I have formerly developed the idea that the information revolution was going to have/now having profound effects on our society, and seeing that happen with covid, I have likened it to being akin to what happened in WWII Germany: mass propaganda, creating a vicious hysteria positive feedback loop. So when I heard about Mass Formation, it was a very welcome expansion of the idea. In particularly, it explained the phenomenon in psychological terms.
However, there are differences between my ideas and mass formation. My own viewpoint, is mechanistic and is based on the historical changes that occurred as a result of the changes in information delivery such as that of printing. In essence the question I was trying to answer was: Why did we see such fundamental changes in this period such as the overthrow of the Catholic Church, the rise of (middle-class) democracy as well as some horrific incidents like the inquisition and the witch trials? In each of these, I found that printing, and the dramatically lowered costs of disseminating views, was the key change that triggered these events. For example, the printing of books on supposed “witchcraft” such as that by King James was instrumental in stirring up the witch finding delusion.Likewise, the authority of the Catholic Church began to be challenged, when individuals had not only direct access to the Bible in their own homes, but were then able to print their views for others to read. This changed the nature of argument from “you must believe this because the catholic church says … ” to “you must believe this because (I have read) that it is written in the bible that ….”. Truth was no longer what the catholic church said was truth … it was now what an individual reading a book in their own home decided it was.
If, you then compare that to the debates over climate, where suddenly the internet meant that any engineer or scientist with an interest could get the raw data (or at least manipulated raw data) and create their own climate model (which I have), to try to replicate the work of academics. Then, we see that there was likewise, via the internet a sudden challenge to an establishment group (academics), by people looking at the raw evidence in their own homes and coming to their own views which challenged the views of the establishment “authority”.
That is why I was quite certain, that we were going to start seeing things that could be equated to the witch trials and the inquisition … but obviously in a modern form. So, my own perspective starts with the concepts of information, authority and believed “truth”. I say believed “truth”, because we only know for certain what is believed to be true … and that historically much of what people believed to be true turned out not to be. So, it is reasonable to assume that much of what we believe to be true … isn’t anything of the sort … although we might hope that as time progresses we as a society get better and better approximations to the “truth” (with slight woke detours).
The question for me, is how is it that history shows periods where delusional thinking (such as the witch trials, or Stalin’s five year plan), become accepted, when they were not accepted before, and not after. And why do so many coincide with major changes in the way (or cost) of disseminating information. For example, radio & cheaper newspapers just before WWII led to a whole spate of Totalitarian regimes that only seemed to die out in the latter part of the 20th century. Which also suggests, that not only does a change in information pathways, create these episodes, but in some way we as a society are able to create mechanisms that eventually stop them happening.
To explain these delusional Totalitarian regimes which committed such appalling atrocities, I use the concept that ideas spread … and that sometimes the mechanisms in society tend to spread the worse ideas in preference to the better ones. And, this suggests to me, that we as a society in some way construct information pathways that tend to enhance the spread of the better ideas and repress the others (better in at least the sense society is at peace with itself). So, what is it about the new technology that has disturbed this system? And, for me, understanding how the system has been perturbed by the internet, and working out how to bring the flow of information back in harmony which what we as a society want, is the key … to harmony and avoiding another round of mass atrocities.
Currently, my view is that these information changes, inevitable bring about a change in power balance, which is often severely resisted by the established power bases. So, the Church tried to resist the flow of new information by the inquisition. Today, Google and the other internet “mafia” are attempting to resist the change in power to the “uncouth masses”, by wholesale censorship of any politician that the “uncouth masses” support. However, what I think then happens, is that as censorship is imposed, this removes the sceptics from public debate. Because the sceptics (from Greek “to inquire”) are the ones asking the questions about whether the present authority have a right to dictate truth. But, it is also the role of sceptics to ask the awkward questions that tend to bring public debate back to common sense. A sceptic inquires … both about the establishment’s “right” to impose on us, but also on the people’s views as well. But the establishment only see the sceptic as opposing them … not the beneficial role played by sceptics in repressing delusional thinking: a key activity when new information pathways come about and societal change starts occurring.
So, what happens when censorship is imposed, is that public debate is no longer pinned down to what is common sense by the sceptical questions, and this allows delusional thinking to spread like wildfire (hence the witch hunts because people “might be” witches or the modern equivalent of locking up people because they “might” have a deadly contagion. Neither of these would have happened, if the sceptics had been allowed to express their views freely and to have pushed back on the delusion.
A simple analogy I think that works, is that sceptics are a bit like the anti-bodies in our bodies. We may be few in number, but we can respond to threats to the body of society and target bad ideas and so repress them. But, if people like google then think that they don’t like sceptics repressing some ideas by rational argument, and instead repress ideas by AI imposed censorship, the result is like taking away the anti-bodies from a body. When something bad comes along: it will spread without limit.