Cognitive dissonance is a bitch. Ever since a certain YouTube video appeared, the problem of mass psychosis has been discussed far more widely than ever before. For the record, I was one of the first to watch it, as it appeared in my feed mere hours after it was published. Anyway, while I had intended my next post to be either another GAG file about spooky language or some more lore about the Nine Empires, I would like to elaborate on a comment that I posted in response to Shaista Justin on LinkedIn, because there is a character limit on LinkedIn comments, and I have too much to say on the subject.

Anyone who creates a system of mass psychosis does so with malicious intent, but that doesn’t mean all who actively participate in the system also do so from a place of malice. This is especially true of religion. In the modern day, most new religions die (sometimes, along with their followers) quite quickly, and are dismissed simply as “cults.” It should be noted that, in the common vernacular, the word “cult” is far more simplistic and derogatory in its meaning than in either clinical rhetoric or historical context, but I’m not going to discuss that here. For now, just keep in mind that every religion started out as what we would call a “cult,” and Christianity is no exception.

Whenever religion has rule over law, it is a net negative for society, because it puts religious doctrine ahead of both truth and personal liberty. However, though it is a net negative, not all aspects of religion are negative. Religion provides many good things for people, otherwise it would not be so popular. Religions may be formed by individuals who have no motive other than control, but they are adopted and propagated by individuals who have benevolent intent, and who also value truth. Since the truth can stand up to scrutiny, true believers of any religion are far more likely to engage with ideological opponents than grifters. As a religion ages, it becomes more common for its adherents to be open-minded true believers, rather than grifting intellectual cowards.

Though most people think of the Roman Catholic Church as an obstacle to scientific progress, people need to remember that the oldest European universities were all founded by the Church for the purpose of educating the clergy. The curriculum was four years: medicine, mathematics, law, and rhetoric, and after completion, the student would be ordained as a priest. Priests were not only preachers, they were also advisors to nobles, and acted in many other civic capacities according to rank. A knight or baron, for instance, may have taken personal council from a mere priest, whereas a duke would take council from a bishop, and a king would take council from a cardinal. Priests may have also dabbled in naturalistic pursuits, contributing their knowledge of the natural world to the university in turn. The very first “scientists,” i.e. those who acted in such a capacity before the word “science” was even coined, were all aspiring Catholic priests at one point. So long as none of the knowledge discovered through naturalism conflicted with Catholic doctrine, there was no reason to stifle any such pursuits. The problem arose when the geocentric model of the Solar System was challenged – and we all know how that went. For the record, geocentricity is an Aristotelian idea – the actual Christian doctrine explicity describes the Earth as flat, and that the sun and moon are both inside it, though even most YECs don’t believe that.

Had the Catholic Church wished to retain complete control over European society, then it would have not been so lenient concerning the intellectual pursuits of its aspiring clergy. While the Church may have been founded for the sole purpose of controlling people’s minds, that was a thousand years before the hypothesis of the Heliocentric Solar System was first proposed, and, coincidentally, the invention of the printing press, the latter of which helped to start the Protestant Reformation. While it is true that the Church did not want common people reading the bible (nope, still not capitalising), had the Catholic Church actually qualified as a cult, the Church would have done everything in its power to stifle technological progress, rather than encourage it. Actual cults adhere rather strictly to something called the BITE model – Behaviour, Information, Thought, and Emotion control. Though the Church sought to control all of these initially, not only was that control very difficult to enforce, but over the course of a thousand years, it was gradually relinquished in favour of a less theocratic civic model. I could write an entire book on the subject of how, in its efforts to bring more people into the Christian fold, the Catholic Church had no choice but to integrate pagan traditions (Christmas being a particularly famous example), so I won’t bore you with every detail of how the Church stretched itself thin while also being undermined from within, sometimes even at the highest level.

My favourite example of an escape from mass psychosis is the collapse of the Soviet Union, not because of what I know (I know more Soviet history than even the average communist professor, incidentally), but because of what I don’t know. I could explain, in great detail, precisely the mentality that existed in Russia in 1917, and what sort of sentiments had been simmering since 1905 at least. I could also explain precisely why Stalin rose to power and was able to dispose of Trotsky, Lenin’s heir apparent, with relative ease. I could explain why Khrushchëv was such a failure, and even why the Soviet Union persisted in spite of his blunders. However, there is one major gap in my knowledge of Soviet history: what the general sentiment was in the country round the time I was born. For those of you who don’t know, whenever I meet a new friend from the former USSR, and they ask my age, I respond “I was born when the Soviet Union collapsed.” To be precise, I was born three weeks after the collapse, though I don’t know how accurate my official birth-date actually is – I tell people I was born in St. Petersburg, but for all I know, I was actually born in Leningrad. Anyway, this gap my knowledge is largely due to two things: with one exception, anyone I know who grew up in the Soviet Union defected to America in the 1980s. As for anyone I know who lives in Russia, they are, again with one exception, all younger than me. Knowing what I know about Russian culture, however, I would not be surprised if the mass psychosis had died along with Stalin himself, because unlike every other Russian leader, Stalin had a large personality cult (every politician has one, by the way, but seldom is it large enough to extend to the entire system of government). Most Russians don’t care about politics, so give them democracy, and they probably won’t bother to vote, especially if their own lives are reasonably comfortable. To over-simplify for the western observer, Russian culture is effectively “do whatever you must to survive, and if it’s illegal, just don’t talk about it.” This has seemingly always been the case – under the tsars, under the Soviets (even Stalin), and it’s still true now. What strikes me as odd is that the collapse of the USSR took the rest of the world by complete surprise, apparently. Perhaps if I can’t get an answer to the question I seek about Russia, I may have to get it…

…from China. Don’t check your calendar just yet, but China has been communist (at least in name) for about as long as Russia was. My point is that, despite the incessant and ludicrously over-reaching power plays, both domestically and internationally, China may be on the verge of collapse. After all, an animal is most dangerous when wounded, and while the CCP may be willing to sacrifice every aspect of communism except the nifty-looking symbolism (you have to admit, the hammer-and-sickle looks cool) in order to maintain political stability, how far can they go before they lose control? I don’t know what the situation is like on the inside, but if the Epoch Times and the Podcast of the Lotus Eaters are anything to go by, it would seem that the CCP itself is on the verge of collapse. The party members are certainly frightened, which is why they have been in full damage-control mode for the past year-and-a-half, between both the virus that we’re not allowed to talk about and the election that we’re not allowed to question the results of. Despite all the bravado, I suspect that the Chinese government may collapse any day now, and we’ll all soon learn precisely how that happened.

The point of all this is that mass psychosis is something that people who fall into may not be able to escape – it may be something that takes generations, particularly when the psychosis is systemic. After all, it is easier to get someone to believe a lie than to convince them they’ve been lied to. Delusions are easier to create than to destroy. The process of succumbing to and recovering from delusions is also considerably quicker with individuals than with societies, hence the longer lifespans of mainstream religions than tiny cults.

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