"No Evidence" Again

I had never heard the phrase "mass formation psychosis" before it was apparently used on a popular podcast (which I did not hear, as I never listen to podcasts -- if you can't write it down for me so that I can read it quickly rather than dawdle over it for an hour or two, it can't be that important). I do notice that there is a rush to discredit the idea among the very people who would be responsible for it, however.

Reuters' approach is particularly amusing. 
“Mass formation psychosis” is not an academic term recognized in the field of psychology, nor is there evidence of any such phenomenon occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple experts in crowd psychology have told Reuters.
"Term X doesn't mean anything" is actually incompatible with the claim that "there is no evidence that X is occurring." In order to measure whether or not X is occurring, we would have to know what X is well enough to study the question. Maybe it doesn't mean anything, but that only means that whatever is happening can't be described that way; it doesn't mean that nothing is happening. 

There is definitely evidence that people have departed from reality on the question: Justice Sotomayor's claim that 100,000 children are on ventilators with Omicron is rooted in something, but it isn't reality. Yet I heard a very similar claim from my mother in our last conversation, which predated the SCOTUS hearing (the latter of which she won't have listened to anyway: she gets her news exclusively from morning TV shows on the major networks of her youth). She is prepared to come out of retirement to teach her granddaughter kindergarten so that the child will not be forced to return to school for another year, lest she be exposed to a disease that poses almost no risk at all to a five year old in good health. This, in spite of the clear and obvious benefits the child is experiencing from going to kindergarten -- hers has chickens they are raising, and many friends she's come to love after more than a year in isolation. 

I don't know what "mass formation psychosis" is supposed to mean, or if it's a real term in use by psychologists in academia. But I do know that I worry about the level of paranoia I see from people about all this. I'm not talking about those who have legitimate concerns that are well-grounded in numbers. I'm talking about the Sotomayors and, well, my-mothers out there. They're clearly not grounded in reality, and they are causing harm while presumably meaning to help. Somehow mass culture is supporting them in this, because these people have no other obvious point of connection besides exposure to the mainstream press. 


raven said...

I imagine the concept would be quite familiar to Charles MacKay.
Different name, same tune. Yuri Bezmanov talked of the impossibility of breaking the hold of cognitive dissonance- people get so locked up in belief systems,to question them is to question their core as a human being, Evidence be damned.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Mass psychosis, with different names and fillers, keeps popping up and actual research keeps knocking it down as having no basis in reality. It is often used to discredit religious people, so it retains its popularity that way. It is just a big-word version of "My opponents are all literally crazy." Not very helpful. People pull it out to give some extra meanness to t5heir disagreements.

Grim said...

I don’t think either my mother or Sotomayor are crazy; they’re acting with a kind of rationality, based upon living in a world whose facts are substantially different from the one in which we actually happen to live. Perhaps that’s not rightly described as a mass ‘psychosis,’ but instead a delusion? The effects could still be harmful, pragmatically irrational decisions being made on a mass scale.

james said...

From time to time I wonder if it is possible to model human behavior not just as the sum of individual choices but in terms of the interaction of various community-creatures. Or maybe phase transitions.

Texan99 said...

I wouldn't call it psychosis, but I do worry about a fad in thinking that rolls over people in waves. Many people do little thinking for themselves and are only waiting to be told what the approved narrative is. Combine that with significant anxiety, and they'll glom onto a popular opinion from which almost nothing could dislodge them. As they say, you can't reason someone out of a position he didn't reason himself into to begin with, whether it's the Russian Hoax or climate hysteria.

raven said...

Mass as in being collectively lead down a path by a unified system of influence AKA the media?
Seen it many times. Read about it many times. Anybody remember the Wenatchee witch hunt?
Good example- Finally took a rebel from the Wall Street Journal to break the spell.

Dad29 said...

if you can't write it down for me so that I can read it quickly rather than dawdle over it for an hour or two, it can't be that important).


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Texan99= yes "fad" is a good first pass. That is what the "madness" of crowds was about. I still don't prefer that "mad" usage, but it's less of a stretch. Ame with "crazy." Those words do have legitimate popular meanings even if they muddy the waters when taking about thinking. When inaccurate foundational beliefs exist, they effloresce into individual "madnesses" in that sense pretty quickly, then subside. Fads. What we call those inaccurate foundational beliefs is going to be something different, because we all likely have some. (The trick is to hang out with people who have as few as possible to avoid infection yourself.)

The anniversary of the riot, which was separated in the left's imagination from the other riots, reveals how much the foundational belief remains that their opponents - us - include a large percentage of people who are this close to a spark sending them off into rage and insurrection. Carter and Biden clearly believe that, and likely have for a long time. To name that, we have to look at what we would call even extremer versions, of Russians who still thought their neighbors and the rest of the world were persecuting them and the USSR was doing the best it could under such dire circumstances. Deeply wrong - maybe we call it a delusion or psychosis, but even that seems the wrong category.

David Foster said...

Arthur Koestler (himself a former Communist) on intellectually closed systems:

"A closed sysem has three peculiarities. Firstly, it claims to represent a truth of universal validity, capable of explaining all phenomena, and to have a cure for all that ails man. In the second place, it is a system which cannot be refuted by evidence, because all potentially damaging data are automatically processed and reinterpreted to make them fit the expected pattern. The processing is done by sophisticated methods of causistry, centered on axioms of great emotive power, and indifferent to the rules of common logic; it is a kind of Wonderland croquet, played with mobile hoops. In the third place, it is a system which invalidates criticism by shifting the argument to the subjective motivation of the critic, and deducing his motivation from the axioms of the system itself. The orthodox Freudian school in its early stages approximated a closed system; if you argued that for such and such reasons you doubted the existence of the so-called castration complex, the Freudian's prompt answer was that your argument betrayed an unconscious resistance indicating that you ourself have a castration complex; you were caught in a vicious circle. Similarly, if you argued with a Stalinist that to make a pact with Hitler was not a nice thing to do he would explain that your bourgeois class-consciousness made you unable to understand the dialectics of history...In short, the closed system excludes the possibility of objective argument by two related proceedings: (a) facts are deprived of their value as evidence by scholastic processing; (b) objections are invalidated by shifting the argument to the personal motive behind the objection. This procedure is legitimate according to the closed system's rules of the game which, however absurd they seem to the outsider, have a great coherence and inner consistency.

The atmosphere inside the closed system is highly charged; it is an emotional hothouse...The trained, "closed-minded" theologian, psychoanalyst, or Marxist can at any time make mincemeat of his "open-minded" adversary and thus prove the superiority of his system to the world and to himself."

J Melcher said...

The MFP is kind of like the "social justice" in that the adjectives distort the noun into something unrecognizable. Psychosis is an inability to understand and respond to reality. The "mass formation" phrase ... well, another synonym for "socially constructed", I guess.

I see some value in calling out the roots of the craziness in "narrative", though. The filters of modern news spot light fragments of the big picture in such a way to distort reality. Ace (of Spades, mu.nu) just posted about the news media abusing the idea of "trends". A good example. But we are constantly confronted with selections and parts of the information that exists or could be determined, in deliberate attempts to make us, if not crazy, to make us conform.

Texan99 said...

It's a lot harder than we often think to make people so angry and desperate that they'll ditch their lives and declare a civil war. On the other hand, we know it does happen with some regularity in human affairs, and there's an intermediate stage--widescale rioting--that we see even more often. It's not too surprising that people who are pushing their neighbors pretty hard are spending a lot of time in high anxiety over just when they might face some violent pushback. Whether they genuinely believe we're about to go to war with them, though, or just find it convenient to complain that believe it in order to justify Gestapo nonsense instead of regular-order political solutions, is harder to say. My money is mostly on the latter, but there are excitable people about whom it's tougher to decide.

I try to compare the excitable Gestapo rhetoric with my own views about what it's permissible to do to root out terrorist cells, to give myself a little reality check. . . . Nope, the FBI doesn't need to worry about me yet. I hope when the time came, though, I'd be on the right side. I hope the time never comes. I don't find the idea of civil war invigorating. It's vital to stand up as citizens within a functioning political system as long as humanly possible precisely to avoid what happens when it collapses into violent death and starvation.

ymarsakar said...

your actions are being recorded, and so far it does not look good for those that will be prosecuted at Nuremburg 2.

My conscience is clear and I have written the truth. If others disregard it or delete it, that is on them and will be shown in their trial, one way or another.