The peril of mass man

I was reading some Jung over the weekend, specifically The Undiscovered Self, when I came across a passage that resonated strongly with me. It put me in mind of the anti-vaxxers out there who continue to protest, ever more pathetically, and threatening more violent action to get their message across. But then, I think it also applies to the tribes on social media, so adamant about their views and closed off to any variation to it.

This is the passage…

All mass movements, as one might expect, slip with the greatest ease down an inclined plane represented by large numbers. Where the many are, there is security; what the many believe must of course be true; what the many want must be worth striving for, and necessary, and therefore good. In the clamor of the many there lies the power to snatch wish- fulfillments by force; sweetest of all, however, is that gentle and painless slipping back into the kingdom of childhood, into the paradise of parental care, into happy-go-luckiness and irresponsibility. All the thinking and looking after are done from the top; to all questions there is an answer; and for all needs the necessary provision is made. The infantile dream state of the mass man is so unrealistic that he never thinks to ask who is paying for this paradise. The balancing of accounts is left to a higher political or social authority, which welcomes the task, for its power is thereby increased; and the more power it has, the weaker and more helpless the individual becomes.
Wherever social conditions of this type develop on a large scale the road to tyranny lies open and the freedom of the individual turns into spiritual and physical slavery. Since every tyranny is ipso facto immoral and ruthless, it has much more freedom in the choice of its methods than an institution which still takes account of the individual. Should such an institution come into conflict with the organized State, it is soon made aware of the very real disadvantage of its morality and therefore feels compelled to avail itself of the same methods as its opponent. In this way the evil spreads almost of necessity, even when direct infection might be avoided. The danger of infection is greater where decisive importance is attached to large numbers and statistical values, as is every- where the case in our Western world. The suffocating power of the masses is paraded before our eyes in one form or another every day in the newspapers, and the insignificance of the individual is rubbed into him so thoroughly that he loses all hope of making himself heard. The outworn ideals of liberté, égalité, fraternité help him not at all, as he can direct this appeal only to his executioners, the spokesmen of the masses.

But then, rereading it, I’m sure that many anti-vaxxers would claim it’s just this that they’re protesting against in their misguided way. I think Jung captures very well why people flock to such beliefs in the first paragraph. But it’s true in general of human nature, I think.

It’s understandable, and if we’re aware of it, then the danger of it, the ‘evil’ as Jung calls it, is somewhat mitigated. We rarely have such awareness, however. It’s a condition of this delusion that we become blind to all else.

Jung goes on:

Resistance to the organized mass can be effected only by the man who is as well organized in his individuality as the mass itself.

He goes on to say how unlikely and difficult that is, and gives some convincing reasons why. I accept that man is an imperfect being. We’re torn in different directions and have forces, both internal and external, constantly at play upon us. The fact that we need the comfort of the mass is one explanation of that.

In my view, we need only ask questions and maintain an open mind. Easy peasy! What is an open mind? Who’s to judge an independent faculty? Even critical though – much out of fashion these days – is subject to hidden bias, I would think.

As said, we’re imperfect. We have flaws. All I can suggest is that we attempt to rise above mass thought and reaction. And maybe read the book. Knowledge is a good thing, and the more we understand ourselves the healthier our society will be.

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