Dec 8, 2021

Mattias Desmet


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Savage Minds
This podcast takes on investigative current events, social commentary, the arts & politics through discussions with experts in the field.
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Mattias Desmet, Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Department of Psychology and Educational Sciences of Ghent University, discusses how the handling of the coronavirus pandemic has lacked a rational approach such that measures used to mitigate the transmission of the virus may potentially claim more victims than the virus itself. Examining how mass formation functions within the current socio-political situation of a global pandemic whereby the political “solutions” offered up result in people being unable to take any critical distance from what is happening, Desmet elaborates the current atomisation of the individual upon which totalitarian power relies and notes how mass formation emerges from the “belly of the population.” Desmet analyses how large-scale mass formation emerges in society when specific conditions are met—social isolation, the lack of meaning in life, free-floating anxiety, and frustration and aggression—all interacting to create a situation whereby society is extremely vulnerable to the rise of a totalitarian state. Desmet details mass formation describing how a narrative is circulated about an anxiety (eg. a virus) while also providing a strategy (eg. lockdowns) for dealing with the collective anxiety over a global pandemic such that the previous free-floating anxieties of the masses permit the subject to connect to the collective object of anxiety, the virus. In this way populations are willing to participate in the strategy of the pandemic such that their free-floating anxieties and frustrations find grounding in a real anxiety, thus creating a new—if not problematic—social bond and meaning-making where the aggressions and frustrations are now directed at those who refuse to participate in this mass formation. Desmet compares this process to hypnosis whereby all of society’s psychological energy is directed at the pandemic while the masses are uniquely focussed upon the victims that the virus might claim while they are not at all concerned with the potentially greater collateral damage of the measures they support.