Groupthink and Mass Hysteria as a Vehicle to Self-Transcendence (part 2 of 2)

Taking Refuge in the Group Mind

For the totalitarians of our more enlightened century, there is no soul and no Creator; there is merely a lump of physiological raw material molded by conditioned reflexes and social pressures into what, by courtesy, is still called a human being. This product of the man-made environment is without intrinsic significance and possesses no rights to self-determination. It exists for Society and must conform to the Collective Will.  —Aldous Huxley, from The Devils of Loudun 

     In the previous post I mentioned that people tend to escape their own limited, unsatisfying individuality by various means, including the downwards-to-subhumanity path of “herd intoxication” or mass hysteria. People on both sides of the political spectrum are susceptible to this; in fact Aldous Huxley in his great book The Devils of Loudun asserts that everyone is susceptible, even the most “civilized” and intellectual of us. It appears to be a universal symptom of humanity. In Huxley’s words:

No man, however highly civilized, can listen for very long to African drumming, or Indian chanting, or Welsh hymn singing, and retain intact his critical and self-conscious personality. It would be interesting to take a group of the most eminent philosophers from the best universities, shut them up in a hot room with Moroccan dervishes or Haitian Voodooists and measure, with a stop-watch, the strength of their psychological resistance to the effects of rhythmic sound. Would the Logical Positivists be able to hold out longer than the Subjective Idealists? Would the Marxists prove tougher than the Thomists or the Vedantists? What a fascinating, what a fruitful field for experiment! Meanwhile, all we can safely predict is that, if exposed long enough to the tom-toms and the singing, every one of our philosophers would end by capering and howling with the savages.

     Such loss of reason does not necessarily require beating drums, chanting, or dancing in hot rooms. Going with Huxley’s theory, phenomena like political riots, etc., would be prime examples of self-transcendence downwards to a level of psychological subhumanity, no less so than the “possessed” convulsing, blaspheming nuns mentioned in his book, or the raging mob, including quite a few monks and priests, who burned Urbain Grandier at the stake in 1634 for supposedly causing their possession. Same goes for the Nuremberg Nazi rallies, the more outrageous events of the French Revolution, and teenage girls screaming at Justin Bieber concerts even before the music starts. A mass movement may be “horizontal” and not dehumanizing to its participants so long as said participants are able to remain more or less reasonable, without descending into the emotional group mind; but some systems reject reasonableness from the very start.

     Although people on both sides of the political spectrum are subject to herd intoxication, considering that human beings in general are subject to it, it appears that the political left, especially in its form of Progressivism or Cultural Marxism, is displaying a particularly virulent strain of it recently—virulent enough to endanger western civilization and its relatively enlightened liberal values, for example freedom of thought and expression. Right-wing examples of “collective narcissism,” groupthink, herd intoxication, or mass hysteria are not lacking; for example some white supremacist groups and the most fanatical fundamentalist Christian congregations would no doubt qualify; but regardless of leftist claims that Mr. Trump and anyone who voted for him are all Fascist extremists, the people on the right engaged in politically-oriented downwards self-transcendence are relatively few and not in a position, in the west, seriously to undermine the cultural foundations of western society, at least not yet. If anything they are attempting to maintain those foundations. Furthermore, the left bears certain characteristic traits that make it particularly susceptible to mass hysteria of a rather vehement, fanatical sort.

it's not always on the left (although these may be Democrats for all I know)

     One such characteristic that is almost incidental is that ideologies that deviate from the center—especially if they attempt to deviate from natural human nature into the realm of artificial social engineering—require the cultivation of a great deal of sameness of opinion in their followers. An extreme case would be absolute communism (which fortunately has not yet been realized in the modern world), which practically requires a kind of insect-like hive mentality with unanimity of opinion and transcendence of selfish individuality. But even the socialism of the “progressive” left nowadays relies heavily on indoctrination (i.e. through control of the educational system) and propaganda (through similar control of the mass media) to keep enough of the populace cooperative and in line. Thus, groupthink.

     A more important trait conducive to leftist hysteria is the feminized, feelings-driven ideology. With attempts to abolish (or “redefine”) masculinity and to replace a traditional system of morality with an attitude based on feminine sentiment, logical rationality itself has been declared a “tool of patriarchal oppression.” Thus, a greater tendency toward hysteria, including the mass variety. (The word “hysteria” is based upon the word for “uterus,” as in the word “hysterectomy,” because it used to be thought that only women were prone to it. Freud was ridiculed when he asserted that men can be hysterical also. And of course men can be hysterical—in fact pretty much everyone is at some time or another—but it remains more of a feminine characteristic, especially in its more exaggeratedly emotional forms.)

     Perhaps most importantly of all, the new left, with identity politics, has embraced what is called victim culture, with its emphasis on compassion and support for the weak/unsuccessful/oppressed and resentful antagonism toward the strong/successful/oppressor. This results in the glorification of victimhood and in people being essentially rewarded for being emotionally dysfunctional. People are actually encouraged to be messed up and unhappy. Perversely, it is now fashionable to be miserable—a kind of anti-Dharma.

     Consider the following case history. This is an autobiographical character sketch by a person who (professionally or as a voluntary social service—I don’t know) “proofreads” manuscripts for publication and seeks out politically incorrect gaffes to be sent back to the author for correction before the novel, or whatever, is published. I found it in an article on PC censorship in the publishing industry in America.

I am Black (with Irish and Cherokee thrown in), autistic, aromantic, noetisexual, demisexual/asexual, Integrated Radical Non-Monogamist, Relationship Anarchist, autodidact, relationship fluid, disabled, single parent, in poverty, kinky switch/Dom/me, assigned female at birth, synesthetic, intersex, genderqueer, Army brat, survivor of several forms of abuse, left-handed, singleish, and pansexual. My disabilities and health conditions consist of endometriosis, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, fibromyalgia, eczema, secondary anxiety and depression. I’ve had several major surgeries, survived more rapes than I can count, and narrowly escaped stalkers, domestic violence, and murderers. I’ve been writing cuil fiction, my invented intersectional queer and polya genre, for nearly 20 years. I am also a not-quite widow. 

This, as far as I know, is for real, not some kind of parody. You may get the impression, as I do also, that this person is actually bragging about how messed up she is. She includes in the list as many problems as she can, including left-handedness, eczema, and feeling bitchy before she has her period (“Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder”). One gets the impression that she’s saying, in effect, “Look at me! Look at how messed up I am! With this many victim points you’ve just got to have special consideration for me.” She’s practically a gold medalist in the victimhood Olympics of Social Justice. The new system glorifies her.

     A further consideration is that the millennial generation, who swell the ranks of the Social Justice movement, have been trained since toddlerhood to be emotionally fragile and easily traumatized or otherwise messed up; and for some folks downwards self-transcendence is the most convenient option. Upwards requires strength, courage, wisdom, and dedication, and horizontal requires at least a modicum of healthy normality.

     Is it any wonder that a person who is relatively dysfunctional and unhappy would be willing, eager even, to transcend her or his individual limitations and dissatisfactions by merging with a kind of accepting, encouraging, “empowering” group mentality? Such a person even gets to blame others for her or his unhappiness, with ideological backing. Such people are drawn to progressivism, identity politics, and victim culture like moths to a flame. Even though the self-transcendence is, by Huxley’s reckoning, a move downward into subhumanity, still for many people it would be felt as an improvement on, as he puts it, “that sense of past guilt and present frustration, that obsessive anxiety about the future, which constitute so large a part of the neurotic ego.” And anyway, much of the time it could be a horizontal transcendence, until the group mind is whipped up into a hysterical fever pitch for some reason or other.

     Those who are stronger than average, or smarter than average, or generally above the average more than below it, have more to lose than to gain by merging into such a sea of mediocrity; and the group mind is always a sea of mediocrity—mediocrity at best. As Gustave Le Bon has observed, “It is the need not of liberty but of servitude that is always predominant in the soul of crowds.”



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