Crystallization, Madness and Tyranny

Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough: there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own.

There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence: and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism.

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill

That famous quote actually came about because Mill – the son of a famous economist who also contributed to the somewhat crude theory of utilitarianism (as did his son), which I must admit increasingly dominates our world, especially now – was in the end influenced and changed by that close observer of democracy, Tocqueville, and his notion of the tyranny of the majority, who pointed out that the tyranny unique to democracy gave rise to “the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion” in the social sphere, in our so-called free societies. It moved Mill to write his great plea for free speech.

The reason this came up in my reading was due to a lengthy (38 pages) and very thoughtful article published in Tablet magazine, Needle Points, which attempts to explore the world of “vaccine hesitancy” from an intellectual medical standpoint rather than the crude and simple-minded abuse that fills the screens of the MSM and more than a little of FaceTwit (full PDF version here). The author, Norman Doidge, is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and author of The Brain That Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing.

He writes of one insight into vaccination from his days at medical school:

At times modern science and modern medicine seem based on a fantasy that imagines the role of medicine is to conquer nature, as though we can wage a war against all microbes with “antimicrobials” to create a world where we will no longer suffer from infectious disease. Vaccination is not based on that sterile vision but its opposite; it works with our educable immune system, which evolved millions of years ago to deal with the fact that we must always coexist with microbes; it helps us to use our own resources to protect ourselves. Doing so is in accord with the essential insight of Hippocrates, who understood that the major part of healing comes from within, that it is best to work with nature and not against it.

It is an unusual aspect of modern medicine, which can seem overly “cold and clinical”, the stereotype of that term in fact. He writes of the two sides of what he calls the behavioral immune system:

… ever since they were made available, vaccines have been controversial, and it has almost always been difficult to have a nonemotionally charged discussion about them. One reason is that in humans (and other animals), any infection can trigger an archaic brain circuit in most of us called the behavioral immune system (BIS). It’s a circuit that is triggered when we sense we may be near a potential carrier of disease, causing disgust, fear, and avoidance. It is involuntary, and not easy to shut off once it’s been turned on.

It’s useful, but:

One of the reasons our discussions of vaccination are so emotionally radioactive, inconsistent, and harsh, is that the BIS is turned on in people on both sides of the debate. Those who favor vaccination are focused on the danger of the virus, and that triggers their system. Those who don’t are focused on the fact that the vaccines inject into them a virus or a virus surrogate or even a chemical they think may be poisonous, and that turns on their system. Thus both sides are firing alarms (including many false-positive alarms) that put them in a state of panic, fear, loathing, and disgust of the other.

And now these two sides of the vaccination debate are tearing America apart. . .

America? The world.

We see it firing every day now, when someone drives alone wearing a mask, or goes for a walk by themselves in an empty forest masked, or when someone—say with good health and no previous known adverse reactions to vaccines—hears that a vaccine can in one in 500,000 cases cause death, but can’t take any comfort that they have a 99.999% chance of it not happening because it potentially can. Before advanced brain areas are turned on and probabilities are factored in, the BIS is off and running.

Meh. The human brain is not equipped to understand probability. But the aspect of a mass of numbers is not just about probability but something more viciously concrete:

It seems to me especially vital that we broaden our understanding of the history and current state of vaccines because, over the summer, many who chose vaccination for themselves concluded that it is acceptable to mandate vaccines for others, including those who are reluctant to get them. That majority entered a state of “crystallization”–a term I borrow from the French novelist Stendhal, who applied it to the moment when a person first falls in love: Feelings that may have been fluid become solid, clear, and absolute, leading to all-or-nothing thinking, such that even the beloved’s blemishes become signs of their perfection.

Crystallization, as I’m using it here, happens within a group that has been involved in a major dispute. For a while there is an awareness that some disagreement is in play, and people are free to have different opinions. But at a certain point–often hard to predict and impossible to measure because it is happening in the wider culture and not necessarily at the ballot box–both sides of the dispute become aware that, within this mass of human beings, there is now a winner. One might say that a consensus arises that there is now a majority consensus. Suddenly, certain ideas and actions must be applauded, voiced, obeyed, and acted on, while others are off limits.

It sounds like witch burning, or perhaps in a less damaging form, a version of the focus of the famous book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. But Doidge brings us back to Tocqueville:

One person who understood how this works intuitively was Alexis de Tocqueville. In democracies, as long as there is not yet a majority opinion, a range of views can be expressed, and it appears there is a great “liberty of opinion,” to use his phrase.

But once a majority opinion forms, it acquires a sudden social power, and it brings with it pressure to end dissent. A powerful new kind of censorship and coercion begins in everyday life (at work, school, choir, church, hospitals, in all institutions) as the majority turns on the minority, demanding it comply. Tocqueville, like James Madison, was concerned about this “the tyranny of the majority,” which he saw as the Achilles’ heel of democracy.

It isn’t only because divisiveness created a minority faction steeped in lingering resentment; it’s also because minorities can sometimes be more right than majorities (indeed, emerging ideas are, by definition, minority ideas to start with). The majority overtaking the minority could mean stamping out thoughts and actions that would otherwise generate progress and forward movement.

Historian Victor Davis Hanson made that point about Western societies, especially democracies, many times in his book Carnage and Culture. I think we’re losing that in our technocratic age, dominated by giant monopoly IT companies that increasingly control our discourse.

It is a fascinating moment when this sort of crystallization happens in a mass culture like America’s, because seemingly overnight even the definition of legitimate speech (or thought or action) also changes. Tocqueville observed that quite abruptly a person can no longer express opinions or raise questions that only days before were acceptable, even though no facts of the matter have changed. At an individual level, people who were within the bounds can be surprised to find themselves “tormented by the slights and persecutions of daily obloquy.” Once this occurs, he wrote, “your fellow-creatures will shun you like an impure being, and those who are most persuaded of your innocence will abandon you too, lest they should be shunned in their turn.”

We are so close to this here in New Zealand. Far closer than in the federated world of the USA, where actual states, almost nations in themselves, can chart different courses. But in a nation state such as ours there is only one course, that determined by Parliamentary Supremacy, boosted by a majority government not anticipated by the supporters if MMP. The only reason I voted for National in 2002 was precisely to prevent Helen Clark, competent as she was, getting FPP control.

And so…

A June 2021 Gallup poll found that, among the vaccinated, 53% now worry most about those choosing not to get vaccinated, “surpassing concerns about lack of social distancing in their area (27%), availability of local hospital resources and supplies (11%), and availability of coronavirus tests in their area (5%).” True to the BIS’s impulses, this fear is metastasizing into disgust, even hatred, of those who–because they believe or act differently–are now perceived as threats: On Aug. 26, in a front-page story in the Toronto Star, my local newspaper, a resident was quoted as saying: “I have no empathy left for the willfully unvaccinated. Let them die.”

Heh. I have seen much the same on FaceTwit from (now former) friends and acquaintances. You can read the rest of the analysis in these sections.

CHAPTER II: The kernel brilliance of vaccines

CHAPTER III: A new plague descends

CHAPTER IV: Getting out

But one aspect of the crystallization that amuses/bemuses me is summarised very well by the following point from the article:

As of a September 2019 Gallup poll, only a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic, Big Pharma was the least trusted of America’s 25 top industry sectors, No. 25 of 25. In the eyes of ordinary Americans, it had both the highest negatives and the lowest positives of all industries.

At No. 24 was the federal government, and at No. 23 was the health care industry. These three industries form a neat troika (though at No. 22 was the advertising and public relations industry, which facilitates the work of the other three.)

Those inside the troika often characterize the vaccine hesitant as broadly fringe and paranoid. But there are plenty of industries and sectors that Americans do trust. Of the top 25 U.S. industry sectors, 21 enjoy net positive views from American voters. Only pharma, government, health care, and PR are seen as net negative: precisely the sectors involved in the rollout of the COVID vaccines. This set the conditions, in a way, for a perfect storm.

You know who probably were the dominant members of those untrusting American souls on “Big Pharma” and the “Health Care” industry pre-Covid-19?

The Left. In the USA, the Democrats. Here, Labour and the Greens.

Politics and the madness of crowds can work miracles in changing people’s minds. As the Joker said in The Dark Knight:

Madness, as you know, is like gravity.
All it takes is a little push”



13 responses to “Crystallization, Madness and Tyranny”

  1. Tom Hunter Avatar
    Tom Hunter

    Here’s yet another example I found after writing this post, Top Medical News Site Lies About Doctors:

    The most dangerous example of the politicization of medical news is the attempt to smear opponents with the false anti-vaccine label. Contrary to the claim by Medpage Today, the benefits of COVID vaccines are “readily accessible on the Brownstone website.”

    The three GBD authors all favor vaccines, two have long careers as vaccine researchers, and none have spread any “vaccine misinformation.” To publish a claim that falsely alleges that the anti-vaccine movement has the support of professors of medicine and epidemiology at Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford universities is damaging for vaccine confidence. Such a false charge is highly irresponsible, damages public health, and is unworthy of Medpage Today.

    The start of the article notes that Medpage Today is a medical news site popular among doctors. Many physicians get their pandemic information from it and yet:

    Surprisingly, the editorial board does not have much say over the journalistic content, as we have learned it was the non-medical editorial staff who refused to make the factual corrections.

    A tale of the times.

  2. Andrei Avatar

    Way too cerebral Tom!

    Missing the wood for the trees perhaps.

    Re-imagining an endemic virus as a new and deadly plague with the help of 21st century PR and propaganda techniques creates a crisis that can only be resolved by Big Government interventions

    There is no way a safe and successful vaccine can be developed in months any more than you can build a high speed rail link between Auckland and Hamilton in months – the polio vaccine took over a decade to develop and there were many casualties along the way, as anyone who is well read knows

    Despite the PR big pharma hasn’t actually come up with a good vaccine for flu yet

    Yet we are supposed to believe that if everybody submits to this snake oil sickness and death will be a thing of the past, and believe this in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary

    The communities that took the least notice of the “pandemic™” from the get go are the communities that are those that a least effected by it today.

    But the psychopaths who call the shots are wallowing like pigs in shit with the power and control they have gained over us with their bogus pandemic™

    1. Tom Hunter Avatar
      Tom Hunter

      Way too cerebral Tom!

      Ha! Certainly I’m taking a risk at turning off readers by referring them to a 38 page article, but it’s something to bookmark and ponder, and hopefully the synopsis will tempt people to think more deeply about the madness in which we are now sinking.

      I see Hipkins talking about “other measures” that the Labour government may take in 2022 should cases surge in the face of their precious 90% vax rate. Clearly he and the rest have a nervous eye on what’s happening in Europe, and highly vaxxed places like Ireland and Gibralter.

      I’d like to think that they’ll stop talking about “cases” (which look like failure) and focus on the low death rate (which they can claim as success), realising that the constant fear that’s helped them so far will now be hurting them. But I have this terrible feeling that with autistics like Hendy, Baker and Wiles as advisors, the government will be panicked into measure like we’re seeing in Europe; lockdowns and 100% vaccine mandates. I see that Ardern has denied, in the face of a point-blank question, that they’ll take the latter step but in the wake of her denial last year about consequences for the unvaccinated she’s simply not believable.

    2. Andrei Avatar

      I read it all with interest Tom

      The problem is in the age of twitter how do you cut through the crap.

      One of the issues is there is no clear cut definition of what a COVID-19 death is, it is a malleable thing

      Patient with well developed heart disease of long standing presents at ED with all the symptoms of heart failure

      pre 2020 is treated using best practice protocols but dies any way – business as usual

      post 2020 same patient is now tested for the presence latest variant of the common cold virus and has a positive response, same outcome, medical science is unable to preserve their life but now this is a sign the sky is falling and their death is added to the “grim total”

      It has actually been suggested since early last year that exposure to other corona viruses confers immunity to COVID-19, nearly seventy percent of the Crew and passengers on Diamond Princess never returned a positive response to the Covid test and half of those that did showed no symptoms

      This simple fix to all of this might be for everybody to go out and catch another more benign variant of the common cold which would actually be analogous to how smallpox was defeated

  3. Paranormal Avatar

    Thanks Tom an interesting read.

    As a ‘wilfully unvaccinated’ individual I do experience the crystallisation of the vaccinated regularly. Especially when they’re told I am 99.97% protected from Covid and 100% protected from mRNA vaccine harm, they don’t get it.

    Clearly, according to them, I just want to kill Grannies. No amount of science will change their propaganda driven opinions.

  4. fredonas Avatar

    The “crystallization” concept appears to be analogous to what other psychologists have described as “mass formation” or “mass hysteria” where people experience fear and anxiety that leads them to accept comforting “facts” to allay their fear and anxiety and then they experience the same fear and anxiety if these “facts” are challenged by new information or counterarguments. Very interesting insights into how the mind works.

  5. Phil S Avatar
    Phil S

    Great article Tom, keep them coming. Not everything needs to drop to the CRT level of uneducation. Have a listen to the Glenn Loury podcast with Peter Robinson on uncommon knowledge.

  6. Lucia Maria Avatar
    Lucia Maria

    You’ve been tweeted, Tom!

    Must read for the more cerebral among us by my friend Tom Hunter, on No Minister:Crystallization, Madness and Tyranny via @wordpressdotcom— Lucia Maria (@LuciaMariaNZ) November 26, 2021

    1. Tom Hunter Avatar
      Tom Hunter

      Haha. Thanks. And you have how many followers…????? 🙂

    2. Lucia Maria Avatar
      Lucia Maria

      Yeah, not that many. 😛

      I’ve hardly tweeted over the years, it was mostly automated for each post NZC did. That automated thing has been broken for years and I can’t be bothered fixing it.

      Anyway, it’s a relatively new thing for me, using it more than once in a while. But I have been getting into it recently, it’s a very strange way of communicating that weirdly addictive. Still trying to figure out how it works as such, tracking back conversations is a little obscure.

      Anyway, just wanted to let you know rather than tweet without reference. 🙂

    3. Lucia Maria Avatar
      Lucia Maria

      So much nicer to reply in a longer comment box, I feel incredibly boxed in when tweeting. It’s like firing out more noise into the universe, so if a tweet goes out and no one reads it, did it really happen. That kind of thing.

  7. Tom Hunter Avatar
    Tom Hunter

    it’s a very strange way of communicating that weirdly addictive.

    Ooooo – scary. I spoke to Milt a few months ago and found out that he’s fallen into Twitter world too and is lost to us. 😳 😬

    At least temporarily I hope.

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