Psychology of Totalitarianism by Prof. Mattias Desmet


Psychology of Totalitarianism by Prof. Mattias Desmet PDF




September 22


I was really lucky to get a ticket to spend ‘An Evening with Mattias Desmet’ last night, to listen to him talking with Sarah Haboubi and later with John Waters.  Most of you will know about his book called The Psychology of Totalitarianism which has been top of the best seller list for some time but pretty much ignored by the MSM.   All was good until he got a lot of attention on his recent tour of the US where he spoke to Tucker Carlson.  Since then unfortunately he is being attacked a lot, I suppose par for the course for anyone who goes against the propaganda.   Many of his recent interviews have been about the theory of Mass Formation.   I’d particularly recommend an interview he did with John Waters, very inspirational.   And it reinforces the wish of some of us to ‘speak out’ when we know that we are being lied to.


The Psychology of Totalitarianism


The Psychology of Totalitarianism by Mattias Desmet

Occasionally, there are books that try to make sense of a key moment in history – and become an indispensable guide to the times we live in.

This book is one of them.




In The Psychology of Totalitarianism, world-renowned Professor of Clinical Psychology Mattias Desmet deconstructs the societal conditions that allow collective psychosis to take hold. By analysing our current global situation and identifying the phenomenon of ‘mass formation’ – a type of collective hypnosis – he illustrates how close we are to repeating totalitarian behaviours within democratic structures.

Totalitarianism is not a coincidence and does not form in a vacuum. Desmet explains how it arises from a collective psychosis 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 – in lockstep with technological advances. He demonstrates how governments, mass media and other large, ‘mechanised’ forces use fear, loneliness and isolation to demoralise populations to exert control, persuading large groups of people to act against their own interests, always with destructive results.

Building on Hannah Arendt’s essential work on totalitarianism, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Desmet offers a sharp critique of the cultural ‘groupthink’ that existed pre-pandemic but has steadily and inexorably advanced during the Covid crisis. He cautions against the dangers of our current societal landscape, media consumption and reliance on manipulative technologies and then offers simple solutions – both individual and collective – to prevent the willing sacrifice of our freedoms.

The Psychology of Totalitarianism describes exactly how, during this extraordinary time of loneliness, free-floating anxiety and fear, we are surrendering our freedoms and giving way to censorship and loss of privacy – driven by a dominant crisis narrative that excludes dissident views and relies on destructive groupthink.

Desmet’s work on mass formation theory was brought to the world’s attention on The Joe Rogan Experience and in major media around the globe.

‘In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.’ – Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

‘We can honor the right to freedom of expression and the right to self-determination without feeling threatened by each other,’ 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.’  Mattias Desmet, The Psychology of Totalitarianism

‘[Desmet] is waking a lot of people up to the dangerous place we are now with a brilliant distillation of how we ended up here.’ – Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.


The Psychology of Totalitarianism Reviews

As I walk through the halls of a major US medical center, I see eyes that divert themselves away from me as I pass. When we engage in our usual discussions on patients, the topic of COVID-19 vaccination brings a halting response: ‘We don’t want to talk about it.’ I see fear, shame, and a never-ending cycle of groupthink that has been more contagious among physicians than aerosolized SARS-CoV-2 in a crowded elevator. Mattias Desmet, like a guided missile, has hit the target. The medical community is in mass formation and this led to a much larger penumbra that has enveloped the general population. In this book, Desmet has constructed an explanatory framework from which the cohesive fabric is suspended that clearly and concisely explains what is happening and what the next steps are that each and every one of us need to take to break the ‘spell’ and restore normalcy. A must read for our time.

-Peter A. McCullough, MD, MPH; chief medical advisor, Truth for Health Foundation

Transcending medical controversies, this book offers an indispensable window into the social phenomenon we call COVID.

-Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics and The Coronation

Mattias Desmet is the world’s expert on the phenomenon of mass formation-and one of the most sincere, thoughtful, and important intellectuals of the twenty-first century. If you want to understand why and how the coronavirus pandemic response unfolded the way it did at a societal level and-even more importantly-how to prevent such a travesty from happening again, The Psychology of Totalitarianism is essential reading. Desmet shows us how to reclaim our humanity in an increasingly dehumanized and mechanized world.

-Dr. Reiner Fuellmich, trial attorney; cofounder, Berlin’s Corona Investigative Committee

In this masterful book, Desmet asks how we have arrived at the doorstep of totalitarianism. Taking the reader on a wild, scholarly ride through history, science, and psychology, he delivers answers both necessary and unexpected.

-Heather Heying, PhD, evolutionary biologist; coauthor of A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century

Desmet is waking a lot of people up to the dangerous place we are now with a brilliant distillation of how we ended up here.

-Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Mattias Desmet’s theory of mass formation is the most important lens through which we can understand the COVID-19 pandemic and the social aberrations that accompanied it. In The Psychology of Totalitarianism, Desmet explains how and why people will willingly give up their freedom, how the masses can give rise to a totalitarian leader, and-most importantly-how we can resist these phenomena and maintain our common humanity. This is the most important book of 2022.

-Dr. Robert Malone, author of Lies My Gov’t Told Me

Mattias Desmet’s [theory of mass formation hypnosis] is great. . . . Once I kind of started to look for it, I saw it everywhere.

-Eric Clapton

The foundational thinkers on mass formation are joined by Mattias Desmet, who now stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Arendt, Jung and Freud. His understanding and analysis of contemporary group behavior in a destabilized society, presents a fascinating window into the minds of the most complex beings on the planet. Desmet’s seminal work underlines the increasingly dangerous behavior of humanity – and he verifies that it must be understood and reversed if we are to survive as a species.

-David Marks, Writer and Documentary Producer


About Mattias Desmet

Mattias Desmet is recognized as the world’s leading expert on the theory of mass formation as it applies to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is a professor of clinical psychology in the Department of Psychology and Educational Sciences at Ghent University (Belgium) and a practicing psychoanalytic psychotherapist. His work has been discussed widely in the media, including on The Joe Rogan Experience and in Forbes, The New York Post,, and Fox News, among hundreds of other outlets. His interviews have been viewed by millions of people around the world. His previous books include The Pursuit of Objectivity in Psychology and Lacan’s Logic of Subjectivity: A Walk on the Graph of Desire. Desmet is the author of over one 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.

2 thoughts on “Psychology of Totalitarianism by Prof. Mattias Desmet

  1. Am I an expert in Mass Formation or a Trojan Horse?
    Response to Breggin and Breggin (Part 1)

    Mattias Desmet
    Sep 4
    Three weeks ago, American psychiatrist Peter Breggin and his wife Ginger Ross Breggin formulated some harsh criticism of my new book, The Psychology of Totalitarianism. They did so in a book review published in three parts (here, here, and here), asserting that in describing the mass formation that took place during the Covid-19 pandemic I was blaming the victims and absolving the perpetrators. Even more, Breggin and Breggin claim that there hasn’t been such a thing as a mass formation during the corona crisis. People were not allowed to meet – how could they have formed a mass?

    I reached out to Peter Breggin and his wife immediately after their review was published, proposing to have a constructive public or private conversation about their review. It is about two months later now, and it seems that they refuse to accept my invitation. That’s why I will respond here.

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    This seems to be their core criticism: that I argue there was no intentional manipulation at work in the crisis, and no conspiracy—only a spontaneously-emerging mass formation from the population itself. For Breggin and Breggin, that means I am blaming the victims (the population) and psychiatrically labeling anyone who thinks there was, in fact, conspiracy at play.

    It is correct that in my book, I describe the societal dynamics of the coronacrisis as an emergent phenomenon, driven by a certain narrative of man and the world—the mechanistic-rationalist-materialist ideology—which created a certain elite and put the population in a certain state that made it vulnerable to mass formation. In The Psychology of Totalitarianism and numerous podcasts, I describe that mass-formation can emerge in a more or less spontaneous way (as happened in the first stages of Nazism in Germany) or that it can be artificially provoked through indoctrination and propaganda (as in the former Soviet Union). In this process, both the elite and the population itself shoulder responsibility—the first because they actively manipulate the population and the second because they prefer to stay blind and, ultimately, commit atrocities towards those who don’t join them.

    However, I never claimed that there was no intentional manipulation or planning. Quite to the contrary, on p.100 of my book, for instance, I claim that long term mass formation, as it existed in the coronacrisis, cannot be maintained withoug indoctrination and propaganda distributed through the mass-media. Nor did I claim there was no conspiracy. Consider the following paragraphs from my book:

    Is there any steering and manipulation at all then? The answer is a resounding yes, there most certainly is all kinds of manipulation. And with the means available to today’s mass media, the possibilities are simply phenomenal. Such steering, however, is rarely done by individual persons; the most fundamental steering is impersonal in nature. The steering is first and foremost driven by an ideology—a way of thinking. Ideologies organize and structure society progressively and organically. As we have described in detail in the previous chapters, the dominant ideology is mechanistic in nature. This ideology derives its appeal from the utopian vision of an artificial paradise (see chapter 3). The world and mankind are a machine and they can be comprehended and manipulated as such. The hitches in the machine that cause suffering can be “repaired.” In the long run, it will even be possible to eliminate death. Moreover, all this can be done without man having to reflect on his role in his own misfortune, without questioning himself as a moral and ethical being. This ideology makes life easy in the short term. The price for convenience will be paid in arrears (see chapter 5).

    It is at this fundamental level that we have to situate the “secret” forces that direct individuals in the same direction and ultimately organize society as a whole. Remember drawing the Sierpinski triangle; if everyone follows the same rules, strictly regular patterns emerge. Like iron filings scattered in the force field of a magnet, individuals arrange themselves in a perfect pattern under the influence of these forces. Man has always fallen prey to the aforementioned “temptations”—the illusion of rational understanding and control, the resistance to question oneself critically as a human, the pursuit of short-term convenience. Within the religious discourse, these temptations were considered dangerous, but that changed with the rise of mechanistic thinking. From then on, they became anchored in the dominant narrative, which also became justification of such temptations. Leaders and followers were captivated by the limitless possibilities the human mind seemed to offer. The evolution towards a hyper-controlled technological society—the surveillance society—is unavoidable as long as the human mind remains trapped in that logic and is (to a large extent unconsciously) controlled by those attractors. It is this ideology that redesigned society, created new institutions, and selected new authority figures. The transition from a democracy to a totalitarian technocracy, in which the corona crisis was a Great Leap forward, formed part of the logic of the mechanistic ideology from the very beginning. In a mechanistic universe, it is inevitably the technical expert who has the last word, based on his superior mechanistic knowledge.

    Based on this ideology, institutions were created that make plans about what future society should look like and how the ideal future society should respond to crisis situations. The Lockstep scenario of the Rockefeller Foundation,12 Event 201 of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (in collaboration with John Hopkins and the Rockefeller foundation),13 and The Great Reset by Klaus Schwab14 are examples of such endeavors. For many people, these events and publications are the ultimate proof that the social developments we’re experiencing are planned and the product of a conspiracy, since long before the outbreak these “plans” described how society would go into lockdown as the result of a pandemic, that a biopassport would be introduced, and that people would be tracked and traced with subcutaneous sensors.

    If we keep in mind the definition of a conspiracy—a secret, planned, intentional and malicious scheme—we immediately notice two things: it’s not much of a secret since all the aforementioned “plans” are available on the internet. And whether those plans guide the discourse and action of experts through targeted instructions is, at least, questionable. The experts’ communication is full of contradictions and inconsistencies, retractions and corrections, clumsy wording and transparent errors. This is nothing like a streamlined execution of a pre-established plan. If these are conspiracy theorists, they are the lousiest ones ever. Obviously, psychological warfare may also make use of confusion and confusing messages, but that does not explain experts trying to correct their mistakes of the day before, or of feeling visibly at unease and discomfortable.

    The only consistency within the experts’ discourse is that the decisions always move towards a more technologically and biomedically controlled society, in other words towards the realization of the mechanistic ideology. For this reason, we see exactly the same problems in the corona crisis as those revealed by the replication crisis in academic research: a maze of errors, sloppiness, and forced conclusions, in which researchers unconsciously confirm their ideological principles (the so-called allegiance effect, see chapter 4).

    In the process of exercising power—i.e. shaping the world to ideological beliefs—there usually is no need to make secret plans and agreements. As Noam Chomsky put it, if you have to tell someone what to do, you’ve chosen the wrong person.15 In other words: the dominant ideology selects who ends up in key positions. Someone who does not share the ideology is usually less successful in society, apart from a few exceptions. Consequently, all people in positions of power automatically follow the same rules in their thinking and in their behavior and are under the influence of the same ‘attractors’ (to use a term from complex dynamical systems theory). Furthermore, they all succumb to the same logical fallacies and the same absurd behavior, independently of each other, or at least without having to gather in secret meetings. Compare it to computers running on the same, wrong software: their “behaviour” and their “thinking” will all deviate in the same direction, without “communicating” with one another. This is what the Sierpinski triangle shows us: mind-blowingly precise and regular patterns can arise because individuals independently follow the same simple rules of behaviorand are attracted to the same set of attractors. The puppet master is the ideology, not the elite.

    Plans and visions for the future are not so much “forced” on the population. In many ways, the leaders of the masses—the so-called elite—give the people what they want. When fearful,the population wants a more controlled society. For many people, the lockdowns were a liberation from the unbearable and meaningless routine of working life, the fragmented society was in need of a common enemy, and so on. The “plans” do not precede the developments, as a conspiracy logic suggest. They follow them. Those who guide the masses are not real “leaders”in the sense that they do not have the capability to determine where the masses will go. Instead they sense what people crave and they adjust their plans in that direction. They may relish pretending to have control and direct the chain of events, but they are more like a child sitting on the bow of a ship and turning a toy steering wheel every time the tanker changes direction. Or we can think of King Cnut, who stood before the sea at low tide, ordered the waves to retreat, and narcissistically beamed with pride because it happened. Some of those institutions have even adapted previously released films, suggesting that they could predict the future (for example, the Digikosmos16 film was adapted in such a way that it seemed to predict the course of the corona crisis exactly as it happened). Ironically, conspiracy thinking confirms the leaders’ narcissism by taking them seriously, acting as if they are steering the ship, or causing the waves to recede.

    There are countless other examples that seem to point in the direction of a plan being implemented, such as: the fact that the definition of “pandemic” was changed shortly before the corona crisis; the definition of “herd immunity” to imply that only vaccines can achieve it;the counting method for corona deaths was adjusted by the WHO so it was higher than the number of flu deaths; that the registration methodology of vaccine side effects led to serious underestimation (by, for example, labelling those that become apparent during the first fortnight after vaccination as not vaccine-related); that all key political positions when the crisis started were held by politicians who were pro-technocracy (all people referred to as the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders).

    These are examples of how an ideology gets a grip on society, not evidence of the execution of a conspiracy. For instance: similar things happing during almost all major re-organisations in large companies and government institutions. Indeed, anyone who would like to reorganize a company or institution and holds the right position(s) will try to adjust the rules, in ways that they are conducive to their goals. And they will do their best to install the right people in the right positions on the beforehand and will try to mold their minds for the reorganization and restructuring through all kinds of formal and informal influence. Anyone who experiences this up close at a company or institution will probably not experience this as a conspiracy. We could even say that every biological organism does the same: it tries to adjust its environment in the desired direction.

    At certain points, however, the aforementioned practices may turn into something that does have the structure of a conspiracy. Large institutions use all kinds of questionable strategies to impose their ideals on society, and the means to do so have increased spectacularly in recent centuries. The whole mechanization, industrialization, “technologization” and “mediatization”of the world has indeed led to the centralization of power and no sane person can deny that this power is being exercised with scrupulous attention to ethics and morality. It is well documented: whether in governments, the tobacco industry, or the pharmaceutical lobby, there is bribery, manipulation, and fraud. If you don’t partake in these practices, it’s hard to remain at the top.

    In their endeavors to impose their ideals on society, institutions and people do indeed cross ethical boundaries, and when things get out of hand, their strategies may indeed devolve into a conspiracy: a secret, intentional, planned, and malicious project. It is also well known that, as the process of totalitarianization continues, the totalitarian regime is increasingly organized as a fully-fledged “secret society.”17 We have seen that the Holocaust came about through a mind-boggling process of mass formation that blinded both the perpetrators and the victims and drew them into an infernal dynamic (see chapter 7). However, there was also an intentional plan, which had as its purpose to systematically optimize racial purity through sterilization and elimination of all impure elements. There were apprxoimately five people who patiently andsystematically prepared the entire Holocaust destruction apparatus and they managed to make all the rest of the system cooperate with it in total blindness for a long time. Those who did see what was going on—namely that the concentration camps were in fact extermination camps—were accused of being a … conspiracy theorist.18

    The preparation and implementation of such plans are by no means the exclusive privilege of totalitarian regimes. Throughout the twentieth century, large numbers of men and women whose genetic material was considered “inferior” have been sterlized under the the doctrine of eugenics. By 1972, the term eugenics had taken on a too negative connotation and was replaced by “social biology,” but the practice remained the same and continued into the 21st century (for example, the sterilization of California inmates without informed consent)19 . Do we have good reason to believe that, in recent years, such practices have ceased?

    —The Psychology of Totalitarianism

    I just wonder: did Peter and Ginger Ross Breggin really look over these and other paragraphs in my book? Do they really believe that I claim that long term mass-formation arises in a completely spontaneous way, without someone ever intentionally steering and manipulating the masses? Did they really overlook that there is an entire chapter in my book about the leaders of the masses? I leave open all possible interpretations of their response. The onus to answer these questions rests upon them.

    Does this mean that Breggin and Breggin have no point at all? It depends. If the aspect of intentional planning in this crisis is extremely important, then you could say that it makes no sense and is even counterproductive to continue to focus on mass formation. Further, have I been cowardly to suggest such a thing?

    I was very careful, indeed. It wasn’t easy to speak out as a professor. Focusing on conspiracy would have meant silmultaneously pushing the boundaries of my expertise as a professor in clinical psychology and putting myself at risk of being cancelled so thoroughly that my speech would not have an effect anymore. I acknolwedge that this is hardly an excuse. If crimes happen, if large numbers of people die, it doesn’t matter what your expertise is. Every decent human being will recognize as his or her duty to simply articulate what everyone can see. But there are other reasons why I was careful not to interpret what happened too much in terms of conspiracy.

    I believe we always have to be careful with interpretations in terms of intentional, malevolent planning. Before we accuse people of conspiring and evil intent, we must eliminate the other possibilities. Otherwise, we make a grave ethical mistake. Furthermore, I think it is a mistake to believe that evil is the province of only the elite. Without those of us who bring our money to the bank—willfully blind to how that money is used to speculate and create famine and war—there would be no ultra-rich and powerful bankers.

    The rich and the poor, and everyone in between, struggle with evil. As Solzhenitsyn said, ‘‘If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, and who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

    Unlike Breggin claims, I do not blame the victims; I simply try to show that we all carry a certain responsibility and that, in this sense, we don’t have to remain passive. I try to show people that they have agency, in the firs place because they can tackle that part of evil that resides in their own hearts.

    It’s not only an ethical mistake, it also an intellectual mistake to hold the elite and only the elite responsible. Systems theory teaches that the flapping of butterfly wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas. In other words: the cause of things can be situated everywhere. Some causal explanations make sense, and others don’t. But there is never a compelling argument to situate causality at one and only one level.

    Does it, after all, matter how exactly we analyse the situation? Yes it does. Dependent on our analysis, we will make different strategical choices, or, in other words, we will act differently. If you analyse a situation only in terms of conspiracies, in which an evil elite is the one and only cause of the misery, then the inevitable conclusion is that this elite must be destroyed through a violent revolution. Such a revolution, however, would most probably lead to the radical destruction of the ‘freedom movement’ itself. It would, indeed, rather be a Godsent gift for the elite, as it justifies destruction of the opposition through harsh repression.

    And maybe even more important, even if the violent revolution against the elite would be succesful and the elite be destroyed, the problem wouldn’t be solved. Not at all. the population would immediately recreate another elite with the same totalitarian tendencies if they continue to be in the grip of the same mechanist-rationalist ideology. That’s is what I explain about mass formation in The Psychology of Totalitarianism: The enemy is not another human being, the enemy is primarily a certain view of man and the world, a mechanist-rationalist-materialist way of thinking; not another human being.

    My desire for the future is more ambitious (and more optimistic) than that. We have to finally cut this mechanistic-rationalist-materialist ideology off at the root. What we need is a new consciousness, a new awareness of what the essence of life and the essence of our human existence is, a new awareness of the central importance of ethical principles; a new awareness of the irreplacable function in society is of what the ancient Greeks called Truth Speech and what I sometimes call ‘The art of good speech’. This is what I explained in my book The psychology of totalitarianism; this is what we will explore here on this Substack: If we practice that art, if we continue to practice it no matter what it might cost us, then totalitarianism makes no chance and the Freedom Movement will be victorious, without any violence needed.

  2. Some notes on the tragicomic attempt to burn me at the stake.

    Mattias Desmet
    Oct 6
    In recent weeks, an offensive has been launched against me in the Flemish media. I’ve been accused of being a liar, a far-right extremist, a conspiracy theorist, controlled opposition, and of indoctrinating my students. I’ve quietly listened to every voice that felt called to make itself heard. And I have the impression that everyone who had something to say has now done so.

    Now I’m going to say a word for myself.

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    I think I have some right to respond to a story about myself. Members of the media apparently disagree. As eagerly as they speak of me, they have obstinately refused to speak to me. But isn’t it a fundamental precept of humanity—that everyone has the right to tell their side of the story?

    Granted, the media has had a certain inhibition about me for some time. For example, there was an uncomfortable silence in the press when my book The Psychology of Totalitarianism was translated into ten languages ​​earlier this year and sold tens of thousands of copies.

    Why such silence? Perhaps for this reason: that people might start to take seriously the idea that the corona crisis was primarily a psycho-social phenomenon that marked the transition to a technocratic system, a system in which the government would attempt to claim decision-making rights over its citizens and, step by step, take control of all private space.

    The press didn’t seem to know what to do other than keep quiet. Maybe some “fact-checking”? The fact-checkers, usually barely out of school, didn’t know how to fact-check my argument I don’t throw around numbers and “facts” much anyway; actually, I have nothing much to say about viruses and vaccines. I mainly discuss the major psychological processes that take place in society. The fact-checkers got no further than some quibbling over minor examples in the margins of my argument. That didn’t make much of an impression. They had to stand by as more and more people listened to what I had to say.

    Then there was an orchestrated campaign against me on social media. And you can take the word orchestrated literally, according to recent reporting from journalist Luc De Wandel, who uncovered a media front group whose aim was to sabotage three key influencers in Belgium: Lieven Annemans, Sam Brokken, and myself. The group operated anonymously with a website where “anonymous citizens” could report their concerns about dissident influencers.

    The attempt to silence dissident voices took on a crazy character when Headwind—a coronacritical documentary series in which I participated together with five other scientists—was nominated for the Flemish government’s prestigious Ultima Award in the category of Audience Award (the equivalent of a People’s Choice Award). That caused panic.

    The Minister of Culture, Jan Jambon, eliminated Headwind from the list of nominees. After a storm of protest, Minister Jambon had no choice but to restore it, following which, by the way, Headwind won with seven times the number of votes than the runner-up. When I accepted the Ultima Audience Award, I was permitted to say two sentences before being escorted off the stage. The other laureates were given approximately ten minutes to tell their stories.

    At the end of August, things began to shift. I was invited to be a guest on Tucker Carlson Today to speak about The Psychology of Totalitarianism for a full hour. That’s not nothing, of course. This talk show is the most watched hour-long program on U.S. cable television. And the interview turned out really well. Carlson spoke of it in unmistakable superlatives. I’m only praising myself here because it’s substantively relevant: Carlson considered it the best interview he’s done in his 30-year career. If the Flemish audience dares to listen to it, you will find it here.

    At this point, the Flemish media had a dilemma. Silence became precarious. After all, it’s not every day that a media icon like Tucker Carlson says something like that about a Belgian. They had to find something on it. And it had to be devastating.

    Their eureka moment appeared in three newspapers simultaneously: I had also been interviewed by Alex Jones—a condemned conspiracy theorist—and something had happened! Some newspapers described it as a slip of the tongue. Others described it as an outright lie. To Jones’ question, “Have you seen open heart surgery under hypnosis?” After a moment’s hesitation, I answered “Yes, absolutely.”

    I learned after the interview that people thought I had physically attended such an operation myself. I listened to my response to Jones’s question again and concluded that what I said was indeed misleading. Before any newspaper had mentioned it, I immediately corrected it on my Facebook page (see post on September 5, 2022): I hadn’t seen open heart surgery under hypnosis live, but I remembered seeing such a thing on video fifteen years earlier while I was teaching a lesson on hypnosis as an anesthetic technique. And I wasn’t even sure about that either, but in the hectic pace of the interview, I wanted to save myself a long explanation and simply answered yes.

    Everyone can decide for themselves whether this is a lie or not. And then I propose that, with the same degree of severity with which one judges me, they also subject their own discourse to such interrogation.

    The question about hypnosis wasn’t really that important. It was an example in the margin of my discourse. But the effect was remarkable: it spun into a major drama, but it was never really substantive. The press mainly used it to suggest I was selling nonsense.

    Nevertheless, let us casually ask the question: is it possible or not to be operated on under hypnosis? The media used to think so (see for instance this link). What about open heart surgery specifically? In my search for my original sources, I came across the work of Dave Elman, a hypnotist known for bringing patients so weak that their hearts couldn’t tolerate any biochemical anesthetic into a specific hypnotic state in which surgery was possible. This is called the Esdaile state, in which a catatonic state is induced through a short hypnotic procedure. Elman himself has died but his children possess his archive with, among other things, the files regarding such operations. They confirmed to me that their father had indeed participated in several such operations.

    When do we know for sure if something is correct? That is a difficult question. In the end, we remain dependent on faith for most things. And it’s no different for those of us who rely on what’s published in peer-reviewed academic journals. In fact, most results are not reproducible by third parties.

    But the press was mainly concerned with this: I had spoken to Alex Jones—a condemned conspiracy theorist. For shame. There are certain people you shouldn’t talk to: anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists, climate deniers, virus deniers, extreme right-wingers, racists, sexists, and so on. (This list, incidentally, is getting longer and longer.) The curious thing is that it is precisely the same people who affix those stigmas who also warn the loudest about the danger of polarization in our society. Isn’t that, what . . . ironic? Isn’t it speaking that connects people as human beings? Isn’t speech the main antidote to polarization? This is my principle: the more extreme the position someone takes, the more we should talk to them. For some people, I have also become such a person you are no longer allowed to speak with. And when I see how this happened in my own case, it’s even more justification to let such figures tell their story directly before they are subjected to judgment.

    I recommend that everyone read the excellent book by David Graeber and David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. The authors describe how, in Indigenous tribes of northeastern North America, no one had power over another. How were the problems of coexistence solved? By only one means: talking to each other (see p. 56). An enormous amount of time was spent in public debates. And it never occurred to anyone to exclude even one person from those conversations. This was also radically extended to cases of crime. Even then, only conversation, not power, was applied. When a punishment was finally determined, it was never the responsibility of a singular person who had committed the crime, but a wider network around him who had played a role in some way or another.

    Missionaries and other Westerners who engaged in dialogue with the Native Americans were also impressed by their eloquence and skill in reasoning. They noted that these “savages” attained a degree of competence throughout the tribe against which Europe’s highly educated elite paled in comparison (see p. 57). Indigenous orators such as Huron-Wendat Chief Kondiaronk were invited to Europe for a seat at the table so that nobility and clergy might enjoy their extraordinary rhetoric and reasoning. (Many such Indigenous leaders also mastered European languages.)

    Western culture—which has meanwhile found global acceptance—is going in the opposite direction: the register of linguistic exchange is increasingly being replaced by the register of power. Those who do not subscribe to the prevailing ideology are branded and regarded as someone with whom a decent person is not allowed to speak. I often emphasize that in the current era we need to rediscover and rearticulate the timeless ethical principles of humanity. This is the first one: see in every other human being an individual who has the right to speak and be heard.

    That was a principle of mine long before the corona crisis, a principle that I maintained in my practice, among other places. I worked in my practice as a psychologist with cases where many people would rather not burn their fingers. In 2018, I made the front pages of the newspapers and appeared in De Afspraak after I was called as a witness in the assize trial of a nurse who, in the past, had killed terminally ill patients with insulin and air embolisms. At that trial, I refused to hand over my patient file to the judge for seven hours. My motivation was clear: if I tell someone that I will keep their words in confidence, I will do so. And from a legal-deontological point of view, I think that’s completely justified: past offenses or crimes are never a valid reason to breach professional confidences. My point is this: we must put the act of speaking at the center of society. We must create spaces in which there is complete freedom of speech—with psychologists, doctors, lawyers, priests, coaches, and so on—and we must avoid stigmatization as much as possible and certainly not allow it to make linguistic connection impossible.

    But I had stopped by Alex Jones’s. And he’s not just a conspiracy theorist—he’s a condemned conspiracy theorist. That said enough. No one cared what the point of the conversation was. So let me bring that up a bit. The day before, President Biden had delivered an extremely polarizing speech. In that speech, the president stigmatized the entire MAGA (Make America Great Again) movement. It was hard to avoid the impression that he was trying to provoke them to violence, knowing that this is one of his few opportunities to not look bad in the upcoming midterm elections. Alex Jones asked me to call on his viewers not to respond to the provocation and to refrain from all violence. And that was what I explicitly did, several times. Makes sense, right? I think so. Here’s the question I’m raising: if milder voices—few would disagree that my voice belongs to that group—no longer have a voice on channels that take a more pronounced position, can we be surprised that society is becoming so polarized?

    The Flemish newspapers ignored such questions. I had to be demonized. And they pulled out all the stops. Het Laatste Nieuws published testimony from two anonymous students who described my lectures at the university as pure propaganda and who stated that anyone who had a different opinion than mine was guaranteed to fail the exam. Several students who came to my defense (and were willing to use their names), were rebuffed at Het Laatste Nieuws. Their opinion was not suitable for publication. Which students spoke the truth? It’s pretty simple to find out: all my lectures have been videotaped and can be watched from the first to the last minute. If you do so, you will hear, among other things, how I emphasized in every lecture that I only consider my lessons successful if students dare to express their own opinion, even and especially if it differs radically from mine. And you will also hear that the students who effectively formulated an opinion that differed from mine will be welcomed and encouraged in the most friendly way. Can Het Laatste Nieuws, therefore, be legally prosecuted for defamation? I think so.

    It was suggested left and right that I was not only going to talk to conspiracy theorists but that I was also one myself. The reader should know: I have nothing against conspiracy theorists. I say it sometimes: if they didn’t exist, we should have invented them. But the amusing part of the matter is that I am equally vehemently accused of denying conspiracies. “The Ultimate Anti-Conspiracy Theory” was the title of a review of my book. And in America, Catherine Austin Fitts—former official under the Bush administration and notorious anti-corona activist—and psychiatrist Peter Breggin launched a widespread (alternative) media campaign accusing me of being a so-called Trojan horse. Read: someone paid by the CIA or other government agencies to try and convince the public that there is no conspiracy going on at all. I would say to everyone: read Chapter 8 of Psychology of Totalitarianism carefully. I give my nuanced opinion there about the role that conspiracies play in major social processes.

    A number of my academic colleagues jumped into the pen. And the media gave them the opportunity. Maarten Boudry was one of the first to attend and accused me of “gross overestimation.” In private, I know Maarten Boudry as a friendly person with whom I like to talk and disagree, and I regret that he acquires a certain toxicity in the public space. He wrote an opinion piece that was remarkably emotionally degrading from a stylistic point of view and had a series of errors in content. To give a few examples:

    · No, I’m not saying that everyone is in a state of hypnosis; I say expressly that only a limited part of the population (perhaps somewhere between 20 and 30 percent) falls prey to the hypnotic effects of crowding.

    · And no, I’m not saying that just about everyone is psychotic. In fact, on several occasions, I have explicitly distanced myself from using that term in this context and have not used it once.

    · And no, I have never touted hydroxychloroquine as a panacea for COVID-19.

    · And to say that there have been 23 million deaths from COVID-19 while the World Health Organization counts 6.5 million (with unusually “enthusiastic” counting methods), you should try to reconcile that with the author’s repeated thunder that everything and everyone should follow the scientific consensus.

    · And no Maarten, my prediction that the introduction of the vaccines wouldn’t end the corona measures wasn’t completely off. To the contrary, it was spot on. With autumn arriving, it becomes clearer and clearer every day that countries worldwide will reintroduce the measures.

    A full overview of the glaring inaccuracies in Maarten’s text can be found via this link.

    For me, everyone has the right to write stylistically vulgar and substantively deformed texts in the press, but it does raise the following question with regard to Ghent University: if they set up a scientific integrity committee to investigate my statement about hypnosis, what are they going to do with Maarten Boudry’s opinion piece? One can hardly ignore it: With my work, one had to search deeply to catch a mistake; with Maarten’s text one has to search deeply to find something that is correct. Ghent University, therefore, owes us an answer. Rector Rik Van de Walle has shown great humanity in this matter in various respects, and I am very grateful to him for that, but applying the standard for scientific integrity completely differently is a serious mistake.

    Ignaas Devisch also contributed. Milder than Boudry, but not without its venom. It could happen: he doesn’t share my point of view. At least not anymore. He clearly had some doubts during the crisis—whether to take a critical position or not. But now he has apparently tilted toward the dominant story. That is more or less remarkable in light of the positioning he took before the crisis. He didn’t shy away from the harsh terms to describe the grip of medical science on the life of contemporary humans. In the corona crisis, in which the entire public space was sanctioned by the medical discourse, he apparently no longer notices this. Remarkable indeed. It reminds me of Thomas Decreus, who published articles before the corona crisis in which he referred to “technototalitarianism” but tackled me during the corona crisis because I had stated that there were clearly visible totalitarian tendencies.

    Paul Verhaeghe also fits in this row but is a special case. He was my PhD advisor, and I have maintained a cordial human and professional relationship with him for seventeen years. We shared in many ways the same socially critical attitude, including the same critical position regarding the use of numbers in our culture. Our good relationship continued during the corona crisis. Witness to this is the mention in Verhaeghe’s coronacritical essay “Keep Your Distance, Touch Me.”May I ask you person to person, Paul, why you are now taking part in this attempted intellectual lynching? And that again—as you yourself curiously say without shame—without having read my book? May I ask where this sudden and drastic change in attitude comes from? I will hereby formulate a tentative answer on your behalf: Because of the storm of criticism I received, you have become afraid of being associated with me. And in your fear, you have shown the least beautiful side of yourself—for fear of social disapproval you sacrifice the bond with people who are fond of you and whom you are actually fond of as well.

    In a sense, Ignace Devish, Thomas Decreus, and Paul Verhaeghe are examples of what Joost Meerloo calls mental surrender in his book on totalitarianism, (The Rape of the Mind). Mental surrender refers to the phenomenon that people who were ideologically opposed to one or another ideology suddenly start to adhere to that ideology when it becomes the object of mass formation. The ascension of the masses, including all media outlets and political organs, makes such an enormous impression on individuals that they unknowingly change position and begin to adhere to the mass ideology.

    A special case was the articles by Eva Van Hoorne published in De Wereld Morgen. The author swings heavily but also wildly at me, to such an extent that her statements can hardly be taken seriously anymore. It is difficult to recognize in it anything other than attempts to hurt. Eva Van Hoorne is one of the few people who got blocked from my Facebook page. (I think a total of seven people on a page with 17,000 followers and 5000 friends). They are all people who bombarded me day after day and year after year with dubious accusations and reproaches. I was faced with the difficult choice of either leaving the many attacks unanswered—after all, I only have a limited amount of time—or blocking. I ended up choosing the latter but don’t know if that was the right decision. The words that could no longer be spoken there sought their way out through other channels, and the brewing urges intensified along the way. I must say that, even in the case of Eva, it really saddens me that the gap cannot be bridged by real dialogue. Curiously, I can easily imagine a world in which I would get on well with Eva—she is also passionate about psychoanalysis, has reservations about materialist ideology, and so on. But I can hardly feel anything other than that something is tormenting her and that she is telling it to me. If that’s true, I wonder, dear Eva, whence your torment? What makes you rush so much energy on me? You know you’re always welcome for a chat about it. Sincerely. I mean it.

    I won’t close my mild version of “J’accuse” without throwing a stone at myself as well. I usually do my best to speak in a mild and connecting way, but I still have progress to make. And my statement about hypnosis was certainly misleading. Striving for a speech that is humanized and as sober and sincere as possible is also a constant challenge for me. I will continue to fully cultivate and optimize the Art of Good Speech. For me, that is more or less the essence of my existence.

    After all, there were also a few colleagues who wrote pieces in my defense. Like the students who tried to defend me, their opinion pieces were rejected by all the mainstream newspapers. Their reactions therefore only found a forum on social media. That gives them a different status for most people in society—less worthy—but that doesn’t make them any less good. I therefore thank them with all my heart: Jessica Vereecken, Reitske Meganck, Michaël Verstraeten, Steven d’Arrazola de Onate, Annelies Vanbelle, Steve Van Herreweghe—thank you. Your words are a counterforce to the closing membrane of pretense and stigmatization that is the very disease of our society. And there were also media such as blckbx, ‘t Pallieterke, ‘t Scheldt, and Doorbraak that have struck a different chord. My full gratitude to them as well.

    At present, stigmatization mainly leads to character assassination. But very quickly the process of dehumanization could also go to the next level. A story was constructed around the death of Yannick Verdyck that groans under the stigmas. The question is to what extent stigmas were also the cause of his death. I’m going to treat that question with great caution and gentleness in a future writing. The media narrative around Verdyck is also interesting from an intellectual point of view. It shows how public narratives are created. Diary journalism from the big media conglomerates; some behind-the-scenes gossip in closed Facebook groups; and then a bunch of people, very human, giving free rein to their petty tendencies. The end result is that a story is written about someone without that person being able to help write it. The courage to speak to those who feel really different. That is a sign of a human society. It is that kind of speech that has a binding effect and ensures that society is truly a society. The courage to truly connect through speak. That is what we must take back for ourselves.

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