Friday, June 30, 2017

Beware of the Sycophant Epidemic

Regular readers know that discussions about cultural dementia, where cultures or nations lose their minds and go nut-bag crazy, are prevalent in the Dredd Blog system (Hypothesis: The Cultural Amygdala - 2).

Cultural dementia is a form of group mental illness we are not yet well adapted to treating, because we have yet to form an official competent group-culture psychoanalysis.

In fact, as it turns out as a result, all too often it is groups that have been and are the source of social dementia itself.

II. Some Quotes From Visionaries

Nietzsche put his finger on this issue with this astute observation:
Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.”
(Friedrich Nietzsche). Voltaire saw this group insanity at work in one of the many forms of cultural illness:
"It is forbidden to kill therefore all murderers are punished [by the group we call society] unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets."
(Voltaire). Other observers have said practically the same thing with different words:
"A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic."

“If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.”

"The death of one man: that is a catastrophe. One hundred thousand deaths: that is a statistic!”

"If you shoot one person you are a murderer. If you kill a couple persons you are a gangster. If you are a crazy statesman and send millions to their deaths you are a hero."
(Quote Investigator). Check out the Quote Investigator link for similar renditions of that concept.

Cultural cognition, sometimes called "group think, " has been described as a detectable, but difficult-to-treat, dynamic:
The diagnosis of collective neuroses, moreover, will be confronted by a special difficulty. In the neurosis of an individual we can use as a starting point the contrast presented to us between the patient and his environment which we assume to be normal. No such background as this would be available for any society similarly affected; it would have to be supplied in some other way. And with regard to any therapeutic application of our knowledge, what would be the use of the most acute analysis of social neuroses, since no one possesses power to compel the community to adopt the therapy? In spite of all these difficulties, we may expect that one day someone will venture upon this research into the pathology of civilized communities.
(Social Dementia Causes Heated Misunderestimations - 3,  quoting "the father of psychoanalysis",  Freud). Well, as I wrote above, we are not there yet.

III. The Sycophantic Trance Arises

In the a minority, in the form of a social group, elected a person whom they praise as a type of savior from bad government, and now even seem to accept the contradictory notion: "do something, even if it is wrong."

The majority position in the nation, to the contrary, is "everyone wants and deserves better government than we currently are experiencing, and have been experiencing in recent decades, however, jumping from the frying pan into the fire is not a departure from the heat."

There are several observers who have touched upon the dynamics involved:
"Authoritarianism is something authoritarian followers [sycophant] and authoritarian leaders [strong man] cook up between themselves. It happens when the followers submit too much to the leaders, trust them too much, and give them too much leeway to do whatever they want -- which often is something undemocratic, tyrannical and brutal. In my day, authoritarian fascist and authoritarian communist dictatorships posed the biggest threats to democracies, and eventually lost to them in wars both hot and cold. But authoritarianism itself has not disappeared, and I'm going to present the case in this book that the greatest threat to American democracy today arises from a militant authoritarianism that has become a cancer upon the nation."
(Authoritarianism: Past And Future Is Now, emphasis added). Another observer writes about how this dynamic looks before it has gone into "It happens when the followers submit too much to the leaders, trust them too much, and give them too much leeway to do whatever they want" (ibid).

That early phase is as follows:
It’s no accident that our political beliefs are structured by our idealizations of the family. Our earliest experience with being governed is in our families. Our parents “govern” us: They protect us, tell us what we can and cannot do, make sure we have enough money and supplies, educate us, and have us do our part in running the house.

So it is not at all surprising that many nations are metaphorically seen in terms of families: Mother Russia, Mother India, the Fatherland. In America, we have founding fathers, Daughters of the American Revolution, Uncle Sam, and we send our collective sons and daughters to war. In George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, the voice of the totalitarian state was called Big Brother.

As George Lakoff discussed at length in his 1996 book, Moral Politics, this metaphorical understanding of the nation-as-family directly informs our political worldview. Directly, but not consciously. As with other aspects of framing, the use of this metaphor lies below the level of consciousness [like symbolic racism].
(Security: Familyland, Fatherland, or Homeland?). At first the group is seen as a very desirable extension of the family experience, but then it tends to morph into ugliness.

Our desires, our "don't worry be happy" desires, can and do disarm us to the point of creating a collective danger.

This is the way of the sycophantic trance (Choose Your Trances Carefully, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8).

IV. Conclusion

During the discussion of a personal, misogynistic attack on Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough of Morning Joe, former congressman Harold Ford, Jr. made a comment on the group dynamics that we need to be watching.

His observation, which I considered to be spot on, was that we should watch what the public does in response to the president's degenerating civility.

If we allow this to go unchecked, Professor Ford intimated, it does not bode well for us as a nation, as a group.

If the public follows the lead of the sycophants now surrounding the president in the White House, we are in serious jeopardy.

The next post in this series is here.

A song about the time "Tweeter and the Monkey Man" started a group ...


  1. You didn't mention Disneyland...

    I'm seeing attacks (verbal and physical) from the Trump supporters who act like they've been licensed to engage in verbal and physical attacks against, well - anyone. For any reason too. Their excuse is "I voted for Trump" while not knowing who or what their victims voted for or supported.

    Their bad behavior is on the increase, always excusing themselves from personal responsibility or accountability. It's like they're mindless minions, stupidly parroting whatever slogan that stuck to the mush-like brain.

    It's a strange phenomena. It's happened to me already, several times in business dealings. I guess I did not receive the secret decoder ring that these Trump supporters found in their box of Cheerios. Or the memo got lost... but I'm discovering that doing business with a Trump supporter is a good way to find oneself on the bad end of verbal abuse, dishonesty, deception and unjustified anger.

    There has been a huge shift in perceptions of late - a very dangerous, disturbing move towards extremism. This is how countries descend into fascism.

  2. "Conservatives are applauding Trump Jr’s ‘win at all costs’ attitude in a frightening sign of where we’re at" (Raw Story).