Hope in the midst of despair. But first, things will fall apart, so get ready.

by William A. Jacobson, Morning Insurrection

Until a few days ago, I had never heard the term “Mass Formation Psychosis.” There’s a phenomenon when something gets hot that all sorts of experts announce themselves on Twitter, when their expertise is about 24 hours old and an inch deep.

I’m not going to do that. I’ll just play you what the now Twitter-banned Robert W. Malone said on Joe Rogan that swept the internet for close to an entire news cycle:

From a substack article by Malone on December 9, 2021, MASS FORMATION PSYCHOSIS or… mass hypnosis- the madness of crowds (transcribing a different video):

A brief overview of Mass Formation, which was developed by Dr. Mattias Desmet. He is a psychologist and a statistician. He is at the University of Ghent in Belgium.  I think Dr. Mattias is onto something about what is happening and he calls this phenomena:

A brief overview of Mass Formation, which was developed by Dr. Mattias Desmet. He is a psychologist and a statistician. He is at the University of Ghent in Belgium.  I think Dr. Mattias is onto something about what is happening and he calls this phenomena:


So, when he says “mass” formation, you can think of this as equivalent to “crowd” formation. One can think of this as:


The conditions to set up mass formation psychosis include lack of social connectedness and sensemaking as well as large amounts of latent anxiety and passive aggression. When people are inundated with a narrative that presents a plausible “object of anxiety” and strategy for coping with it, then many individuals group together to battle the object with a collective singlemindedness. This allows people to stop focusing on their own problems, avoiding personal mental anguish. Instead, they focus all their thought and energy on this new object.

As mass formation progresses, the group becomes increasingly bonded and connected. Their field of attention is narrowed and they become unable to consider alternative points of view.  Leaders of the movement are revered, unable to do no wrong.

Left unabated, a society under the spell of mass formation will support a totalitarian governance structure capable of otherwise unthinkable atrocities in order to maintain compliance. A note: mass formation is different from group think. There are easy ways to fix group think by just bringing in dissenting voices and making sure you give them platforms.  It isn’t so easy with mass formation.  Even when the narrative falls apart, cracks in the strategy clearly aren’t solving the issue, the hypnotized crowd can’t break free of the narrative.  This is what appears to be happening now with COVID-19.  The solution for those in control of the narrative is to produce bigger and bigger lies to prop up the solution.  Those being controlled by mass formation no longer are able to use reason to break free of the group narrative.

(added) A reader forwarded this video, which has over 4 million views on YouTube, from August 2021:

I hadn’t heard of Mass Formation Psychosis before, but I’m not sure it’s really anything novel as an explanation for mass hysteria. Malone’s subheadline on his substack references “the madness of crowds.” Ah, now that is familiar to me.

I am familiar with, and often quote, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowdsby Charles Mackay (1841, revision 1852)(emphasis added):

PREFACE to the Edition of 1852

IN READING THE HISTORY OF NATIONS, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities; their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do. 

We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first. 

We see one nation suddenly seized, from its highest to its lowest members, with a fierce desire of military glory; another as suddenly becoming crazed upon a religious scruple; and neither of them recovering its senses until it has shed rivers of blood and sowed a harvest of groans and tears, to be reaped by its posterity.

At an early age in the annals of Europe its population lost their wits about the sepulchre of Jesus, and crowded in frenzied multitudes to the Holy Land; another age went mad for fear of the devil, and offered up hundreds of thousands of victims to the delusion of witchcraft. At another time, the many became crazed on the subject of the philosopher’s stone, and committed follies till then unheard of in the pursuit.

It was once thought a venial offence, in very many countries of Europe, to destroy an enemy by slow poison. Persons who would have revolted at the idea of stabbing a man to the heart, drugged his pottage without scruple. Ladies of gentle birth and manners caught the contagion of murder, until poisoning, under their auspices, became quite fashionable.

Some delusions, though notorious to all the world, have subsisted for ages, flourishing as widely among civilised and polished nations as among the early barbarians with whom they originated,—that of duelling, for instance, and the belief in omens and divination of the future, which seem to defy the progress of knowledge to eradicate them entirely from the popular mind.

Money, again, has often been a cause of the delusion of multitudes. Sober nations have all at once become desperate gamblers, and risked almost their existence upon the turn of a piece of paper. To trace the history of the most prominent of these delusions is the object of the present pages. 

Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one….


The Tulipomania

Chapter 3

The rage for possessing them soon caught the middle classes of society, and merchants and shopkeepers, even of moderate means, began to vie with each other in the rarity of these flowers and the preposterous prices they paid for them. A trader at Harlaem was known to pay one-half of his fortune for a single root, not with the design of selling it again at a profit, but to keep in his own conservatory for the admiration of his acquaintance.

In 1634, the rage among the Dutch to possess them was so great that the ordinary industry of the country was neglected, and the population, even to its lowest dregs, embarked in the tulip trade. As the mania increased, prices augmented, until, in the year 1635, many persons were known to invest a fortune of 100,000 florins in the purchase of forty roots. It then became necessary to sell them by their weight in perits, a small weight less than a grain.

The demand for tulips of a rare species increased so much in the year 1636, that regular marts for their sale were established on the Stock Exchange of Amsterdam, in Rotterdam, Harlaem, Leyden, Alkmar, Hoorn, and other towns. Symptoms of gambling now became, for the first time, apparent.

You see, I was writing about the Madness of Crowds and Tulipomania long before I heard of Mass Formation Psychosis. Political Tulipomania, to be more precise, on October 10, 2009:

I have described Obamamania, as evidenced most recently by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize, as farce. I stand by that description. But farce is not the only apt term. I think the “folly” described by Charles MacKay over 150 years ago fits as well.

Where are we on the chart of Obama’s rising star at this moment in time? Hard to say. The Dutch tulip mania lasted years. And as with The Tulipomania, the worship of Obama by a large portion of the population is based upon expectations and imaginations beyond any rational measure, rising to the level of mythology.

Alas, the Obamamania bubble never fully burst, though the 2010 midterms did cause major leakage. Maybe it took until now.

So are we in the midst of another madness coming to an end when we least expect it?

What started me on this post was not Mass Formation Psychosis, or the Madness of Crowds, it was this post by Joel Kotkin at Unherd, which proposes what seems most unlikely proposition that the “progressive” march through institutions we are witnessing in real time may be nearing its end, Is this the end of progressive America?

Over the past several decades, the progressive Left has successfully fulfilled Antonio Gramsci’s famed admonition of a “long march through the institutions”. In almost every Western country, its adherents now dominate the education system, media, cultural institutions, and financial behemoths.

But what do they have to show for it? Not as much as they might have expected. Rather than a Bolshevik-style assumption of power, there’s every chance this institutional triumph will not produce an enduring political victory, let alone substantially change public opinion.

Even before Biden’s botched Build Back Better initiative, American progressives faced opposition to their wildly impractical claims about achieving “zero Covid” and “zero emissions”, confronting “systemic racism” by defunding the police, regulating speech, and redefining two biological sexes into a multiplicity.

Increasingly, the “march” has started to falter. Like the French generals in 1940 who thought they could defeat the Germans by perfecting World War One tactics, the progressive establishment has built its own impressive Maginot Line which may be difficult to breach, but can still be flanked.

That is not to deny the progressives’ limited successes. It has certainly developed a remarkable ability to besmirch even the most respected institutions, including the US military. But that is where its achievements stop.

Klotkin goes on to catalog the loss of institutions that are familiar to Legal Insurrection readers, particularly the destruction of higher education:

In America, the disconnect between the professoriate and the people also keeps growing, as conservatives head towards extinction on many campuses: on some well-regarded campuses such as Williams, Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans reaches between 70 and 132 to 1.

These trends have long been evident in the fading humanities and social sciences, but now even the sciences are becoming politicised. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that universities are losing credibility even among some traditional Leftists, who marvel at how they burnish their progressive credentials while making huge profits off their endowments and seriously underpaying most of their employees.

And just as with the growing disaffection for the military, teachers, students and parents are starting to push back….

He then documents additional movements undermining the progressive stranglehold on K-12:

In the past year, this blindness has incited considerable public outrage. Criticism of Critical Race Theory buoyed the Republican win in Virginia in November, and has become a rallying principle for parents around the country, including a recall drive against San Francisco school board members.

Other parents are trying to opt out of the public system altogether. The pandemic saw the departure of more one million American students from public schools, while 1.2 million families switched to home-schooling last academic year, bringing the total number of home-schooled students to 3.1 million, roughly 11% of the total. According to the Census Bureau, Black and Hispanic families now have the highest estimated rates of home-schooling, at 16% and 12%, respectively.

Klotkin ends with this hopeful note, that the progressive Mass Formation Psychosis and Madness of Crowds will end:

So, here’s the good news. On what sometimes seems the inexorable course towards progressive capture, we can see multiple fronts of resistance, and the early congealing of independent-minded forces, from the rational Right to the traditional liberal-left. Our society may never regain the feistiness of previous eras, and our new elites might continue marching through our institutions. But as they become increasingly discredited, they would be unwise to forget that all long marches one day come to an end.

So there you have it. Mass Formation Psychosis. The Madness of Crowds. And The End Of The Progressive March Through Institutions. All connected somehow. Hope in the midst of despair.

But first, things will fall apart:

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

So get ready. I am.

[Featured Image Courtesy Legal Insurrection Reader: Manhattan NYC Park Avenue 3-19-2020]