In February 2020 the world population was shocked to find a species-threatening virus was spreading quickly around the world and killing people at random. Suddenly we realised we were living in a science fiction nightmare. People were traumatized and in emotional shock. We locked down schools, businesses and governments. But when people are in shock they seldom realize it. In a state of shock people cannot assess the reality or magnitude of events, including their own assessments, decisions and actions. Thoughts and feelings become disordered. We try to make things make sense, sometimes with bizarre and contorted extrapolations.
There is a long history of the study of these kinds of events driven by shock. Shock comes in many shapes and sizes. Similar events affect different people in different ways. In the past we have seen outbreaks of mob behaviour against innocents, such as mob lynchings, vandalizing and looting businesses. There is often an controllable rage triggered by some subsequent event not necessarily related to the initial event. There is an instinctive drive to follow your leader like schooling fish, flocking birds or herding cattle, to avoid a predator.
Frequently those participating in an action wake up later, asking, “what was I thinking?”. They were overcome by some invisible psycho-social compulsion. Studies show that under duress cognitive function drops precipitously. You are charged for a primal fight or flight reaction. Still, you are generally able to conduct a guarded conversation in a normal way. You keep your extreme views to yourself because you suspect that others may disagree and you don’t want open conflict. Not yet.
Depending on your mood and other life events, you moderate to greater or lesser extent. In a moment of self-awareness, you regain a sense of coherence. All is well. You proclaim good mental health. At critical moments you might lose that control and your fears come pouring out as anger. Then maybe you have regrets at your loss of control. There will be personal consequences and fences to repair.
You can see that other people are delusional, even paranoid. You don’t understand that they are trying to make sense of their fears. You cling more tightly to your views on public matters in fear that those who are delusional will change your world. You don’t know which of your own ideas are valid and which are as delusional as those of others. Your biggest delusion could be that you are not suffering from shock. We instinctively defend ourselves from the paralyzing fear of failure.
“Crimes the individual alone could never stand are freely committed by the group [smitten by madness].”
- Carl Jung, The Symbolic Life
The threatening virus is invisible so our imaginations search and see the threat all around us. We see the threat in each other, along traditional fracture lines, by long-standing family grievances, gender, sexual preference, wealth discrepancy, ethnicity, race, generations, and of course, political allegiance. The fears and tensions escalate across all dynamics. Self-awareness is dramatically diminished. You will see those who oppose your positions as the true existential threat. They are trying to grab power. There will be a hyper-reaction from those “others” who are now seen as evil threats against whom no action can be too excessive. Shock and trauma escalate.
In some cases, it seems apparent that, in the chaos and confusion, it is possible for leaders to catalyze a movement and remake the world in their image of goodness. Of course, this raises the fear level of those who do not see or share that vision and already feel vulnerable. Again, this cycle compounds the anxieties generally. The movement leaders sense an urgency to remake the world once and for all, while they still have a chance. The leaders too could be deluding themselves as to the rightness of their actions, or perhaps the visionary end justifies the radical means. Everyone, even confessed criminals, believe they are good people. How could you operate otherwise?
Upon brief reflection, one might conclude that of course, with all this happening around us and among us, “how could we not be traumatized?”
We have been making decisions and taking actions that will have long term effects for generations to come. More importantly, we have been taking dramatic actions along these fracture lines that accumulate and compound the impact of the original pandemic shock. The human species is perpetuating, perhaps even heightening, the state of emotional shock. A positive feedback loop (vicious circle) may be in place that escalates our collective well-being to a new threat level. The longer this goes on, the less likely we will be able to recover. More people are talking seriously about the end of civilization.
We need to wake up somehow and come to a realistic assessment of our situation and work ourselves out of our state of shock. In the past, outbreaks of shock have been relatively isolated. The influence of those not affected would bring back a sense of normalcy. Today, however, the shock seems to impact just about everyone across communities and demographic segments. The shock seems to be a major secondary pandemic – a pandemic of the mental trauma. Even as life goes on, there is apparently little to remind us of our old normal. Authorities tell us about the Great Reset and the Great Resignation.
For the past two years, no one believes we are in any kind of normal. No one knows how this pandemic will end, so our imaginations fill the gap. When someone expresses the same familiar fear, our imaginations resonate, our truth is validated, and our commitment reinforced. A movement emerges, complete with leaders, followers, a shared belief system, viral memes and a common enemy. Historically wars have been triggered in similar tumultuous conditions.
What can we do to restore a sense of normal? How do people usually recover from shock? Most normal shock experiences, such as coping with loss of a loved one, a house fire, divorce or losing a job, need a few weeks or more time, and fortunately, most of us have supportive people to guide us in our lives. We eventually find a new normal by being reabsorbed into the ebb and flow of life around us.
To some not-insignificant extent, the global population was primed with anxiety prior to the pandemic. People already felt confused and deceived by divisive politics, invasive propaganda, fake news, popular conspiracy theories and general distrust of authorities and institutions. By some estimates, over half of western workers found their jobs empty and meaningless. We had FOMO, Snowflakes, Cancel-culture, people with Impostor Syndrome, and studies that showed that, despite our positive assessments, we are actually poor multi-taskers. Our IQs drop when we are overloaded.
The promises of success were not forthcoming. People already had doubts about their own worldviews. These preconditions made the current pandemic world unprecedented, and therefore, its consequences unpredictable. This uncertainty, once again, compounds the fears. We see many of our leaders as useless at best and pathetic narcissists at worst. And, by the way, clinical studies in narcissism were showing an unexpected rise in narcissism since around 2000.
Traditionally, those individuals who are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Shock Disorder, such as soldiers and victims of family abuse or violent crime, are treated individually or in small groups with some form of psychotherapy. In self-doubt, one could ask, “is it just me or…”. And one could get a bearing on reality from those around you. We would help one another find a new sense of reality. If the same pandemic shock was isolated to only a few people, we could have reassured and guided those in shock back to a sense of normal.
At this point, however, with people on guard against the evil ones, who do you trust? You trust an obvious ally in your battle against your greatest fear. But if you are living in a delusion then there is a good chance your ally is operating under the same delusion. You will seek truth where you find it. Once again, under normal conditions, other people and their ideas are stabilizing influences. Under chaotic conditions, other good people and their wrong ideas can be destabilizing influences.
I believe that Nature, through evolution, has created a diverse range of personalities and strengths to be shared. Recent work in collective intelligence indicates that group IQ rises with a combination of diverse talents and interests as well as a strong sense of social awareness. In other words, we are designed and constructed for collaboration. We are each born with roles to play, depending on the opportunities and threats we face. Inasmuch as we are born to constructively collaborate, we also resonate in group fear and prepare for the clear and present danger.
Personally, I have lived my entire life as an outsider observer, moving from the outskirts of one peer group to another and never setting down in one camp for long. It’s been lonely to be isolated and misunderstood. But then I find that in my innate personality, this was predestined. I no longer hold moral judgement against myself or others. While I live to help others succeed and actualize their potentials, I am naturally detached. There is no moral vice or virtue in this. As a 1/100 personality type, I have a unique functional role to play when things get weird. I have always observed and felt the pleasures and pains of others and I got good at it.
I have tried to establish a community of diversity, inclusion, trust and respect. From my earliest studies in philosophy, psychology and community development, I have tried to establish a reputation as a detached, credible, yet compassionate thinker. I feel called upon at this time to draw on that reputation to tell people that they are probably in a state of shock.
You should not trust the negative thoughts prompted and promoted by fear. You should daily dive deeper in quiet reflection to recover and relive past successes and good times. Use your happy memories to feed your imagination to relive the best normal and then share that state of mind with others as though it was real today. If a critical number of people do this within their social circles, then we can become confident, clearly focused, deliberative, productive and, once again, happy. The delusions and anxieties will dissipate. We will resume progress toward building a better civilization and defining a better humanity.
This is a call to action to all those who seek to overcome this trauma and create the normal world, complete with competing yet civil ideas of utopia. Now begins our work to rebuild our civilization, one group and community at a time, to find our common humanity and purpose. Now the work begins to heal!