Mass Formation, Mimetic Contagion, and Scapegoating
On why we tend to vilify and exclude those we disagree with, especially during times of social stress.
My friend and colleague Dr. Mary Talley Bowden recently posed this important question, which has puzzled many people during the pandemic:
Jesse Kelly @JesseKellyDCI really am fascinated by this. I’m sure some smart head doctor can tell me what this is and why some people do it. Why do some people allow themselves to be so consumed by the news cycle, they’ll actually ostracize friends and family over it? I think it’s so bizarre.
I suggest that two accounts of social psychology—the mass formation theory of Matthias Desmet and the mimetic contagion theory of Rene Girard, help to answer this question. These two theories also go a long way toward explaining some of the more puzzling behaviors we saw emerge during the pandemic. The first theory, mass formation, was brought to public attention when my friend Robert Malone briefly summarized it on Joe Rogan’s podcast. The internet blew up as people searched to learn more about the concept. The tech overlords at Google intervened to bury information on the theory when people searched for “mass formation”. This interview landed Malone in permanent Twitter prison and brought the furies down on Rogan.
But Desmet’s theory is based on a body of sound social theory and psychology that has accumulated over the past hundred years. As Professor Desmet of the University of Ghent describes, under conditions of mass formation, people buy into a narrative not because it is true, but because it cements a social bond they desperately need.
Mass (or crowd) formation emergences in a society under very specific conditions. The first condition is that people experience a lack of connectedness to other people, a lack of meaningful social bonds. Consider the the loneliness epidemic which was worsened by the lockdowns. Our only bonds were virtual, an impoverished replacement for real human connection.