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The Elephant – Collective Obsession?

Posted on Friday, February 9, 2024
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by AMAC, Robert B. Charles
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9 Comments
collective obsession causes collective panic

Is there an elephant in the room? Yes. Clinical psychology studies suggest the United States may be in the grips of a “collective obsession.” Do not laugh, it exists. Not to overstate the case, the concept is similar to individual OCD cases, only amplified by those around you. 

What is collective obsession? Why might it be afoot? What might it do in 2024? How do you redirect it toward more positive, rational, individual thinking?

Start with the basics. People can be preoccupied by fear, worry, anxiety, and perpetual uncertainty. Some manage to “keep things in check” with life experience, faith, friends, distractions, compartmentalization, or gradual resolution, some coping mechanisms.

But when a worry fills the viewfinder, becomes all-consuming, squeezes out alternatives, or produces unhelpful “what ifs” that interfere with functionality, an “obsession” may be rooting.

For individuals, there are many ways to resolve persistent worry, unresolved problems, and uncertainty. For society, things are harder. A shared fear or obsession can be self-amplifying. 

Like everything else, background noise makes a difference. If you are driving and hear an unbalanced tire, see your gas is low, or hear a squeaky brake rotor, maybe out of wiper fluid, or lose a light, you can deal with it.  But all together, plus add “one more thing,” and it gets stressful.

Same thing for society, or a subgroup sharing background noise or fear. If the noise gets too loud, dealing with “one more thing” is hard, so people default to “group think.”

In those situations, as panic grows, blame gets cast, and rationality fades. A level head can set things right, but that could be missing. Imagine you are in a boat, water of uncertain depth, the boat flips, and people start screaming. The tendency is to panic, as others are – until someone realizes you can just all stand up.

Today, we have swells rolling at us from various directions, all reinforced by media, social media, politicians, activists, and neighbors. The economy is struggling, domestic and national security concerns, leadership is self-evidently weak, and lots of activism pushing end-of-world hysteria and scenarios.

You might say the noise level has us edgy, the background is all fear. If “one more thing” is put on our end of the seesaw, we can lose balance, and default to “group think.”

Objectively, life is not much different from recent decades, actually better, more convenient, and much to be grateful for, including those who – calmly, respectfully, think as we do. But psychology is at work. 

The tendency toward “collective obsession” is high, and fear is pushed by media, social media, political actors, activists, and even our neighbors. For some, the latest fear is climate fluctuations, for others World War III. 

For a remarkable number, fear is a terrible political actor sweeping in, who must “at all costs” be stopped. The fear first surfaced in polling ten years ago, became palpable in 2016 with Donald Trump, and has become a virtual obsession for many, although happily more and more are shedding it. 

The science around collective obsession is fascinating, from fads, fashions, crowds, and panics to political movements. The anti-Trump hysteria is right down the middle, classic preoccupation turned obsession.

The good news is that “group think” can be reversed with calm, objective, factual dialogue, and reference to life experience. The bad news is, by definition, obsessions – including collective obsessions – elude rationality.

Reference volumes from Medical to Britannica warn that fear, anxiety, and collective obsession can get a society in trouble, be dangerous, must be tamped down, no justified violence, no ends-justify-means.

At the national level, large chunks of society can lose balance, and give up values held as individuals, particularly when consumed by irrational fear. They begin seeing in black-and-white, others “enemies.”

As one credible source notes, “collective behavior” can “contribute to polarizations, forcing people to take sides on issues … eliminating the middle ground. Often a three-sided conflict develops among the two polarized groups and mediators who wish to de-emphasize divisive issues,” while “collective behavior” reinforces itself.

Collective behavior,” which can become a collective obsession, has “long-term consequences,” depending on how “authorities” react, noting “repressive reactions strength polarization,” while “moderate reactions strengthen the mediation viewpoint,” and no action can produce “usurpation.” 

How do these observations apply to 2024? Unfortunately, you need not be a rocket scientist – or psychologist – to see. A relentless push continues to delegitimize Donald Trump, who remains the leading Republican candidate for president, with growing support in all parties.

While some might argue anyone who wants to see the normal political process play out this year, who opposes political lawsuits, snap impeachments, respects existing statutes, believes Section 3 of the 14th Amendment was for Confederate generals, is part of their own obsession, that is really not credible.

That could only be so if all the constitutional case law, records of the Constitutional Convention, 14th Amendment debates, and established political practice were either inaccurate or needed revolutionary changing, neither of which is true. So no, the obsession is about hate for Mr. Trump, not love for him. 

How the rest of 2024 plays out, whether people keep their heads, stay rational, begin to think for themselves, parse false narratives, and drop “collective obsession” to preserve our process – whether they give up the default to “group think” – is really the big question of 2024, elephant in the room.

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.

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Lieutenant Beale
Lieutenant Beale
24 days ago

Collective obsession, group think, hive mind mentality and yes, even the lofty sounding word “democracy” are all euphemisms for mob mentality.
I cringe every time the Left blathers about democracy or the threat to it. Words have meaning folks and a Constitutional Republic is a far cry from a democracy.
Just look at the official name of North Korea:
The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea.
It is not democratic nor does it belong to the people and it sure as heII isn’t a republic.
This Titanic is sinking and anyone with half a brain knows it. What is needed is not more talk. What is needed is action and courage from real leadership as well as mobilizing our side in a grass roots effort to right the ship, including defying the Federal Government and the Courts and help the righteous elements of local government secure our border when said Federal authorities become derelict in their duty. The time for talk is over.
We must learn to fight like our life depends on it because it does.

anna hubert
anna hubert
24 days ago

There is also a collective madness

Robert Zuccaro
Robert Zuccaro
24 days ago

I don’t know how people have time to both “worry collectively” and keep up-to-date on “Everything Taylor Swift is doing, right now” too.

Charles
Charles
23 days ago

The Media and the Current Administration strongly apply “Collective Obsession” at every opportunity. Just consider the lies you here and see every day. For the Left and current Administration it’s propaganda learned from the Communists and Dictators. No longer can we receive honest true information.

Jeri
Jeri
23 days ago

I can’t imagine living a life in which you are unable to think and function independent of the “mob mentality”. Talk about a waste of a human being and hell on earth…

Rob citizenship
Rob citizenship
21 days ago

This article about collective obsession – it is one of those topics that can be mixed in with many issues and I believe it is good that you wrote about it Robert. I gave it three reads before deciding to write a comment. Your article Courage, Not Fear ” from 2022 came to mind and I do believe that the best way to deal with any enemy elements that are promoting collective obsession as a strategy to cause fear or panic would be to think in terms of simplifying things as much as possible. The spirit of the Declaration of Independence is right to the point and it provides defense – just as your article ” Courage, Not Fear ” does . Fear and panic are two things that need to be vanquished in the interest of survival and collective obsession needs to be vanquished if it presents a threat to reasoning. Reasoning is a beautiful form of thinking that enables people to see things clearly and have a better understanding of what is going on in the world. Let truth and liberty prevail .

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