How Ideas can Trigger a Mass Psychosis | Academy of Ideas

“Man does not make his ideas; we could say that man’s ideas make him.”


“In itself, every idea is neutral, or should be; but man animates ideas, projects his flames and flaws into them; impure, transformed into beliefs, ideas take their place in time, take shape as events: the trajectory is complete, from logic to epilepsy . . . whence the birth of ideologies, doctrines, deadly games.
Idolaters by instinct, we convert the objects of our dreams and our interests into the Unconditional History is nothing but a procession of false Absolutes, a series of temples raised to pretexts, a degradation of the mind before the Improbable. Even when he turns from religion, man remains subject to it; depleting himself to create fake gods, he then feverishly adopts them: his need for fiction, for mythology triumphs over evidence and absurdity alike.”

CIORAN, Genealogy of Fanaticism

Ideas are the seeds of our greatest creations, but they can also sow destruction. Ideas, when put into action, lead to individual and social flourishing or to individual suffering and social ruin. And certain ideas, as we will explore in this video, can induce a mass psychosis and motivate individuals to commit acts of such cruelty and depravity that to an outside observer the society will appear to be possessed by evil.

Reflecting on the mass psychosis that broke out across Europe in the mid-20th century and that led to multiple wars and multiple genocides, Carl Jung wrote the following:  

“Just when people were congratulating themselves on having abolished [the belief in demons], it turned out that instead of haunting the attic or old ruins the [demons] were flitting about in the heads of apparently normal Europeans. Tyrannical, obsessive, intoxicating ideas and delusions were abroad everywhere, and people began to believe the most absurd things, just as the possessed do.” 

Carl Jung, After the Catastophe

Jung devoted his life to studying the psyche of man and was acutely aware of how ideas influence individual and social development. We must, therefore, be careful which ideas we affirm and which we deny and this is especially true with regards to our ideas about human nature, the human potential and the proper structure of society. For this set of ideas helps determine our value system impelling us to act in certain ways and to strive after certain things. These ideas are an integral component of our moral compass teaching us what is right and wrong, what to love and hate. And our ideas about human nature place bounds, wide or small, on our potential at both an individual and collective scale… [+]