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Mass Psychosis: The Global Epidemic of The Mind
By Nityananda Dasa
"The masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error if error seduces them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master. Whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim."
- Gustave Le Bon, a French social psychologist.
A French philosopher, author and man of knowledge named Gustave Le Bon in his most popular work titled "The Crowd”, argued that the conscious personality of the individual in a crowd is submerged into the group mentality, and that the collective crowd mind dominates; crowd behavior is more unanimous, emotional, and intellectually weaker. Le Bon argues that when people come together as a crowd, their individual intelligence and character are compromised. Instead, they form a collective mind that influences thought and action. Crowd members can acquire a feeling of invincibility that allows them to do things they otherwise would not do. He believes that the collective crowd mind has a difficult time discriminating right from wrong and is easily influenced by extreme ideas due to its emotional and intellectually weak nature.
While analyzing how the beliefs of the collective crowd manifest and spread, Le Bon provides the following three key points by which group consciousness is influenced.
1. Affirmation: pure and simple messages that are free of reasoning and proof.
2. Repetition: incessant repetition of the affirmation makes the inconceivable eventually facts in the crowd's mind.
3. Contagion: once an affirmation message establishes its ground, the message will spread like a virus among the public.
These three key points shed light on the mechanisms through which collective consciousness is influenced within a crowd. Affirmation, repetition, and contagion play crucial roles in shaping the beliefs and actions of individuals, even when such beliefs have no reasonable grounds, leading to what can be described as mass psychosis.
Affirmation is a powerful tool that reinforces our desire for certainty and simplicity. Because of this, when presented with simple messages without reasoning, it becomes easier for people to accept them without critical evaluation.
Repetition further solidifies these affirmations within the group. The constant reinforcement of a particular message, even if it lacks factual basis, gradually transforms it into an accepted truth in the minds of the crowd. Repetition exploits the psychological phenomenon known as the illusory truth effect, which suggests that people tend to perceive repeated information as more valid or accurate, regardless of whether it makes sense or not.
Once the affirmation has been reinforced through repetition, it spreads like a virus among the public. The contagious nature of ideas within a crowd setting is fueled by the human tendency to conform to prevailing opinions. With more individuals adopting the repeated message, it gains momentum and popularity, often reaching a tipping point where the message becomes a part of everyday life and is accepted as a fundamental belief for everyone, despite the lack of evidence or logic.
By distancing oneself from society through the use of intelligence, an individual can observe a multitude of these preconceived ideas that are widely accepted without any questioning. The main idea currently infecting the global crowd is the false notion to believe that we are just the combination of chemicals, forming the body and mind. Even though there are no factual grounds for one to believe this nor is there any clear proof to confirm this idea, yet it is still accepted as a fact from one’s very birth. One may wonder why this is so?
Affirmation, Repetition, Contagion.
The affirmation of this false idea starts with a simple proposition; “What we are is simply a combination of chemicals that form our body and mind, and the way these chemicals then choose to interact with the environment shapes our individual character.”
This false, illusory idea is engrained in one’s mind by repetition at every step in one’s life, starting from the moment of birth, as stated in the Srimad Bhagavatam (3.31.20 purport) by Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada:
"As long as the child is within the womb of its mother, it is in a very precarious and horrible condition of life. But the benefit is that it revives pure consciousness of its relationship with the Supreme Lord and prays for deliverance. However, once it is outside the abdomen, when a child is born, maya, or the illusory energy, is so strong that it immediately overpowers it into considering its body to be itself. Maya means 'illusion' or that which is actually not. In the material world, everyone is identifying with their body. This false egoistic consciousness of 'I am this body' develops after the child comes out of the womb. The mother and other relatives are awaiting the child, and as soon as it is born, the mother feeds it, and everyone takes care of it. The living entity soon forgets its position and becomes entangled in bodily relationships. The entire material existence is entanglement in this bodily conception of life. Real knowledge means to develop the consciousness of 'I am not this body. I am a spirit soul, an eternal part and parcel of the Supreme Lord.' Real knowledge entails renunciation or non-acceptance of this body as the self."
Once ensnared with the ropes of maya or illusion, taking the body as the self, the last part of the infectious disease, is easily spread due to its contagious nature. It runs rampant, infecting the entire population not only on planet Earth but all planets in all material existence. Whether individuals or grouped in a big crowd, no one is safe from the tight grip of maya. Society is plagued with this infectious disease today more than ever, aimlessly satisfying the senses and the temporary body by chasing the fleeting pleasures, making this the end goal of life while forgetting to satisfy the eternal soul.
Sometimes, however, an individual may, with sufficient use of intelligence, theoretically understand the fault in chasing ever-fading temporary sense pleasure. Such a person may understand the dangers of the widespread, globally accepted epidemic of the mind, where everyone around him accepts the body as the self and works aimlessly for it’s satisfaction. He may question the very essence of these activities and their necessity, but the material illusory energy of Krsna, also called Maya, is so strong that this individual will nonetheless continue in his nonsensical activities, not wanting to upset the collective group mentality of the crowd, therefore conforming to the crowd and eventually accepting illusion as his master.
Such a person is tightly bound by ropes, and for them, there is no escape, either by logic, understanding, or intelligence. There is only one way out for such a conditioned soul.
“It is to be understood that the conditioned soul is tightly tied by the ropes of illusion. A man bound by the hands and feet cannot free himself – he must be helped by a person who is unbound. Because the bound cannot help the bound, the rescuer must be liberated. Therefore, only Lord Kṛṣṇa or His bona fide representative, the spiritual master, can release the conditioned soul. Without such superior help, one cannot be freed from the bondage of material nature. Devotional service, or Kṛṣṇa consciousness, can help one gain such release. Kṛṣṇa, being the Lord of the illusory energy, can order this insurmountable energy to release the conditioned soul. He orders this release out of His causeless mercy on the surrendered soul and out of His paternal affection for the living entity, who is originally a beloved son of the Lord. Therefore, surrendering unto the lotus feet of the Lord is the only means to get free from the clutches of the stringent material nature.” (Bg 7.14 Purport)