this way, we end up with even more anxiety, depression, and social isolation’. Instead of stubbornly trying to control the uncontrollable, we should embrace uncertainty as ‘a necessary condition for the emergence of creativity, individuality, and human connectedness’. Desmet urges critical thinkers to wake the masses from their madness:  

‘The first and foremost task is to keep speaking out. It is in the interests of all parties. The specific manner in which the act of speaking out takes place – in books, publications or interviews, in front of the cameras, in shops or at the kitchen table, in the company of a limited or large group of people – is of less importance; everyone who, in his own way, speaks out about the truth, contributes to the cure of the ailment.’

As phenomenological, spiritual beings, we must not succumb to control by computers. If possible, steer clear of the community diagnostic centre. In the concluding words of Desmet, ‘let the winter of totalitarianism give way to a new spring of life’.    

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