COVID-19 and the Political Economy of Mass Hysteria, by Philipp Bagus et al.

Point: One should be aware of the 'political economy of mass hysteria' because public health is likely to be affected (negatively) by state interventions during a mass hysteria due to policy errors.

Point: Safeguards against such damage, which include the Constitution, have been seen ineffective as protection (government declares state of emergency or crisis and negates private property and human rights which belong to normal social states of being). Other protections against such damage, and against popular hysteria (which includes GroupThink and conformity phenomena, ie social pressure makes individuals behave in the same way as other members of the group, and Emergent Norms, where when a group establishes a norm everyone ends up following that norm) can be taken away be government policy: For example, protections such as testing opinions with people you talk to (socializing), the expression of friendliness and compassion, smiling, exercise and sport, discussion, were removed by lockdowns and mask mandates. A third protection, that of varied responses (some people take risks and live one way, others are more conservative and limit normal lifesytle) was also not effective (government and MSM silenced, fired, etc dissenting voices, mandated one response for all). International variation still worked (Sweden as a European response variation, China, Japan with different styles of governments, different cultures).

Point: Contagion, conformity, and emergent norms. Labeling theory, coping theories. Collective tension.

Examples: War of the Worlds (1938), Strawberries with Sugar (2006 event) (more than 300 students became ill, several schools closed). Emirates 203 (whole group quarantined). Nocebo examples: 29 capsules, arrived at hospital with very low BP.

Examples: Spanish Flu, panic contributed to a mass hysteria and deaths that otherwise would not have occurred, because panic can have adverse health effects on ill persons.

Point: Other more broad protections against hysteria and conformity (things which moderate strong unusual reactions, things which prevent the State from being the sole authority, things which improve mental health and community) are less common in modern Welfare State. Religion. Ie large modern (popular republican) democratic Welfare States are more prone to mass hysteria.

Point: Costs of repressive measures (lockdowns, curfews, forced closure of businesses) born by population, not government figures. Government figures may enjoy 'hero' status if threat is perceived to have been severe and his response was bold. Asymmetric costs. Asymmetric payoff.  If government figure doesn't take strong measures, he can be blamed. Government does not bear costs of over- or strong reaction. Larger and more centralized the State is, better and more extensively the costs can be passed on to population.

Example: NZ, people constantly talked about NZ's success, PM Jacinda Ardern's capability, despite much simpler problem.

Point: Examples of costs: alcoholism, suicides, damage from deferred or delayed treatment or recognition of illnesses, economic decline and poverty (negatively impacts public health and life expectancy). Lockdowns: In USA in June (year?) 40% of participants reported at least one adverse mental health condition, and 10% reported to have considered suicide seriously in past 30 days. Higher alcohol consumption. Hoarding of toilet paper et al. Masked driving. People virtually not leaving homes even for a walk.

Point: Hysteria now, unlike before, can be global.

Point: One main purpose of modern Welfare State is to improve public health.

Point: Modern Welfare State (combined with a sensationalist Mass Media) can be contrasted with limited minimal State (enforcement of private property rights is the only task of such). It can also be contrasted with a private law society (where the State is non-existent). In minimal State and private society, there does not exist an institution that is powerful enough to massively violate private property rights. No one can use coercion to force others who are healthy and do not succumb to the hysteria to close their businesses, wear masks, or quarantine.

Point: Mass hysteria (and including actual physical effects) can be compared with placebo/nocebo tests.

Point: Mass hysteria can be considered in light of the theory of negative bias. Which makes people vulnerable to delusions. Focusing on negative news and feeling a loss of control.

Point: In a mass hysteria, people of a group start to believe that they might be exposed to something dangerous ... because someone says so, or because it fits their experience ... a large group of people gets collectively very upset ... may even start to feel sick ... weakness, headaches, or a choking feeling, which are propagated to other persons ... called 'mass psychogenic illness or epidemic hysteria' ... . The symptoms are caused by the stress and anxiety due to the perceived threat. ... They are really sick even if there is no toxin ... may also appear simultaneously with physical progenitors.

Point: McGrath found that persons of low status in high-stress situations after a triggering dramatic effect are most responsive to mass psychogenic illness. (Low income, dissatisfaction with superiors, lack of support, unclear work assignments led to higher average number of reported symptoms.)

POINT: Divisive and strange. Hysteria can make people behave in ways that other persons unaffected by the hysteria would likely consider to be irrational. Under the illusion of a non-existing or highly exaggerated threat, people act in ways otherwise would seem absurd. Behavior in mass hysteria can be considered biased (unfair, uncontrollable, frightening, potentially catastrophic, and impacting future generations). Lead to distorted risk judgements.

PROBLEMS: The State is the monopolist of coercion in a given territory. People that oppose the State's approach are suppressed. They cannot demonstrate alternative ways to solve the 'crisis' as these alternative ways are prohibited by the State. No alternatives are shown to the people. The information necessary to address the problem cannot be generated in a decentralized way in the market (which is a problem inherent in Socialism.) (When alternatives are ruled out, GroupThink increases, a force that fosters consensus, suppressing dissent and the evaluation of alternatives to the collective measure.) (Human inclination toward conformity.) Vietnam War. Watergate coverup.

PROBLEMS: State may want to instill fear. Leakage of German government paper, State experts recommended that the government should instill fear. 3 communication strategies: Stress breathing problems (primoridal fear, which can easily trigger panic). Instill fear in children, tell them that when they infect their parents and grandparents they could suffer a distressful death at home. Invoke anxiety and feelings of guilt. Instill fear of being responsible for infecting others. Third, mention the possibility of unknown long-term irreversible health damage, possibility of sudden and unexpected death of people who were infected. Keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary). It is in government's interest to emphasize citizens' vulnerability, power rests on narrative that it protects its citizens against such dangers. Fear gives power over the fearful. Polybius claimed that in order to control the masses, rulers had to instill fear and work with horror images. Sallust said that those who want to exercise power have to decide between generating fear or suffering from fear. War Against Terror did accomplish one major objective: It stimulated the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotion and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue. A culture of fear.

PROBLEMS: Media may be politicized, which restricts the existing competition between media. Develop close relationships with the State. State regulates media, and may own media outlets. The State requires licenses often. Government officials are seen as a source for news. Politicians often present both sides of a story during times of crisis. Media is educated in State (licensed) schools. Negative news sells, so there is an incentive to portray danger and the government as a hero. Emotional pictures of coffins, mass graves, patients on ventillators. "Headline stress disorder." News on Covid almost completely negative. News on increasing cases outnumbered decreasing cases news by a factor of 5.5 even in times of falling cases. Biased media sector may run out of control in a modern Welfare State. Also, negative news from an authority produces anxiety. Experts endorse the credibility of a threat. Fauci exaggerated. Congressional hearing. Information bias and selection bias. Estimation 10x higher. "The news media buy insurance against government retribution by playing along." Sensationalist media also support ... by allowing it to get the public's attention.

SOLUTIONS: The true causes of anxiety must be diminished.

SOLUTIONS: Could be cured by mere information. (Both media and the State may actively contribute to the contagion of fear and spread biased information.)

SOLUTIONS: Releasing tension from one's body through sports and exercises.

SOLUTIONS: Essential to find distractions from the negative news.

SOLUTIONS: ... and to socialize. (Without State restrictions, such distractions abound.)

SOLUTIONS against biopsychological infections: exercise regularly, quality sleep, balanced nutrition, maintain a strong connection with other people.

SOLUTIONS: Some people don't quarantine, don't close businesses. Can be an example and a wakeup call to others, especially borderline cases. Decentralized systems allow for competition, error detection, and correction.

SOLUTIONS: Rule of law. Repressive interventions by the Executive can be lifted by the Judiciary. (However, in a collective panic, the protection of basic liberties guaranteed in Constitutions will be abrogated by emergency measures and the judiciary will succumb to the mass hysteria.)

SOLUTIONS: Substantial (competing) Federal structures within a state. Competing States (Sweden).

SOLUTIONS: Religeon (although sometimes States use religion such as Franco's Spain, Dolfuss and Schuschnigg in Austria, Pilsudski in Poland). States with higher welfare spending, people are less religious, suggesting that individuals who substitute religious services for state services.

SOLUTIONS: The same fear government uses against populace can turn against the State. Lead to total destabilization. Grande Peur during the French Rev, panic and uprisings against the regime.

On LaSJ: (add link later)


The Rape of the Mind, by Joost Meerloo