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Mass Hysteria is not some rare psychogenic illness, it's more common than you think.
In Portugal, 1917 a bizarre, supernatural event occurred - The Miracle of the Sun. Three young children claimed they were visited by the Virgin Mary and were told various miracles would appear on the 13th of October. Word of the rumour quickly spread and was taken seriously by local residents. This was followed by newspapers covering the story, further cementing its authenticity. Both locals and pilgrims from afar came to see what miracles the Virgin Mary would reveal.
October 13th arrived and between 30,000 - 100,000 people showed up in Fátima where the miracles were prophesied to take place. You’ll never guess what happened. Was it all true? Did the heavens open up before their very eyes?
Witnesses reported that it was raining before the sun suddenly broke through the clouds, instantly drying everyone’s clothes. Some said the sun lurched toward Earth before zig-zagging back and forth to its original position. Whereas other people said multicoloured lights were cast across the sky, causing some to fall to their knees overwhelmed by emotion.
Others saw nothing.
It seems this event was localised to a single geographical location as there were no reports of anything similar in other parts of the world. Putting aside the conflicting stories - from a physics standpoint, all that was reported is impossible.
So what happened here?
Introducing Mass Psychogenic Illness
Mass hysteria, known medically as Mass Psychogenic Illness, is a phenomenon in which a group of people exhibit similar intense physical or emotional symptoms, usually brought about by social interactions and observation.
It seems unbelievable that this can have such a strong influence on us. It can cause thousands of people to see the sun do supernatural things - and it’s more common than you’d think.
Some notable historical occurrences caused by mass hysteria are the Salem Witch Trials, the Tanganyika laughter epidemic, and the Dancing Plague of 1518. With our current knowledge of the phenomenon it is easy to recognize these people were victims of social contagion. But this is hardly a thing of the past. We aren’t different to them and are just as susceptible to mass hysteria today, if not more vulnerable.
Our brains are prediction machines, constantly forecasting the world for how it should appear based on our expectations. The more we expect something to happen, the more likely it is our minds will contort reality to fit these ‘facts’.
If one sees others getting caught in a laughing fit they are more likely to ‘catch’ it themselves. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We fall into mass hysteria because we see evidence of it happening to others, reinforcing the veracity of it, which in turn makes our subjective reality bend that way.
Media is the primary way people are influenced. It can be used for advice and motivation on how to live a better life, used for gathering information about the world and it can cause mass hysteria. If you don’t believe that people can be influenced through media, let me introduce to you the Strawberries with Sugar outbreak.
In May 2006 in Portugal (no there’s nothing special about the Portuguese) a fictional teenage soap opera aired on TV which showed an outbreak of a disease within the school. A few days after the episode aired, teens began to develop similar symptoms to those depicted on the show, including rashes, breathing troubles and dizziness. This disease was most prevalent among teenagers who had watched the show.
What happened was kids saw the episode, and like with all popular TV shows in 2006, it was talked about during school. This constant focus on the symptoms made those symptoms appear. The first few who got sick may genuinely have been sick from something else, but this would have caused the prediction part of the brain to activate making others believe they have this sickness when they did not. It is now agreed upon that the reason this spread across 14 different schools, infecting over 300 students was due to mass hysteria.
People look up to and sometimes idolise social media influencers. Regular exposure to this can make people more susceptible to forms of mass hysteria. If you see a few videos of something happening, your monkey brain will identify this as an actual pattern. Humans are not good at statistics. We need to constantly fight against this urge of extrapolating anecdotal evidence to wider society.
I believe I have identified two current, politically motivated mass hysteria afflicting the Left and the Right - and it’s causing people to go wild. If you’re hunkered down on an ideological side, prepare to get very upset.
Mass Hysteria on the Left
A glance at left-wing social media and you’ll see racism is all they talk about - you’d think Nazis are everywhere. Videos of Nazis and racists circulate their bubble and this constant bombardment skews the Left’s perceptions of objective reality. While some videos may be somewhat genuine, there is usually an element of exaggeration present.
In 2020, Bubba Wallace, a black professional stock car racing driver, was informed that a noose was hung inside his garage stall at an event. This took the media by storm and all hell broke loose. I immediately recognised it for what it was - a hoax of some sort. Not necessarily someone lying, but I knew that it was not as it seemed. The next day, my suspicions were confirmed when an FBI investigation revealed it was not, in fact, a noose, but a pull-down rope with a loop (although it did resemble a noose) which had been there for over a year.
In 2017 a student at Michigan State University was distressed after finding out someone had hung a noose outside of her room. After investigations by the police, again, it was not a noose, but a packaged leather shoelace.
This isn’t to say these events are impossible or don’t happen, but nowhere near to the extent that people are hanging nooses outside of a student’s dorm room. This happens because of the constant reinforcement on the Left that Nazis and racists are everywhere, contrary to the evidence. This makes people hallucinate that shoelaces or pull-down ropes are nooses. Of course someone didn’t hang a noose outside of a student’s room, of course someone didn’t try to ‘send a message’ to Bubba. This is all evidence that the Left is currently captured by a mass hysteria.
Mass Hysteria on the Right
This doesn’t just exist on the Left. Remember, people on the Left and Right are humans and are both just as susceptible to cognitive errors as each other.
If you follow prominent right-wing people on social media, you’ll have been exposed to the trans hysteria running amok on the conservative side. If you are sucked into this echo chamber you’d no doubt believe predatory men everywhere are pretending to be women in order to gain easy access to women’s bathrooms to commit sexual assault. And that it’s commonplace for people to come out as trans to avoid criticism of past immoral behaviour or to dominate in women’s sports.
Out-of-context or deceptively taken images can portray innocent trans people as predators and this only feeds into the false perception that all trans people are paedophiles that are coming to groom your children.
Will there be paedophiles in the gay and trans community? Of course. You take any large group of people and it’s a statistical certainty. But let’s not extrapolate this to every trans or gay person everywhere.
With the Left and their hallucinations of Nazis everywhere, the same is happening to the Right. Every one of us is able to fall victim to a form of mass hysteria.
Humans are naturally drawn to visuals and it's an effective way to get our message across. We oftentimes have pre-existing beliefs, so images and videos can further reinforce those beliefs.
In my lifetime, I have never seen a Nazi before. Despite the Left believing they hide around every corner. And, although members of the right believe that huge percentages of people are becoming trans, I have maybe come across a handful of trans people. It is of course true, that I could have walked right past a Nazi or a trans person and not noticed, but I reject the premise from both sides that these are huge issues, and they do not justify the behaviour that is being displayed. Maybe I’m being naive, or maybe I can see that it’s mass hysteria that has hijacked otherwise rational people.