Flowers of the Mind 11

The evil triad of a certain kind of political personality: arrogance, deceit and resentment. We can all succumb to these dimensions of personality. But some of our leaders build careers on this triad.

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Prediction: the “West” will decouple from America, and so trigger a cultural resurgence in a more plural world.

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Professor Mattias Desmet, a psychologist and counsellor, from Ghent University has set out a compelling account of the mass formation psychosis that has been a feature of the pandemic.

He describes four preconditions of a large-scale mass phenomenon such as the madness of the crowds during the response to the pandemic:

  • Many socially isolated people, people who experience a lack of social bonds
  • Many people who experience a lack of sense-making in life.
  • A lot of free-floating anxiety, and
  • A lot of free-floating psychological discontent.

These preconditions float like a poisonous cloud of unreal anxiety in society, sometimes creating storms of cancellations, riots and protests. But when these four things—lack of social bonds, lack of sense-making, free-floating anxiety, and free-floating psychological discontent— are focused and attached by leaders to a clear object of anxiety a real and scary mass phenomenon emerges, quite suddenly as we saw in 2020.

“People start a collective and heroic battle with this object of anxiety. And in that way, a new kind of social bond emerges and a new kind of sense-making. Suddenly life is all directed at battling the object of anxiety and in this way, establishing a new connection with other people. And that, the sudden switch of a negative state, a radical lack of social connection, to the opposite, to the massive social connection that is experienced in a crowd. This sudden switch leads up to a sort of mental intoxication. That’s what makes mass formation, or crowd formation, the exact equivalent of hypnosis.”

Mattias Desmet, interview

This hypnosis, this charming of the authoritarian snake that lives in all of us, has prevailed during the Corona Crisis. It makes the defanging of the snake difficult. The snake strikes out at dissonant voices; at those who dare to live in truth when the regime and the poisonous cloud lie about lying. But the cloud will pass. The skies are clearing.

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J.B. Peterson: “The desire for vengeance, however justified, also bars the way to other productive thoughts” (12 Rules, p. 154)

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By doing my podcast on the Crusades I learnt more about the tradition of the troubadors, and coincidentally this week I began to read through Pound’s Cantos – one Canto each day – together with the Companion to the poems that explains the dense, complicated references to so polyphonic cultural and historical repertoire that survived in Pound’s mind and voice. The troubadors are central to the Cantos, and to Pound’s epic effort to renew a culture. It can make the Cantos at times a task of explication. But every now and then a remarkable line stands out, like his early Imagist poems. Like this one that evokes the moment of battle between Achilles and Cygnus.

“the empty armour shakes as the cygnet moves.”

Pound, Canto IV

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