By Geoff Ward
‘Totalitarian systems have always been maintained primarily by systematic indoctrination and propaganda, injected into the population on a daily basis via mass media (without mass media, it is not possible to generate such long-lasting mass formation as that which gave rise to Stalinism and Nazism). This way, the population is literally kept on the vibrational frequency of the voice of totalitarian leaders.’ Prof Mattias Desmet
The major threat to the Western world today, to my mind, is neither pandemic, climate change nor even nuclear war, but the curtailment of established freedoms under a creeping totalitarianism.
We see it on many fronts at governmental level, both national and local: in proliferating proposals for population surveillance and control (digital ID, digital currency, vaccine passports, ‘smart cities’, ‘15-minute cities’), in consequential loss of privacy, in censorship and the erosion of freedom of speech and expression, in the insistence on establishment narrative and orthodoxy, in the stifling of debate across all sectors (notably in science and medicine), in interference with food production, in the over-reaching hubris of the unelected but dismayingly influential World Economic Forum and World Health Organisation.
When and where did electorates ever vote for all this?
The dangerously narrow-minded belief that all society’s problems can be solved by technology has brought about a cohort of elitist power-hungry technocratic ideologues, including many political leaders, who are buying into the totalitarian narrative –which, at the extreme, presents the daunting prospect of a transhuman future under the dubious claim that the human condition can be enhanced by merging people with advanced technologies.
This is the big picture which, while in its contempt for ordinary people’s lives and livelihoods it threatens an unholy combination of Chinese-style communism and neo-fascist meritocracy, is essentially technocratic and corporatocratic in nature. Wider recognition of this scenario, and the building of popular resilience to it, is necessary in the face of a crisis of values, lest populations succumb.
It does seem that the West is at a critical turning point in its history when it comes to personal freedom, human rights and civil liberties. Will we be able to continue as independent thinkers, in free association and communication with one another, able to exercise choice, including that regarding our personal health and well-being? Or are we to surrender, either voluntarily or under force, to nefarious external entities which have only their own self-interests at heart, and definitely not ours?
I doubt that anyone with similar views to me would relish the role of a Jeremiah, or of the necessary character of the fifth act. But, ultimately, either by active engagement or head-in-the-sand non-engagement with the issue, it’s up to us in the West to choose the kind of world we want to live in by using (or failing to use) our democratic systems before they’re undermined any further.
Unless something can be done to turn the tide, today’s new orthodoxy, cemented during the covid-19 episode of 2020–21, heralds the rise of the technocratic totalitarian state, possibly a world technocratic totalitarian state, ushered in under the cover of spurious and ultimately despotic pandemic and climate policies — which their proponents try to make unchallengeable by crushing oppositional viewpoints and ‘deplatforming’, aided by a complicit mainstream media.
It is evident from history that a top priority for totalitarian leaders is to ensure their voices are the only ones heard, while both technocracy and totalitarianism portray themselves as the acme of rationality and scientific achievement.
The fact is that many reputable scientists do question the human-made global warming model, believing that the Earth’s cycles are more robust than suggested, and many medical professionals do question mRNA vaccine safety and the efficacy of the covid-19 response. But where is the debate on these vital matters in academia, governments and the mainstream media?
Under the suppression of vaccination debate, draconian restrictions were promoted as required to ‘save the world’, but the reaction culture directing them resulted in sensible reassessments being ignored and in dogma being substituted for valuable nuance.
If we are promised, for example, that true freedom comes only if we agree to a coerced medical intervention then, in the eyes of a significant minority, that’s the worst kind of deception in tandem with mass brainwashing and the beginning of ‘Orwellian redefining’ and the advent of Big Brother.
Oddly enough, it’s all come about against a background of mounting distrust of politicians and news media who have supported social repression with alacrity. The annual Edelman Trust Barometer report, by international PR firm Edelman, revealed in January 2023 that, across 28 countries and 32,000 respondents, government and media are fuelling cycles of distrust and are seen as sources of misleading information.
Government leaders and journalists are among the least trusted groups, with news sources widely distrusted but, despite the evident scepticism, the trend is not pronounced enough to bring about change, it seems, as yet. Politicians lose trust because of their lies and placing party allegiances before the needs of the people, and mainstream journalism because it so often feels obliged to disseminate government spin instead of challenging it.
Once democracy and free speech, often regarded as the same thing, are perceived in certain quarters as having been abused, perhaps using the tenuous catch-all and insufficiently defined term ‘hate speech’, society risks another move towards totalitarianism. Such thinking has made discomfiting progress around the world, threatening independent thought, and its enclaves are inevitably corrupt.
Acquiescence and compliance with what has turned out to be highly questionable measures of control, in terms of stringency (lockdowns, travel bans, mask mandates), and fear-inducing tactics by the medical-political complex, was witnessed during the covid-19 experience. Some see this episode of mass persuasion, or indoctrination, if you prefer, as having been a preparation or ‘test run’, or an experiment, as to how the public would respond to harsher controls imposed in the future in the name of health or climate ‘emergency’.
The Belgian clinical psychologist Prof Mattias Desmet is recognised internationally for his theory of ‘mass formation’ as it applies to the covid-19 phenomenon when whole populations were, in his view, in the grip of a kind of collective hypnosis arising from fear, loneliness and ‘free-floating’ anxiety which attached itself to the event. This gave way to censorship, loss of privacy and surrendered freedoms — all triggered by ‘a singular, focused crisis narrative that forbids dissident views and relies on destructive groupthink’.
In his book, The Psychology of Totalitarianism (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2022), Prof Desmet makes a fulsome and essential critique of the cultural groupthink, that fealty to the mainstream narrative, which existed prior to, and accelerated during, the covid-19 episode.
Totalitarianism is not a coincidence and does not form in a vacuum, he says. It arises from a collective aberration that has followed a predictable script throughout history, its formation gaining strength and speed with each generation — from the Jacobins to the Nazis and Stalinists — as technology advances.
With its sign system, totalitarianism tries to imprint its logic on reality, to permanently link it to the real world, Prof Desmet says. Importantly, the assignment of signs and stigmas is usually the first step in the process of destruction.
Governments, mass media and other institutions use fear, loneliness and isolation to demoralise populations and exert control, persuading large groups of people to act against their own interests, always with debilitating results: ‘Experimentation on humans is the prototypical activity of totalitarianism. It is the ultimate submission of reality to the pseudoscientific ideological fiction.’
Prof Desmet identifies certain factors that lead to societal mass formation:
- An overall sense of loneliness and lack of social connections and bonds.
- A lack of meaning and purpose in life.
- Anxiety and discontent arising from loneliness and lack of meaning.
- Manifestation of frustration and aggression engendered by anxiety.
- Emergence of a consistent narrative from government and mass media which exploits and channels frustration and anxiety.
‘We can honour the right to freedom of expression and the right to self-determination without feeling threatened by each other,’ Prof Desmet writes. ‘But there is a point where we must stop losing ourselves in the crowd to experience meaning and connection. That is the point where the winter of totalitarianism gives way to a spring of life.’
He warns against the dangers of the present societal situation, of media consumption and the reliance on manipulative technologies, and he presents ways in which, both individual and collective, hard-won freedoms can be saved from being sacrificed thoughtlessly.
Prof Desmet has found that more than 65% of people are ‘awake’ but pretend to be asleep, as a kind of survival strategy. Only about 30% are ever wholly under the spell of the mass hypnosis, while 5% remain unaffected. Why this is, he’s not sure, but the role of the alternative 5% is vitally important, despite the fact that they can never wake the entranced 30%, or dissuade many of the 65%.
He has said in interviews that the role of the 5% must be to continue to speak out calmly, with sincerity and honesty, so as to weaken the hypnosis and keep the worst of its effects at bay. He warns that, as history has shown, if or when the 5% cease to do this, or their ethos goes underground, extreme tyranny then takes hold.
Assuming myself to be in the minority element, I can only say that it’s part of my being true to myself that I find myself there, and if you don’t feel true to yourself in such matters how can you comfortably exist? In the pieces I’ve been writing, on subjects related to that of this article, for more than two years now, I don’t set out consciously to convert anyone. Somehow, I’m driven to write them; it’s about who I am: a ‘five percenter’.
Mattias Desmet is a professor of clinical psychology in the Department of Psychology and Educational Sciences at Ghent University, Belgium, and a practising psychotherapist.
His previous books include The Pursuit of Objectivity in Psychology and Lacan’s Logic of Subjectivity: A Walk on the Graph of Desire, and he is the author of more than a hundred peer-reviewed academic papers. In 2018, he received the Evidence-Based Psychoanalytic Case Study Prize of the Association for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, and in 2019 he received the Wim Trijsburg Prize of the Dutch Association of Psychotherapy.
‘Without freedom of speech I might be in the swamp.’ Bob Dylan (1964).
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