Eric Hoffer noted that people who are prone to join mass movements tend to join many of them, often going from one to another. It is not unusual for someone to go from one cause then to another that contradicts the prior cause in some way. The old stereotype of the middle-aged woman driving a Volvo festooned with bumper stickers from various causes does not spring from nothing. The vegan activist will be into saving animals, sustainable farming and oppose nuclear energy.
A good recent example of this is the amazing overlap in people who worship Gaia and those who are now Covidians. The people who carry grimy canvas sacks to the market as a sign of their piety are now wearing three masks in the car as they driver alone to the Whole Foods Market. That does not mean all Covidians were Gaia worshippers, but almost all Gaia worshippers embraced Covid. HBD people embracing Covid suggests their interest in biology is something other than empirical.
What is going on here is that humans are hardwired to believe. Like almost all human traits, the need to believe (NTB) trait operates on a spectrum. At one end is the zealot who is consumed and defined by her belief. At the other end is the skeptic who tends not to accept anything at face value. The reason you don’t see skeptics protesting the latest fads is they tend to think protesting is a waste of time. On the other hand, the zealot is ready to act on the slightest provocation.
For most of human history, the NTB was kept under control by settled society through various means. Religion was the main control. The zealots were funneled into the the shared beliefs of the group. The structure of the belief system kept these otherwise unorganized minds from exploring new ways to express their NTB. When that did not work, the belief system had ways to handle the crazies. Maybe they were declared witches or expelled from the community.
The collapse of Christianity as the unifying belief system opened the door for every sort of alternative belief system. Those with a strong NTB were attracted to these new belief systems like communism. The more utopian the ideology, the more attractive it is to those with a strong NTB. It is not an accident that Marxism, for example, has had a profound influence, despite the fact it has never had a broad appeal. A relatively small number of fanatics can accomplish a lot when unified.
The great geneticist J. B. S. Haldane claimed that fanaticism is one of man’s greatest inventions, even though it was not an invention. In reality, fanaticism is just a cognitive trait like any other. The ancients noted that some men would fight like lions while others were more cautious. It was not a big leap from that observation to cultivating this quality to create elite units of warriors. The berserkers in Norse mythology were not insane, but rather the most enthusiastic of their fighters.
Today, the berserkers are those ready to lecture the rest of us about the latest edicts from the high priests of Covid. These people are irrational or insane. They are the simply most enthusiastic of believers. Their NTB goes to eleven, while everyone else stops at ten. It is why they never notice the contradictions. If you point out that Fauci can never keep his story straight, it bounces right off of them. It is not that they do not understand, it is that their NTB overrides reason.
Even the most fanatical believer, however, is prone to doubt. Since the bulk of believers are not berserkers, this means the bulk of any mass movement is made up of people in need of regular affirmation. Here is an example in the ironically named Popular Science instructing the faithful on how to tease affirmation out of their loved ones. Note that the first item on the list is the justification for trying to convert those who have yet to accept Covid in their life. The religious overtones are not hard to miss.
Note the term “vaccine hesitancy”. They cannot allow for disconfirmation, so the assumed model is one camp are those who have accepted Covid and those who have yet to accept Covid. The latter group is just scared and uninformed, so it is incumbent upon the former group to guide them to the light. All of sudden. being an annoying pest about Covid is transformed into a righteous cause that proves to the believer that she is on the side of angels, saving mankind from evil.
Also note the communitarian aspect of modern mass movements. We have to sit in the dark and walk to work because we all share the same earth. If one person refuses to use those grimy canvas sacks, then we all suffer! Similarly, the vaccine is a community good that only works when everyone is vaccinated. As long as there is one disbeliever in our midst, we will continue to be punished. The only thing missing from the Covidian toolkit is the flagellants whipping themselves in public.
What Covid has revealed is that the only path out of the madness that is infecting the West is to sort out how to manage the fanatics. That is easier said than done, as it means creating a new religion and prying these people out of power. It also means that political power alone is not enough. As long as the fanatic population is left to operate like a hive without a queen, they will keep finding new queens. Usually, those queens will be seeking dominion of the rest of society.
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