Hansen: Mass delusion fuels data, policy disconnect

YouTube image from The Michael Knowles Show.

by Meg Hansen

Dr. Mattias Desmet (University of Ghent, Belgium) is a clinical psychologist and statistician who proposed the theory of “mass formation” to explain the psychological state of a segment of society since the pandemic began. In the audio excerpt below from the Common Sense Radio show, I discuss these questions with my co-host Matthew Strong –

Meg Hansen serves on the Board of the Ethan Allen Institute. She holds a medical school degree, has led a Vermont health policy think tank, and ran for state-level public office in 2020.
  • What is “mass formation”?
  • Does it explain the disconnect between the data and discourse of COVID-19 policies?
  • How does it specifically apply to Vermont?
  • What can we do to counter this phenomenon?

The audio excerpt’s transcript has been modified into the following article.

Meg Hansen: I would like to begin with a little about my background. I went to medical school. After I graduated, I could either complete a residency to specialize in a particular field of medicine (as nearly all my classmates did) or choose a different path. For a variety of reasons, I did not pursue a medical specialty. Instead, I chose to work in public policy, especially health policy.

I find it very interesting to see this moment in American Medicine from the outside, while having been on the inside to some degree as a student. I look at this unprecedented pandemic, at the efforts of our frontline doctors and health care professionals, and then at the ways in which so many aspects have been politicized. Some information has been presented as controversial, while other resources have been promoted as fail-proof. As I have a medical degree, I have been able to take a deep dive into the clinical studies and then compare the data with our public health discourse.

Matthew Strong: Yes, absolutely. And you also have an Ivy League degree in… Is it literature?

Meg: Yes, I studied the American Gilded Age. I received a Master’s degree from Dartmouth College in the humanities. I looked specifically at the American Gilded Age and how, at the turn of the twentieth century, our society changed. We surpassed the Great Britain in 1900 to become the number one industrial giant. I studied the tectonic movements, changes, and shifts that consequently occurred in our society. At the same time, I studied postmodernism, which is the dominant school of thought in the humanities and social sciences.

Matthew: So, Meg, now that we’ve had a little bit of your background and a context for the conversation, I wanted to get into the main topic. Can you give us a little background about the situation we are going to talk about?

Theory of Mass Formation

Meg: Matthew, you brought up a perfect segue way into this topic when you emphasized the importance of combining right brain and left brain thinking. When the pandemic broke out in March 2020, a number of epidemiologists, public health researchers, emergency medicine specialists, and respiratory medicine specialists were in the trenches looking at the data, sifting through it all. One of them was a Belgian professor of clinical psychology called Mattias Desmet. He specializes in psychology, psychotherapy, and psychoanalytics, which are slightly more right brain. He is also a statistics expert and so has an analytical mind too. He was keen on understanding the larger picture of the pandemic as well as a more focused look at the data sets. When he paired these two approaches, he noticed a disconnect. For example, when Sweden chose to keep its society open, the statistical model predicted that 80,000 people would die by the end of May 2020. It turns out that 6,000 people died. I’m not minimizing those 6,000 deaths. But for a statistician who is interested in modeling, it was quite the difference between 80,000 and 6,000. Desmet expected that a radical change in the policy prescriptions would follow, but that did not happen.

As the pandemic proceeded, he kept noticing a disconnect between what was actually happening and the policy prescriptions that were promoted. I’ll give one other example. Very early on, everybody in the medical field knew that COVID is fatal to certain groups. Certain groups have a very high risk – those with increased age and co-morbidities. If you are younger and healthier, you are as likely to contract the virus but your chances of dying are practically nonexistent.

Various epidemiologists consequently proposed risk stratification, which means dividing society into different risk groups, and focusing resources on helping those at high risk by making sure that we can reduce the mortality rates and manage the disease. One group of epidemiologists formalized this proposal into the “Great Barrington Declaration.” They advised focused protection for high-risk groups but they were not heard and instead, dismissed as “fringe.” Recently, Freedom of Information Act emails have showed that both Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Francis Collins (who was then the head of the NIH) did not like the idea of presenting anything other than universal lockdowns as the solution for COVID. We are now seeing more and more evidence of how they discredited and suppressed different legitimate solutions.

Back to the summer of 2020, Desmet and others did not know what was happening behind the scenes, but they saw that something strange was taking place. They were able to identify a disconnect between the data and policy discourse. Desmet has studied and written a lot about various mass movements. He proposed a theory, which builds on two centuries of work, known as “mass formation” to explain what is happening when in January 2022, people are still calling for lockdowns or universal masking or various other policies that are not completely rooted or rooted at all in the scientific data.

Mass Formation is a psychological condition that takes over about 30 percent of society, wherein people buy into a certain narrative that is very loosely connected to what’s actually happening on the ground. Another 40 percent are not as convinced as the 30 percent “true believers,” but they go along to get along. This is not new. It has happened before.

This phenomenon was recently discussed on Joe Rogan’s show, which is the #1 ranked podcast in the world. It created controversy in the mainstream media, as thousands began discussing it, posting online and tweeting about it. Before we continue, I want to share that the Associated Press came out with a news report that calls this theory unfounded, and claims that it is being used to dismiss COVID measures. Matthew, I think it’s important that we look at the article and explain why it’s not true and why there is value, as you said, in looking at larger psychological movements and trying to explain things by taking historical and psychological perspectives and putting them together.

I’ll quickly mention what the AP article said. It cited various professors who talked about mask formation as either never having been studied in the scientific literature or having been debunked. This is not true. We are talking about a phenomenon that has been called the “madness of crowds” and has been studied since the 1800s in relation to “Tulip Mania” (a craze to buy tulip bulbs that took over the Netherlands in the 17th century) and the witch-hunts that swept through Early Modern Europe and Colonial America. It has also been applied to the totalitarian movements in the 20th century – the communist revolution in the Soviet Union and Nazism. To be clear, no one is saying that we are in a new Nazi Germany. We’re not drawing a perfect parallel. We’re not trying to be inflammatory or provocative. The point here is that we have at least 250 years of scientific literature analyzing mass psychological movements.

We have to admit that when we face something like this pandemic, it’s not just an infectious disease. There is a psychological element linked with such an unprecedented phenomenon, which has terrorizing and terrifying currents.

So, here’s what I would like to ask the audience. When we talk about naturally acquired immunity (say for chicken pox or tuberculosis), we understand how it works. You get infected, contract the virus or bacteria, endure the disease, and recover as your body produces antibodies that are strong and robust. Most of the time, you never get that disease again. Naturally this is not the case with the common cold but with major illnesses, the immunity that you naturally acquire against the germ lasts a lifetime. This is an accepted and well-established fact of modern medicine.

Yet no one wants to acknowledge the existence of naturally acquired immunity when it comes to COVID 19. Why is that? The cases of re-infection in people who have recovered are practically zero. But we know that if you’re vaccinated, it’s not completely protective. Yes, it seems to protect from developing more serious disease, but it doesn’t prevent you from contracting or transmitting the virus. This is not a slight against the vaccines. This is simply the state of our COVID vaccines right now.

So why is naturally acquired immunity not given any acknowledgement? First of all, it’s wrong to divide the population but if you are going to divide people, then why divide us as unvaccinated and vaccinated? Why aren’t we differentiating between people who are immune versus those that are not immune to SARS-CoV-2? Think about this question. Then, we can look at the psychological context and resistance to these facts.

Matthew: As we get back into our conversation, we’ve been informed that we have a caller – Mark from Essex. What is your comment or a question?

Mark (Caller): I think I just heard your co-host say that once you’ve recovered from COVID, you have immunity and that therefore you shouldn’t worry about a thing after that. And that’s just not true. I’m really kind of disturbed by this notion that you’re trying not to be controversial, but you’re basically sowing misinformation. You can very much get re-infected with COVID. Many people have gotten it more than once. The immunity only lasts around six months. So, I don’t really know what you’re talking about and I’ll just leave it at that. Thank you.

Meg It’s not like re-infection never happens. But exceptions obviously do not negate the rule. Naturally acquired immunity is robust and long lasting. Obviously, we haven’t studied it over 10 years because this just broke out two years ago. But the chances of reinfection are practically nonexistent, and the fact that you will get it again and then get hospitalized and die is zero.

I think here we need to clarify the difference between the fear of contracting the virus and the reality of contracting COVID and developing serious complications. Everyone in the healthcare field sees how the media and political focus has been on COVID case counts. But no one wants to report the morbidity and mortality rates. How many people are actually dying? Sure, I would say that even one death is a lot, but when we are looking at public health at large and creating public policy for all, it cannot be based on the fear of contracting the virus. Further, public health cannot be all COVID all the time, especially two years on.

Indeed, the theory of mass formation explains why the focus has not been on other mental health conditions that have deteriorated since the pandemic began, especially for children and adolescents. Why have public health authorities sidelined treatment for all other conditions? Everything else has faded into the background while the spotlight still shines brightly on COVID in 2022. This singular and irrational focus on the identified object of societal anxiety, according to the theory, consumes about 30 percent of the population.

Matthew, you had asked me why mass formation is controversial. It’s because this term has also been called a psychosis. I don’t use it, and I don’t agree with using that term. Most people, including Desmet who proposed the theory, don’t use it because psychosis is a clinical diagnostic term and we’re not trying to diagnose the population. We’re simply trying to make sense of the disconnect between COVID mortality/ morbidity data and the discourse of our public health experts and the media… by looking at crowd behavior. Desmet puts forward four conditions that are required in a particular population for this psychological phenomenon to take root. I think it is very interesting to look at our society and see if we can make sense of the disconnect using the theory of mass formation or not.

Matthew: To address Mark’s call – there have been a few cases, even recently of relatively high-profile people, getting re-infected. I just saw in the news that Glenn Beck, popular radio host, has gotten it again. So, there are few high-profile situations where that’s true. And I think as we look through our communities, we’ll see anecdotal evidence of people having the virus again.

Meg I don’t know if you know this about Glenn Beck’s second infection. Was it more severe than his first one?

Matthew: It was substantially less severe from what I have read.

Meg: Okay, so that’s very important to clarify. Then, was his re-infection almost equivalent to getting, let’s say, a cold? Determining worldwide or nationwide public health policy based on the fear of re-infection that is completely manageable and mild… that is again a disconnect. Reinfection rates are practically zero. As I said, an exception doesn’t negate the rule. I’m emphasizing this point because our discussion is not about single cases. It is about dispelling fear and putting things into perspective. The fear of contracting this virus cannot be the only determining factor for enacting policies nationwide or globally. And yet, this is exactly what has been happening. That is what we’re doing.

Four Conditions for Mass Formation

Meg: Fear is very important. I see it as the driving impulse. Carl Jung said that man should be most scared of his own psyche, that is, the unexamined aspects of his own psyche. More than rage, aggression or hatred, the one emotion that can drive us to make dangerous decisions (jeopardizing ourselves and others) is fear.

Desmet discusses four conditions that are needed for mass formation to develop. The first is that a large number of people must feel isolated from one another due to a lack of social bonds. It could be because of the situation at home, in your family, in your community, and the absence of cultural institutions that foster social cohesion. The absence of social bonds breeds a feeling of disconnection from one another. Today, technology – our smart phones and now most interpersonal interactions becoming virtual – has heightened this society-wide isolation. We can all agree that the first condition is pervasive in our society.

The second condition is the absence of sense-making or meaning-making activities such that one’s life generally feels meaningless. The job you do, you do it because you need to get paid and put food on the table, but it isn’t fulfilling in a holistic way. Desmet cites a survey in which over 60 percent of the respondents described their jobs as meaningless.

The third condition for mass formation is the presence of a high level of free-floating anxiety, wherein one can’t point to any factor that is causing them anxiety. They carry this nebulous feeling around. I think it stems from the first two factors of disconnection and not having opportunities or avenues that create meaning in one’s life. The fourth condition is high levels of free-floating discontent – overall anger, frustration, and aggression.

When these four conditions are pre-existing in society and something like COVID hits, and the people in authority identify an object (SARS-CoV-2 virus) onto which you can focus that free floating anxiety, then the phenomenon of mass formation begins to take hold. This new mission against COVID now brings the public together, giving purpose or meaning and dispelling isolation and alienation. The authorities also identify a solution. The solution, in this case, was social distancing, masking, and vaccination. That is presented as the only answer to the pandemic, and anybody who questions it is chastised and rejected into the out-group. Members of the out-group are on the receiving end of that free-floating discontent or aggression. This is what Desmet has proposed.

At first, to focus solely on SARS-CoV-2 was required and legitimate. But the solution continues to be prevention alone, as the only way to rein in this virus. Universal mandates and prevention are the only two approved policies. The group behind the Great Barrington Declaration disagreed with universal lockdowns and advocated for focused risk stratification. Other groups championed early treatment and not prevention alone. These groups were discredited and denied platforms for discussion. This is how mass formation comes into play in COVID.

To clarify, the standard medical advice for anybody who contracts COVID is to go home, rest, take fluids, and recover on your own. This is very dangerous because it could lead to severe complications, hospitalization and death. Even in those who recover, long COVID is known to develop in the absence of treatment. Long COVID is estimated to affect at least 25 percent. Some reports say up to 40 percent of COVID recovered persons suffer from this chronic, debilitating condition.

If going home and not getting any treatment is very dangerous, then why is it still the standard medical advice? Why aren’t we talking about early aggressive treatment? Why have repurposed generic drugs been criminalized? Why can’t we talk about Vitamin D that boosts immunity? We can’t talk about any form of early treatment because it wasn’t offered as the answer. We are repeatedly told COVID will be contained by prevention alone. This is evidence of a cognitive disconnect.

Countering the Phenomenon

Matthew: Meg, is there something about how it specifically applies to Vermont?

Meg: Yes, I do think so. In Vermont, we have a culture of despair, evidenced in the opioid epidemic that has been worsening over the last two years. We see a lot of mental health deterioration and the lack of economic opportunities, especially outside of the northwest region. Southern Vermont (where I’m from) and the Northeast Kingdom are economic deserts. There is an absence of employment opportunities that offer meaning. There is lack of societal cohesion leading to alienation, despair, and widespread substance abuse. Desmet’s conditions for mass formation were already in place here. Unfortunately, universal lockdowns, school closures, mandates, not recognizing natural immunity… these measures foster distrust and further deepen the alienation and the very conditions that lead to mass formation.

The way to counter this mass psychological phenomenon is to keep speaking the truth. That is the only way to do it. As you said, we need more public conversations like the one we are now having. We all need to take part in conversations that question our assumptions, put us outside our comfort zone, and force us to look at the facts. Looking at the situation from an objective point of view is the way forward, as well as having the courage to speak the truth even if it means getting relegated to the out-group.

9 replies »

  1. That a ‘mass formation psychosis’ exists has been clear for a long while now. For millennia in fact. Call it Cognitive Dissonance, Cognitive Bias, or Trump Derangement Syndrome. Be it the result of a ‘logical fallacy’ (e.g., false dichotomy) or the thought processing errors arising from defective ‘memory, attention, attribution, or other mental mistakes’, the common denominator is an increase in the irretractable nature of the condition – regardless of one’s political persuasions.

    Try searching ‘why are liberals so stubborn?’ Then substitute ‘why are conservatives so stubborn?’ in the search.

    Liberals (as paraphrased from believe most conservatives have a loose relationship with facts, a right-wing denial of what most people think of as accepted reality. They are, as one political movement described them, deplorable.

    Conservatives, on the other hand, (as paraphrased in put forth 7 Reasons Why Liberals Are Incapable of Understanding the World. They are, as one political movement described them, suffering from a ‘mass formation psychosis’.

    I happen to agree with almost everything Meg Hansen says. But the cure (Countering the Phenomenon) put forth in the last paragraph of this article doesn’t address the fact that there are many on both sides of the aisle who will not, or cannot, look at the situation with “an objective point of view”. After all, we have more access to truth than at any time in human history, not to mention our ability to keep speaking it. And yet, the condition worsens.

    My question for Meg Hansen (or anyone else for that matter) is this: If these differences in opinion, on both sides of the aisle, are irreconcilable, when should either side consider them an existential imperative? Should one side submit to the other? Or will there be another declaration of independence?

    “We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”

    Praemonitus praemunitus.

  2. I’ve had push back from the Ivy League folks in my area (Hartford) saying it doesn’t exist or it’s been debunked. Meanwhile teachers are threatening to shorten workdays because students are out of control, and again we see in this issue it’s happening at other schools in Vermont. Whether adults admit to it or not, we’re seeing it with the kids and that, for me, is the unconscionable tragedy of this. These innocent little ones have been betrayed by adults who are intended to protect them. Not from a virus with minimal threat to them, but from a society that has been overtaken by the predator class.

    • Forgive the metaphor. It’s a habit of mine.

      Those ensconced in the Ivy League aren’t any more immune to the rash of ‘poison ivy’ than is anyone coming into contact with its trifoliate. The best way to avoid the rash is to stay out the ivy.

      “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.”
      ― Friedrich Nietzsche

  3. As I have said to you before, Your “privilage is showing” maybe you should set it aside and look for real truth without all the pompus wordage.
    Sorry, unless you provide viable medical/scientific studies and definitions, I am VERY sceptical of your comment. You group people and call them things based on news reports, not facts. You also get some backwards.
    You use big words to confuse some people and in fact place yourself in the “hands over ears la la la” crowd.

    The above article is full of truth based on fact, something liberals are far from following. Most have decided that facts don’t matter, feelings do. That will get you killed and if you rely on fear to motivate people you will find some of us are not only not afraid but resistant to your rediculus premise. Real thinking people can and do comprimise, not those who live basing things on how they or others feel or fear.
    Hard decisions in life must be made. Information, viable, truthful honest information that covers BOTH sides will give people the best ammunition to make intelligent decisions. Those people who censor people like Rogan are the Hitlers , Stalins and Mao of this age and that’s not good.

    When it comes to this issue, we have a right, no an obligation to look up and learn. Those who think opposite are the enemy of ALL free people. Ignorance is not bliss it is dangerous. “After all, we have more access to truth than at any time in human history, ” Is so wrong. We get to decide what is not true. Too many times now and over the last 10 years the “powers that be” block, ban and outright steal from those who have an opposing view. Hence as a local example look to VT digger which blocks all comments. How about the newest patch to office365 which “suggest” ways to not be so “mean” or “hateful”. If you think that Facebook is a place to share something it must be something that tows the line of liberal/progressive think. Same with Youtube, Google and Instagram. I could list for a page and then some.

    I think you spend too much time trying to convince people that the Conservative side of things is wrong, crazy , misinformed and full of the things that you apperently disagree with. So you call them exactly what the “other side” is actually guilty of.

    Lastly, the large forum the doctors put up was informative. You cannot ignore people like Peter Breggin or Dr Malone or any of the others for that matter. They are pioneers in their fields, are old as dirt and have seen more than most of us. When they say look for yourself, I and many others do. Maybe you should get off your horse and look at what others have for information. Listen, let them finish and then form an opinion. Figuring out what to say before they finish speaking is a great way to miss the point. I think you may have and I also think you only skimmed this story, much like you did in other stories and comments to totally miss the point.

  4. The IFR and CFR for the thing is hardly different than the flu. Toss in bogus PCR testing, Remdesivir deaths, banning over the counters you basically have a bad flu season that the media/government is using to play us all for fools.

    Your TV hates you.

  5. So we have, 30%- 40%-30% it seems the 40% need to make up their mind.Mask, lockdowns, 0 medicial treatments for non covid, new employment rules, school shut downs, addiction, suicide, mental illness, bissness closing ,homeless, Or treat and protect the vulnerable early, discuss and make available all early prevention and treatment not just vaccine ., NO EXPERIMENT DRUGS ON MOST KIDS!) Post treatment made available for persons with long covid symptoms , Open things up .SO 40% ITS UP TO YOU. KEEP GOING THE WAY WE HAVE BEEN FOR THE PAST TWO YEARS? The new norm. OR SAY NO THANKYOU, and start sharing information Available treatments, from the silenced science and medical persons ?As for me I say no thankyou to the two years of . Its Time for a new way. As for me I plead the 5th on vaccine status. As for me” No thankyou I dont were a mask.” And yes I socialize, work, shop.

  6. I think this pandemic has been largely a global mind-control experiment. RFK Jr. has reported that the CIA was involved in all the pandemic drills that led up to events in 2020. Certainly that agency has a great deal of experience with mind control.

    I’ve been gob-smacked by how many people during these last 2 years have trusted the legacy media for information. We had 20 years of the mainstream media banging the drum for one war after another across the Middle East, all of them based upon lies. Even Afghanistan was planned well before 9/11 and thus really had nothing to do with it. Especially when all the hijackers were allegedly Saudis and there were Israelis standing on rooftops cheering and dancing as the planes hit the towers. 20 years of destroying a large swath of the planet. Bombing dams and wedding parties and funerals… Yet suddenly our politicians in Washington, who have shown their willingness to go to war at the drop of a hat, are really interested in the health and well-being of everyone on the planet??? This has been the 9/11 for Big Pharma. Except the pandemic was declared on 3/11. Please, let’s not drag this out for 20 years!

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