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Psychopathology of totalitarianism 1/3

Dernière mise à jour : 11 déc. 2021

Series in 3 episodes, published by L’Antipresse, n°286, 287 & 288 23 & 30 May 2021, 05 June 2021 - and translated by

Ariane Bilheran, normalienne (Ecole Normale Supérieure), philosopher, clinical psychologist, doctor in psychopathology, specialized in the study of manipulation, paranoia, perversion, harassment, and totalitarianism.

Episode 1: The totalitarian structure: The delusion of paranoia

“Many people say that one cannot fight totalitarianism without understanding it. This is fortunately not true, because otherwise our situation would be hopeless.”

H. Arendt, The Nature of Totalitarianism, 1953.

In 2020, I intervened three times to alert on the emergence of the current totalitarianism, under the pretext of health: on May 13, with “ “Sanitary Totalitarianism: “It is for your own good…Radical evil”[1], on August 30, with “The paranoiac time (the totalitarian surge) in front of the dialectic of the master and the slave”[2], and on December 30, on Radio Canada, I said in an interview that what we were experiencing was not authoritarian, but totalitarian, by examining the delusional certainty of paranoiac’s psychosis.

These interventions have earned me jeers, quips, and insults of all kinds, from those who cannot hear what is going on (or have no interest in it), claiming that I am exaggerating or that I myself am suffering from paranoia.

However, in one year, our freedoms, conquered by hard struggle over centuries, at the price of the blood of our ancestors, have evaporated in smoke, until the occurrence of this “health passport”, considered unthinkable by the majority of the people until a few months ago.

In order to elaborate such an early diagnosis of collective delusion, I have relied on my long professional experience of observing groups, institutions, and companies, when they turn into totalitarian islands.

In April of 2020, although some signs might have seemed insignificant to most, they were enough to characterize the entry into a collective paranoiac psychosis, in particular the denial of reality; the lying, cleavage, projection[3], interpretation, persecution (here, of a virus, invisible enemy, which authorizes the persecution of individuals as carrier organisms of a multiplicity of virus), the manipulation of the masses (terror, guilt and blackmail), the sanitary ideology (and the propaganda which supports it),but also the emergence of a new language to describe a “new normality” or a “new reality” making a clean sweep of the old one.

Let us recall the political criteria of totalitarianism, which cannot be reduced to a dictatorship, a despotism, or a tyranny : monopoly of the mass media and the police force, central economic management, persecution of opponents and of any criticism, a system of surveillance of individuals, encouragement of denunciations, concentrationary logic orchestrated on the basis of terror, clean slate policy, a shifting ideology built on the division between good citizens and bad citizens, on the enemy (visible or invisible) and purity.

The individuals organize themselves according to psychic structures (some will prefer the term organization, less rigid), which translates their relation to the reality, to the experience, to the other, to the Law, to the urges, to the rationality.

These structures evolve with events, in particular heavy traumatic loads, and this is what explains that in “normal” times, individuals respecting fundamental moral taboos (in particular, not to transgress or kill), become disinhibited in totalitarian times (or rather psychically regressed), to the mass ideology making it possible to justify the lifting of the anthropological prohibitions of murder and incest (and their derivatives) which are the foundation of a civilization.

What is less known is that these psychic structures also concern the collectives. There are psychic personalities at the level of groups, institutions, companies…

I have studied at length the nature of groups that I have called “regressed”, when they fall into a perverse or worse, paranoiac mode.

Serious narcissistic pathologies indeed have this talent to create a pathological unity in groups, with unconscious interactions. This shows to what extent the individual is caught in a system, where the whole is of a different nature than the sum of its parts.

This system constrains the individual psyche, which in turn feeds the collective delusion. This is how the sectarian and fanatical phenomenon is explained in a few words.

Totalitarianism corresponds to a psychotic delusion, that of paranoia. It is a psychosis, which is based on the denial of reality (reality and experience do not exist, do not serve as feedback loops to qualify dogmatic delusional thinking), an interpretative delusion (an external or internal enemy, visible or invisible, wants to harm us) with dedicated ideologies (megalomania, humanitarian pseudo-ideals), hypochondria, persecution…), projection, mistrust, cleavage, hyper-control.

This madness presents the appearance of reason, of argued discourse, while being organized on a delusion of persecution justifying the persecution of others.

It does not deny the Law, it interprets it to its advantage and, if it has the power to do so, it instrumentalizes the Law to persecute individuals, no longer to protect them.

“Para” (παρά), in ancient Greek παράνοια, is a prefix that means both “beside”, “in parallel”, as in “parapharmacy”, or “against” as in “paradoxe”. Just as the paradoxe acts against the common opinion, the paranoia acts against the mind (νοῦς), against intelligence, against logic.

And, to do this, it subverts the mind, the intelligence, the logic, and makes war on them.

It does not matter what the content of the delusion is, namely its theatrical setting, because paranoia, “reasoning madness” as the psychiatrists Sérieux and Capgras have called it, always obeys the same structuring of psychic processes.

Nourished by hatred and the eroticized manipulation of institutions, it can be dangerously collective and psychically contagious, “for our own good”. It is advisable to accuse the enemy designated as persecutor, and if possible, to personify him. A virus “caught in an iron grip” (cf. E. Macron’s speech of March 31, 2021) is the perfect enemy, because it is invisible, in perpetual transformation (“variants”).

Interpretation (deduction from a subjective opinion) is at the center of the mechanism: this virus is so dangerous that the survival of the human species is at stake (implicit postulate, which allows to justify the destruction of the economy, of liberties and of fundamental rights); interpretation is both exogenous (the killer virus is outside of us) and endogenous (inside of us).

Let’s dare to ask a blasphemous question: would a virus intend to kill us? Viruses are in our DNA; we touch hundreds of millions of them every day.

Curtis Suttle, a virologist at the University of British Columbia in Canada, says in a 2018 study, that more than 800 million viruses are deposited on every square meter of land every day.

In a tablespoon of sea water, there are more viruses than people in Europe! “We swallow more than a billion viruses every time we go swimming (…). We are inundated with viruses”. A 2011 article published in Nature Microbiology estimates that there are more than one quintillion (1 followed by 30 zeros) viruses on earth!!!