There is an ancient principle of the common law, whereby it is held that the people may do everything except that which they have expressly forbidden, and the state may do nothing except that which the people have expressly permitted. How did this principle come to be unstitched and reversed in the past three months? How did the people come to agree to its reversal?
In search of answers, I have been reflecting a lot on a phrase I transcribed into a notebook years ago from Martin Amis’s Koba the Dread: ” . . . a contagion of selective incuriosity, a mindgame begun in self-hypnosis and maintained by mass hysteria.”
While not discounting the impact of short-term welfare payments (buying the people’s freedom with their own money) I have gotten to thinking that the answer maybe includes, as a primary factor, something along the lines of mass hypnosis — the viral entrancement of entire populations.
The process at work is somewhat different to the use of hypnotic or “spell” phrases to herd individuals into a particular way of, for example, politically correct thinking. As the late Roger Scruton described it, spell words like “racist” and “homophobe” are designed to invoke a set of pre-programmed demonic tags with which to threaten the subject and dissuade him from truth and common sense. When these words are uttered, the object is as though stung by a cattle prod or electric fence, thus experiencing a kind of mortification which, in the vast majority of cases, is sufficient to cause an immediate falling into line. The process used in the herding of individuals into the mass is correlated but subtly different. The method here is not to repel by a shock but to seduce by means of evocative or empathetic words.
Like any form of hypnosis, mass entrancement depends on the leveraging of several inter-related conditions in the subject: focused attention, including impaired or reduced peripheral awareness; an imaginative state — these contributing to vastly increased suggestibility. The COVID-19 scare and accompanying lockdowns enabled these criteria to be met almost everywhere. The attention of audience-members being focused on one topic, many unconsciously acquired a heightened capacity to absorb even the most unusual and presumptuous messages without blinking.
Imagination is a key tool of the hypnotist. With an appropriate script and slipping into mimicry of well-remembered charismatic leaders of the past — a touch of Kennedy, a soupcon of Churchill — even the most plank-like politician can affect a sufficiency of charisma or gravitas to seduce his audience into the zone where he can present them with word-pictures and teleport them to a place of collective imagining. A mood of siege or crisis is sufficient to inveigle even citizens who yesterday saw the plank for what it was to succumb also to his spell.
By affecting empathy, rapport, a sense of common purpose, he guides his subjects towards the desired frame-of-mind. He seeks access to the unconscious, but not that of the individual person; rather, he wishes to remove each member of his audience to a common place: the herd mind in which he knows they can all come to share approximately the same outlooks, so that henceforth they can be summoned to that place by signs and triggers without leaving their armchairs.
TV creates an ideal medium via which to conduct this form of hypnosis, not least because the news comes sandwiched between movies and soap operas which engage the imaginative and emotional elements of the mind. These, maintained by fictionalised versions of reality, provide the heightened state that renders the subject amenable to be lured into a kind of trance. Once achieved, the trance can be reactivated at will in anyone whose attention, primed on fictional narratives, remains in this state of focused imaginative attention, being highly prone to easy emotional arousal. The purpose is to tap into that part of the subconscious dealing with emotions. When in a self-induced trance, in the grip of rage, hatred, fear, anxiety, sadness, worry, envy, greed, selfishness, humans tend to become cut off from their thinking brains and thereby susceptible to adopting a locked-in, limited view of reality. In the lockdown episode, fear has been the chief emotional trigger imposed by the controllers to be manipulated to further the entrancement process.