Comment // Culture & Media

The Paradigm Wars—Part 2: The Paradigm War and its Discontents

In the first essay in this series, we explored the contours of the conflict between the GloboCaps and the mass-formationists, exploring their key theoretical and political differences. While the GloboCaps emphasise the top-down power structure of global capitalism, including the deep-state and its use of real and threatened violence, the mass-formationists emphasise the conformity and acquiescence of citizens. In this essay, I examine the points at which these two theories overlap and how they essentially constitute two sides of one phenomenon: the top-down political and the bottom-up psychological components of digital totalitarianism. 


The paradigm war between C.J. Hopkins and Peter Breggin, Matthias Desmet and Robert Malone and their respective camps gets more—or perhaps less—complicated when we realise that they are (also) saying the same thing! For example, in his earlier pandemic writing in 2020, Hopkins draws on the work of Stanley Milgram and Margaret Singer to explain the social psychology of mass acquiescence. He argues—brilliantly, I believe—that society had devolved into a ‘cult writ large’ and, as such, the cult-society relationship had flipped. As we moved into what Hopkins called ‘pathologised totalitarianism’, there were only a few safe houses of reality left, while the world at large had gone bonkers. In this essay, Hopkins tacitly, if not overtly, agrees with Desmet that a ‘mass formation’ had taken hold, if by another name. As he says,

I called the New Normals a “Covidian Cult,” not to gratuitously insult or mock them, but because that is what totalitarianism is … You can show them the facts until you’re blue in the face. It will not make the slightest difference. You think you are having a debate over facts, but you are not. You are threatening their new “reality”. You think you are struggling to get them to think rationally. You are not. What you are is a heretic, an agent of demonic forces, an enemy of all that is “real” and “true.” A cult is a collective, self-contained “reality”. Its power flows from the social organism composed of the cult leaders and the other cult members. You cannot “talk” this power away […]
The New Normal is a global totalitarian system. There is no “outside” of the system to retreat to […] the cult/society paradigm has been inverted. The cult has become the dominant society, and those of us who have not been converted have become a collection of isolated islands existing, not outside, but within the cult.

Participation in a cult is not simply ‘knowing which way the wind blows’, as he later suggests in his critique of Desmet. It is not, in other words, a rational act of self-protection. A cult is an irrational, de-individuated mass of people caught up in an ideological formation that mistakes itself for reality. In effect, a cult is a mass formation. 

Consider how close Hopkins comes to Desmet in the following excerpt:

Much as we may not like to admit it, it is exhilarating, and liberating, being part of the mob, surrendering the burden of personal autonomy and individual responsibility, fusing with a fanatical “movement” that is ushering in a new “reality” backed by the sheer brute force of the state […]

In the same piece, he reiterates:

GloboCap could not have achieved this without the approval (or at least the acquiescence) of the vast majority of the masses. The coronavirus mass hysteria was a masterstroke of propaganda, but propaganda isn’t everything. No one is really fooled by propaganda, or not for long, in any event. As Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari noted in the opening of Anti-Oedipus: ‘The masses were not innocent dupes. At a certain point, under a certain set of conditions, they wanted fascism, and it is this perversion of the desire of the masses that needs to be accounted for.

(This quotation is also used as the epigraph for Hopkins’ collection of essays. Hopkins, C.J. (2022). The Rise of the New Normal Reich: Consent Factory Essays, vol. III (2020–2021), Consent Factory Publishing.)

Similarly, Peter Breggin interviewed psychiatrist Mark McDonald regarding his book The United States of Fear: How America Fell Victim to a Mass Delusional Psychosis (2021). Authorial qualifications aside, this book espouses a very similar thesis to Desmet, often using stronger psychiatric language. Interestingly, Breggin enthusiastically endorses this book. The promo line is indicative: ‘Psychiatrist Mark McDonald diagnoses our country as suffering from a mass delusional psychosis, driven by a pandemic of fear in response to Covid–19.’ McDonald directly addresses the structure-agency dialectic, noting that the government deliberately stoked fear through propaganda, which, in turn,

[…] drove a hysterical overreaction from government in the form of draconian lockdowns and mask and vaccine mandates of questionable value. But the fear did not abate and quickly took on a life of its own, becoming an unstoppable force in all our lives.

Breggin’s endorsement of this book, and his intense opposition to Desmet’s, seems odd. Similarly, the accusation that Desmet has not considered the socio-political is also inaccurate. Throughout his book, which I read both alone and a second time in a book club, one can find multiple references to a ‘biomedical elite’ (the WHO, the WEF, etc.) undertaking pre-pandemic planning exercises (Desmet directly cites Operation Lockstep, Event 201, Agenda 2030, etc.). These references are also peppered through his many interviews in the alternative media during 2021 and 2022. 


Psychology of totalitarianism

Similarly, Desmet repeatedly refers to the pernicious effects of propaganda as a form of coercion. However, as the title of his book makes clear, Desmet is analysing the psychology of totalitarianism, while acknowledging the socio-political, institutional, and ideological drivers. He asks: why did almost everyone go along with the manifest tyranny? Why did our fellow citizens, colleagues, friends and family members participate in the mass formation and engage in discrimination, exclusion and even vilification? Why did most people stand by and say nothing? Alongside an analysis of power, this too must be accounted for.

While it is true that many were coerced and psychologically manipulated, it is also true that many ‘followed the science’, genuinely trusting the experts (who should be trustworthy!) and engaged in discrimination thinking it was the right thing to do (much as we might ‘discriminate’ against an intruder who wanted to enter our home). Of those who agreed, some upheld choice while others did not. On the other hand, some people acquiesced because they wanted to remain part of the social group. Of this group, some simply turned a blind eye to the medical apartheid, while others actively participated in it.

Another point of similarity is that both the GloboCaps and mass-formationists advocated and practised visible, public opposition. Whereas Hopkins recommended direct action with a view to eliciting confrontation and exposing tyranny, Desmet recommended peaceful verbal opposition to pierce the narrative masquerading as consensus. In truth, defeating GloboCap (then as now) requires both confrontation and everyday resistance, with the choice of strategy depending more on the individual and the context. This is essentially a difference of style, not substance. There are genuine differences regarding the stress on collective versus individual action—challenging GloboCap versus challenging a friend or family member—but both camps clearly and unequivocally have the same political system in their sights and advocate resistance.

Isn’t this what really matters?


Not a binary choice

The paradigm war is best resolved, then, not through one theory—and its associated activist strategies—prevailing over the other, but through recognition of the strengths and weaknesses of both. In truth, the top-down (totalitarian/atrocity) and the bottom-up (mass formation) theses are dialectical in the sense of being opposites yet mutually constitutive; indeed, the one presupposes the other, in a recursive relationship. The individual is always already part of a social collective (family, community, society, nation-state); conversely, the social collective is always already composed of its constituent members. In sociology, this is called the ‘structure-agency debate’, and many a volume has been written on it (see here, here and here).

I taught this for over a decade to sociology undergraduates. Essentially, it explains how society determines the individual and, in turn, how individuals—especially insightful, charismatic, or dissident ones—determine society. As one of my favourite sociologists, Bennet Berger, puts it (pp. 7–8),

A determinist sociology of culture […] constitutes a continual testing of just how autonomous our choices are; of just how frequently we do or do not ‘give in’ to the incentives, the intimidations, the temptations, the pressures that the social structure of our lives renders the flesh and spirit heir to. Seen this way [a structuralist] sociology […] honours the mystery of freedom by taking it seriously enough to ask of those who cherish it just how much of it is actually or potentially present in their lives and under what conditions.

Focusing on one dimension (power-political structures) to the exclusion of the other (human psychology and agency), creates a myopic understanding. It either reifies power to the extent that we cannot see, let alone theorise, political opposition, dissidence, or originality; or it assigns so much agency we forget that there is a social structure that determines—yes, determines—how most people act. Each perspective animates different dimensions of a complex social phenomenon, that is never produced entirely externally (via structure) or internally (via agency), but through a dynamic dance between the two. 

When we separate them out, they may appear independent, but this is a heuristic device: it is the map, not the territory. In reality, there is both a top-down power structure and bottom-up agency—or lack thereof—working together in any given social phenomenon. Sometimes, we see more structural force, e.g. mask and jab mandates; other times, more mass formation, e.g. people excluding and vilifying ‘the unvaccinated’; and much more rarely, we see true freedom in principled opposition to power.

We saw this clearly across the pandemic. For every unelected medical bureaucrat issuing ‘public health orders’ (that beloved oxymoron of the authoritarians), there was an individual at the coalface insisting on compliance: ‘Put on your mask’, ‘Show us your papers’, ‘You’re not allowed in’. For every Daniel Andrews issuing mandates while fulminating about the ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’, there was an ordinary member of the public enforcing the rules. While the state issued the orders and passed the legislation, it was ordinary people who excluded ‘the unvaccinated’ from churches, schools, shops, doctor’s offices, cafes, concerts and family dinners, or who stood by while others did. Indeed, one in seven people ‘dumped’ their unvaccinated friend (perhaps following in Friends star Jennifer Aniston’s highly publicised footsteps); and, most disturbingly of all, many families excluded unvaccinated family members from Christmas.

Recent studies on attitudes of the vaccinated toward the unvaccinated demonstrate that attribution bias was pervasive during the pandemic—including among healthcare professionals. Unvaccinated people were judged by hospital staff to be ‘reckless spreaders’ rather than simply ill. This resulted in ‘less sympathy towards unvaccinated Covid–19 patients’, which was, disturbingly, ‘associated with a lower willingness to help patients and their families’. This is egregious discrimination at the institutional level.

Another study found that these attitudes did not apply in reverse. In other words, unvaccinated people did not assume that vaccinated people were irresponsible, selfish, malicious, stupid, or culpable, even if they caught or passed on the virus. Moreover, this same study showed that vaccinated people ‘attributed more responsibility for infection to the unvaccinated actor, whom they perceived as less moral, trustworthy, and empathetic.’

Those who declined injections were subject to a lack of empathy from healthcare staff, especially when they were perceived to be ‘wilfully unvaccinated’ (a loaded term that exemplified the total negation of individual choice). Importantly, there was no legitimate category for saying no. There was only waffle about which injection to choose from, and more waffle about AstraZeneca being taken off the market when it became clear there were serious health risks, but as for saying ‘no’ and still being a citizen in good-standing, well, that option was unequivocally off the table. This meant consent was effectively null and void. Indeed, doctors in the mainstream media bemoaned their ‘compassion fatigue’ for so-called ‘vaccine refusers’. The language was replete with prejudice, virtue signalling and scapegoating. Nowhere was it possible to decline the injections; one was instantly transmogrified into an incendiary refusenik, a hostile ‘anti-vaxxer’, and a selfish bigot.

A large study published in the prestigious journal Nature demonstrated discriminatory attitudes by the vaccinated towards unvaccinated citizens in 21 countries. Across three conjoined experimental studies (n = 15,233), the research demonstrated that vaccinated people expressed discriminatory attitudes towards unvaccinated people at a level as high as those typically directed at immigrant and minority populations. What made this so distressing is that this discrimination went right into the heart of personal relationships: it infected work mates, friends, family, even partners—causing deep and abiding rifts, that have yet to be properly acknowledged personally or politically. 

Disturbingly, the UK Government’s SPI-B (Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group) minutes revealed, as UK Column was among the first to report, that this advisory body deliberately used peer pressure to increase compliance. In other words, citizens were covertly enlisted to pressure their colleagues, neighbours, friends and family, in what amounts to an authoritarian manipulation of the populace. Propaganda teams—alias nudge units—were also deployed in Australia.


How the crowds went mad

Given that it is now clear that the Covid injections did not prevent the virus, nor did they stop transmission, this society-wide discrimination and vilification of ‘the unvaccinated’ takes on the dark cast of a government-led mass formation. While Desmet is accused by his dissident critics of exonerating those in power and blaming the masses, instead, it can be argued, he succeeds in explaining why so many people went along with ‘pathologised totalitarianism’. Desmet helps us to understand why so many people engaged in both individual and systemic acts of discrimination, including against loved ones, while sincerely believing it was for the ‘common good’.

The intense shaming and exclusion of the so-called ‘unvaccinated’ was propagated and sanctioned by leaders and enacted by the people. The category of ‘the unvaccinated’ is a rhetorical invention of the Covid crisis, which is to say that this is when the term acquired its distinctive contemporary meaning. It is an epithet used to stereotype, ridicule, vilify, dehumanise, isolate, and discriminate against those who exercised their right to decline a medication, rather describing an actual human group or person. I always put this category in inverted commas to register my ethical refusal to accept it as a legitimate category.

I say ‘so-called’ in identifying the shamers, since even to accept the label—or its Janus-faced twin, ‘anti-vaxxer’—is to accept the language of power and perdition; it is to define people a priori by their forcibly disclosed medical status when this is precisely the principal at stake (or one of them). This is what ‘the unvaccinated’ were reduced to and, in some cases, remain constrained by.

At the time of first drafting this piece in late 2022, my friend’s husband could not access cancer treatment in an Australian public hospital without proof of a Covid injection and booster. She was likewise not able to enter the hospital without such proof. Similarly, it was not possible to travel, well into 2023, to many countries without evidence of being double jabbed. I could not enter the campus of my university for the entire Covid lockdown period in Australia (this wasn’t a problem, as I mostly work from home; nonetheless, the fact remains), nor the grounds of my children’s schools, nor their school concerts. The forbidding of medical treatment was perhaps the most brutal aspect of the exclusion, denying life-saving treatment to patients. The example of Vicki Derderian, denied a heart transplant in Melbourne, Australia, was a particularly egregious example.

It didn’t matter whether you were the world’s number one tennis player, a bunch of recalcitrant truckers, last year’s valorised ‘front-line workers’, or a philosophy professor: you were brought into line or you suffered the consequences. This is the great travesty that transpired in all the liberal democracies of the West (with the notable exception of Sweden) and lingers like a fetid taboo to this day.

The top-down GloboCap thesis is essentially a political analysis of this phenomenon with an emphasis on the corporate-state apparatus, while the mass formation thesis is a psychological analysis concentrating on group psychology and the ‘madness of crowds’. If you read both sides carefully, as I have, each doffs the hat to the other’s argument, because it is not possible to focus on one dimension without at least tacitly acknowledging the other; both are integral, mutually reinforcing components of a complex sociological phenomenon. While it is true that the fish rots from the head, and thus it was Mr Global and ‘his’ supranational, extra-democratic, corporate-state apparatus that ushered in the same legislation and language everywhere, what people became in this context is equally salient.


Weighing up the contentions

Hopkins’ strength lay in identifying the cultural specificity of ‘pathologised totalitarianism’—the way in which corporate-state diktat masquerades as ‘reality’ while ushering in medical tyranny. His analysis concerning this recasting of ‘reality’, as essentially anything ‘the Party’ says it is, captures the realpolitik of our age. Reality is no longer an empirically observable phenomenon (even one with quantum inflections), neither is it what our embodied experience or eyes tells us it is; rather, ‘reality’ is whatever Mr Global says it is, and it may change at a moment’s notice (masks today, gone tomorrow).

What we have now is what I have elsewhere called ‘reality by fiat’, and just like fiat currency, is worth almost nothing and could collapse in a myocardial moment. The system tolerates no disagreement or opposition. That leeway only exists, as Hopkins perspicaciously notes, where there is a plurality of competing ideologies (i.e., pre-2020). There is no politics now, only ‘reality’ and ‘conspiracy’; ‘reality’ and ‘neo-Nazis’; ‘reality’ and ‘Corona insanity’; ‘reality’ and ‘bigotry’, etc. Once there is a singular, overarching ideology that calls itself ‘reality’, the ‘New Normal’ has been ushered in; in effect, all opposition has been neutered or rendered crazy. Hopkins is the movement’s Jeremiah who brought this understanding most clearly into view.

For his writing, Hopkins has been ‘rewarded’ by the German state with a sixty-day jail term, which he can alternatively pay as a fine of €3,600. Proving the very point of his theory, Hopkins has been found guilty of ‘promoting Nazi propaganda’ for drawing attention to the fascist dimensions of Covid ‘public health measures’, including mask and vaccine mandates, by placing an image of a mask with a Swastika watermark on the cover of his book. See Matt Taibbi, ‘Madness: American satirist C.J. Hopkins sentenced in German speech case’, Racket News, 23 August 2023. See also Hopkins’ January 2024 post on the verdict.

Conversely, Desmet’s strength lies in identifying the existential causes of the ‘corona crisis’ and in analysing the phenomenon of mass acquiescence. Why do people accept technocratic, expert-led control that brooks no opposition, analysis, or critique (even from within technocracy’s own ranks)? Why did the masses go along with propagandised groupthink? Why can’t experts with different views debate? Why are all those who digress from the dominant narrative censored, dismissed, struck off, smeared and even incarcerated

This is not only a matter of direct coercion, which certainly exists; it is also about all the silent bystanders not wanting to stand outside the socially sanctioned group, and not wanting to be defined as ‘weird’, ‘wrong’, ‘mad’ or ‘bad’. Desmet shows us, via Arendt’s classic thesis, how widespread loneliness, meaninglessness and anxiety enable fanatical ideologies to take root, and how scapegoating creates a satisfying, albeit brutal, catharsis for the in-group. First the ‘virus’, then ‘the unvaccinated’ united the citizens in a new (anti-)social contract.

Hopkins oscillates between seeing the masses as caught up in a cult, and thus in an irrational hypnosis, and as rational actors acting in self-interest. Indeed, both views may be warranted. In my view, Hopkins provides the most insightful and robust analysis of ‘GloboCap’ as the deep-state power structure of the New Normal ‘reality’. Desmet, conversely, focuses on the psychopathology and anomie that makes mass acquiescence possible. This necessarily underplays direct coercion.


Ethical speech

However, to focus on one aspect of a subject does not mean one is oblivious to another aspect, nor that one does not also assume that it is also causal. It is clear from Desmet’s book, and his various interviews, that he does see and acknowledge coercion (likewise with Malone). However, his interest lies in our psychosocial response to coercion, which runs the full gamut from agreement through to acquiescence; from collusion and cowardice through to opposition and resistance. To this end, he has brought a rich analysis to our field of understanding. He is also concerned with metaphysics and the materialist paradigm as less obvious, yet critical, implicated factors. This is an important philosophical piece that the mild-mannered, bespectacled professor has also brought to the table. 

Let us recall: Desmet argues that under totalitarian regimes, a typical population distribution shows 30 per cent are ‘true believers’; 40 per cent ‘go along to get along’; and 30 per cent are resisters. Desmet suggests that 30 per cent of the population were dissenters, but I suspect this is an overly ambitious estimate. My own anecdotal observation puts this number at only between 5 and 10 per cent. Nonetheless, perhaps having 10 per cent of any given population who are critical thinkers willing to go against the group is a useful survival strategy. Just as modern-day schizophrenics are likely the shaman class of old, this minority of independent types are the bellwethers of corruption, attuned to cultural change—and wrongheadedness. Ordinarily, though, they are the misfits and outliers. Far too contrarian to belong easily.

Interestingly, it is on this middle group—the swinging voters, so to speak—that the two theories converge insofar as Hopkins and co. define this group as aware but unwilling to speak up (the ‘collaborators’ and the ‘cowards’ respectively). Whereas Hopkins sees the majority as largely, if not totally, impervious to change because they are coerced, he also argues that the exposure of violence against dissidents may rouse collaborators out of their complicity. He cites the African-American civil rights protestors who drew attention to their plight by entering spaces where they were prohibited (by law) and then exposing the abuse and violence this elicited from members of the dominant group (Southern whites).

This is obviously a costly strategy for dissidents. Hopkins suggests that the unjabbed and their anti-mandate allies can similarly elicit the sympathy of the large middle and, in turn, unleash the totalitarian spell through the exposure of violence against their persons. Desmet similarly identifies this middle group as the ones most likely to respond to influence by the dissidents. They’re not the first to be counted (lined up or shot), but they are not like the ‘true believers’ either; they are able to be influenced through and what he calls ‘the dissident voice’. It is this ethical speech opposing the mass formation that can turn the tide.


Meanwhile in the mainstream

Interestingly, it is in this middle cohort that we have seen the mainstream mea culpa arise too. For example, there was Emily Oster’s piece in The Atlantic,Let’s Declare a Pandemic Amnesty’, and well-known Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams declaring he was wrong and ‘the anti-vaxxers were right’ (see Jimmy Dore’s spot-on satirical response). Likewise, there have been well-known doctors who have flipped on Covid injections, such as Dr Aseem Malhotra in the UK and Dr Kerryn Phelps in Australia, mainstreaming vaccine injury after first-degree relatives were injured or died. 

Similarly, Professor Cyrille Cohen, head of immunology at Bar-Ilan University and key vaccine advisor to the Israeli Government, admitted to being ‘surprised and disappointed’ to learn that the injections did not stop transmission, and admitted that his coterie had made mistakes. There are many others in this category, too. More recently, Chris Cuomo, who mocked ivermectin, now confesses to using a regular dose; and the New York Times admits, albeit in a highly qualified way, the reality of Covid vaccine injury.

However, while the resistance has lapped this up, staunch critics Derek Beres, Mathew Remski and Julian Walker from the Conspirituality podcast summed up the mainstream perspective at the end of 2022:

This is a really big trend the last few months […] this sense of being vindicated for no reason. It’s one of the key themes that is going on in anti-vaxx and Covid contrarian spheres. They seem to feel that it’s time to take a victory lap, as if all of their objections to quarantine measures and vaccines have turned out to be true.

In Part 3 of this essay series, I shall examine how the critical distinction is not between the GloboCaps and the mass-formationists, which are both useful and important explanatory frameworks, but rather between Covid dissidents—together with those who oppose the ‘New Normal’ more broadly—and those who have embraced it. This distinction is profound and reaches to the level of ontology (being) and epistemology (knowing); and beyond this to reality itself. What we have lived through and witnessed is nothing short of a paradigm break in the West, with a minority of people—the dissidents—breaking off in substantive and meaningful ways from the dominant culture. It is on these differing philosophical terrains that our antithetical conceptions of meaning and being are emerging.


Image: Dissent by Michael Swan (April 2020) | licence CC BY-ND 2.0