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Yale 62

Mass Psychology

By David Scharff, MD

[Ed. Note: Pondering the psychology of how protests are functioning in the US and elsewhere led our Y62 Communications Team to the topic of mass psychology, of which we knew little. So we sent out a question to our classmate, psychiatrist David Scharff, and here’s what he had to say.]

Mass groups are something else, with a qualitatively different set of dynamics than the smaller groups and organizations that clinical psychology and psychoanalysis mainly study. But people are indeed subject to mass identifications in which personal differences are swept aside. The nearly universal urge to belong to a cause ignores almost all that we know of individual psychology in favor of the way that the individuals, like ants, swarm to a cause and feel elevated to this supposedly “higher cause,” enabling them to ignore so very much, and especially anything bordering on nuance.

[Ed Note: The need to belong can be overpowering, especially for many students who feel tremendous pressure to identify who they are and who or what to believe.— GR]

Why does this group of older adolescents in our colleges feel so sure? Enhanced by the swell of the feeling of support in the mass of which they become a wonderful part, they are then so adamant that they can no longer think. They can no longer think about the pain on both sides or see how the leaders of both groups have hijacked their greater interests in favor of inhuman ways of “solving” complex problems.

Both Hamas and the Netanyahu government have tried to take advantage of this form of mass psychology to win their wars, and in both cases the real humanitarian issues have been ignored. Having lured the Israeli government into this trap of overreach and inhuman behavior, Hamas is winning the global information war (really a disinformation war). Hamas has then merged these masses into the pre-existing pool of hateful antisemitism, which rests on an oversimplification of thinking, which holds that all Jews support genocide and claims that Jews cannot think for themselves, turning them all into genocidal maniacs. This denies history and ignores the way Hamas is so uncaring for the well-being of the actual Palestinians who are now pawns in a mutually deadly game.

Mass psychological seduction is a deadly game that we are seeing played out not only in our college campuses but globally. Once it infects a system, it’s very hard to find the right medicine.

 
We welcome your comments below.

7 comments to Mass Psychology

  • Ken Merkey

    One does not need a PHD to understand what is happening on campuses across the USA. The lunatics have taken over the asylum. Almost 100% of secondary schools and colleges are managed by liberals. They may have excellent academic credentials, but they do not have managerial qualities (including Yale). The default position is always tolerance and acceptance; catering to the minorities. One needs to remember that these snowflakes are easily herded by the organizers into action that is beyond their capability as individuals. Hiding behind masks and scarves they achieve results that they could never achieve on their own.

    Campus administrators must remember to protect the rights of those who are not protesting, including students, employees, and faculty. Calling in law enforcement sooner rather than later must be the default action. Cancelling graduation ceremonies is simply not acceptable.

    An excellent reference: https://www.apa.org/news/podcasts/speaking-of-psychology/group-behavior

  • Peter Cassar Torreggiani

    As I see it inclusion/exclusion is a dynamic love/hate relationship that in the incarnation of Christ through the science of the cross can become truly dynamic for all in both seeing and not seeing in our love for one another.

    The cries from the river to the sea by Palestinians and from the sea to the river by Israelis are convertible into one another if an opening towards dialogue on imagining the Three Persons of our one monotheistic God can be lead gently to the drafting of the Right of Nations suggested by Saint John Paul II to the UN 50th Anniversary General Assembly in 1995, to balance the one and the many on earth as in heaven, so to speak!

    He understood well the Russian imbalanced in yearning for evermore expansion which in fact can parallel American unity to better balance the international community in a binding inalienable Rights of Nations declaration being signed and accepted globally. He described it as a kind of spiritual sovereignty which nations have for sharing freely in truth, in peace, and in prosperity. Naturally each nation on the word stage will have to agree to allow the final appeal to the international criminal court to suppress individual crime of global consequence.

    https://www.bing.com/videos/riverview/relatedvideo?q=c-span+video+of+1995+un+speech+by+John+Paul+II&mid=6054C80F41C7169F830D6054C80F41C7169F830D&FORM=VIRE

    https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/speeches/1995/october/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_05101995_address-to-uno.html

  • Earl H Staelin

    While mass psychology may exist, I doubt it plays more than an insignificant if any role in the Pro-Palestine and Pro-Israel college demonstrations. Dave makes rather broad assumptions about the motivations of the protesters and counter-protesters. It seems to me that protesters against Natanyahu’s/Israel’s killing of over 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza, and the immediate threat to kill or remove tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands if not many more than that in Rafah very naturally get very emotional and attract a great many supporters. There is no need to invoke “mass psychology” for such protests. Further, most of the anti-Israel protesters, a great many of them Jewish, are acting in response to their hard-earned knowledge of the history of the brutal and illegal occupation of the occupied territories (Gaza, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights) since 1947-49, hard-earned since that information is generally suppressed in the mainstream media.

    The article leaves out many important facts that must be part of any objective analysis of the violent actions being conducted by Israel and Hamas in Gaza and peoples’ reactions to them. Unfortunately, if not tragically, American news media for the most part systematically omit, gloss over, or deny these facts and punish, dismiss or demand the resignation of investigative journalists who report or attempt to report these facts.

    Here are presented a number of reasonably well-established facts that need to be taken into account in order to fairly assess the Israel-Palestine conflict and the recent college protests and counter-protests, and that have been long largely ignored or denied by mainstream media:

    The forcible expulsion of 700,000 to 750,000 Palestinians from Israel in the 1947-49 war was illegal and included many terrorist acts by Israel, including massacres of many civilians such as at Deir Yassin. Such actions amount to ethnic cleansing. Norman Finkelstein and Ilan Pappe, discussed below, document such acts, that they were illegal under international law, and were and still remain a significant motivating factor for violent actions and terrorist acts by Palestinians.

    The occupation by Israel of Gaza, East Jerusalem, West Bank and the Golan Heights in Syria are illegal under international law and have been illegal ever since 1967 when they first occurred.

    The 1967 Six-day War began with Israel’s preemptive strike against Egypt. Preemptive war is illegal under international law unless there is clear evidence of an imminent attack by the enemy. Israeli General Moshe Dayan later admitted that Israel knew that Egypt was not going to attack it when it began the 6-day war. Egypt’s imagined “attack” was the pretext for the preemptive strike. Therefore, Israel’s occupation of Gaza, East Jerusalem, West Bank and Golan Heights was and remains illegal.

    Under international law, including the U.N. Charter, no nation can acquire territory through war, and a conqueror of such territory such as Israel cannot treat conquered territory as its own, including moving its people into that territory. Accordingly, the settlement of many Jews and Israelis in the West Bank and other occupied territories since 1967 is and always has been illegal. The U.S. occasionally acknowledges that fact and opposes further settlements. However, in general the U.S. has not taken effective action to stop Israel from expanding such settlements or to end the occupation. For the most part the U.S. has also failed to act as an honest broker to achieve a lasting peace, despite apparently sincere efforts by several U.S. presidents to make progress towards peace, and to achieve partial agreements. Such efforts are generally blocked or turned into partial and temporary solutions by the heavy influence of the Israeli Lobby, especially AIPAC, as well as Israeli money for campaign contributions to U.S. politicians. There is also the nefarious role of Mossad’s friend or agent Jeffrey Epstein played in luring prominent American and other officials into videotaped sex with minors in order to set them up for blackmail and political control in Zionists’ interests.

    The occupation by Israel has routinely denied Palestinians living in the occupied territories basic human rights, confiscated their land and property, destroyed their olive groves, homes, and means of livelihood, blocked normal travel for work, school, and medical care, and set up a wall the length of the West Bank that reinforces these severe hindrances to normal life. These actions collectively appear designed to force Palestinians off their land and constitute ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleaning violates the Geneva Conventions on genocide under international law.

    Excellent sources on the above issues are Jewish writers, both the sons of Holocaust survivors, Norman Finkelstein, Ph.D. (from Princeton), author of _Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict_, and Ilan Pappe, Ph.D., former professor of history at Haifa University, author of _The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine_. These comparatively recent books benefit from the Israeli Army archives which were released long after the wars of 1948 and 1967. The archives expose the reality, illegality, brutality, and apartheid of the Israeli occupation as it affects Palestinians. These books present an accurate and detailed history of Israel’s takeover and occupation of Palestinians’ and Syrian land that is very different from the “history” that most Jews, Israelis, and Americans have “learned” about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

    Netanyahu was a principal supporter of the creation of Hamas. His reported reason was that he wanted to remove the pressure on him to make peace with the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority (PA) was willing to sign a peace agreement on several occasions as Norman Finkelstein has recently confirmed. By having a second, more violent Palestinian entity, Hamas, set up, the pressure on him to settle would be reduced or removed.

    Later, Netanyahu helped ensure that Hamas received substantial funding. His ultimate long term goal, shared privately with insiders and with the radical right in Israel, but not much with the general public, is to make all of the occupied territories part of a greater Israel, as much earlier declared by Prime Minister Ben Gurion.

    It is documented that Netanyahu and the Israeli government received a copy of Hamas’ detailed written plans of more than 50 pages to attack Israel about a year before the attack on October 7. A senior Israeli intelligence analyst reviewed the plans and concluded that they were realistic and a real danger to Israel. Netanyahu chose to ignore them, arguably because he wanted the attack to occur.

    Seymour Hersch, perhaps America’s most awarded investigative journalist, has reported on these facts on Substack, which does not censor the truth, unlike the mainstream American media (MSM), which systematically censors such information, and, if it mentions it at all, usually claims it is “disinformation.” A number of other outstanding journalists such as Chris Hedges, now write through Substack given the systematic censorship by MSM and social media like Google, Facebook, YouTube, and others, using algorithms, shadow banning and other techniques. X, formerly Twitter, is a little less censored now under Musk, and TicTok is the least censored of these media, helping make it the currently most popular of such media. TicTok’s popularity and greater openness, as well as China being a part owner, is why many members of Congress, especially Republicans influenced by Israeli interests and fundamentalist Christian groups, defense contractors, and other corporate interests are moving legislation to ban or block TicTok.

    On October 7, Israel was slow to defend itself, as some very concerned Israeli observers noted, blaming Netanyahu for his inaction. The surrounding circumstances suggest it may have been intentional on his part–to ensure the attack would occur and have Hamas inflict as much damage as possible in order to justify cleansing Gaza of all Palestinians. Destroying Hamas was just Netanyahu’s largely false pretext for the wholesale killing of so many women and children in Gaza.

    Israel’s charges that Hamas had beheaded babies and engaged in numerous rapes on October 7 have been shown or admitted to be false. Similar claims are not new in war. They need to be exposed and punished somehow.

    Many Jews have joined the on-campus protests in the name of human rights and peace, including at Yale. Their refrain regarding the apparent genocide is “not in my name.” Two of my friends who are professors or retired professors of international affairs at the University of Denver’s Korbel Center for International Affairs, know this history and oppose Israel’s occupation and its ethnic cleansing of Palestine as violations of international law and of the legal rights of Palestinians.
    Continued ethnic cleansing also impedes the path to peace, which requires both sides to sit down, to patiently and respectfully listen to and speak to the other side, and to negotiate in good faith. That will likely be a long process requiring great perseverance and unshakable commitment to truth, justice, and peace. But it can be done, as in Ireland, South Africa, and other seemingly intractable conflicts that resulted in lasting settlements. This is in the best interest, safety, and peace for all parties.

    Netanyahu opposes any such peace process because it is only through continued war and ethnic cleansing of Gaza that he can stay in power and avoid prosecution, conviction, and prompt removal from office. The continued war and ethnic cleansing and genocide, in my opinion, is very much against the interests and safety of Israelis. Netanyahu’s and Israel’s risky actions, including Netanyahu’s deliberate provocation against Iran, appear aimed at dragging the U.S. into a wider war with Iran, which entails the enormous danger and risk of the use of nuclear weapons. Such a development could not possibly be in the interest of Israelis, Palestinians, Iran, the U.S., or the world.

    In summary, these college protests, including at Yale, need to be seen in the wider context of the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Seen in this “big picture” context, the vast majority of protesters, Jews, Palestinians, and their allies, are not motivated by anti-Semitism but rather the lawful and peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly. The peaceful occupation of buildings goes somewhat beyond that and can become illegal. However, sending in the police to arrest dozens or hundreds of such protesters is probably not a wise or very intelligent response.

    Kingman Brewster, as president of Yale during the equally vehement Vietnam War protests, displayed a more courageous and wiser response by inviting the protestors in to talk, which channeled the protests into productive exchanges and negotiations. Joseph Stiglitz, a Jewish professor of economics at Columbia, has recently pointed out the error of labeling protesters against Israel’s unlawful mass killing operation as anti-Semitic. He also points out the folly of mass police crackdowns and arrests of protesters when the vast majority of protesters have been non-violent. He also praised Kingman Brewster’s wiser response nearly 50 years ago.

    David’s comment about mass psychology appears to imply that the protesters against Israel’s killing of very large numbers of Palestinian civilian women and children is anti-Semitic. If that’s what he’s saying, I believe it unfairly mischaracterizes the views of the vast majority of protesters. As explained above, that assumption about the views of the anti-Israel protests might be made by many Jews who do not know or take into account the actual 76-year or more historical record of Israel-Palestine relations as described above because that history has been and still is largely suppressed by the media and in many earlier and current books.

    I should add that I attended the two-week World Conference on Racism sponsored by the U.N. in Durban, South Africa in 2001. I spoke up at one large gathering dealing with the Israel-Palestine conflict. I commented on the fact that we were all meeting in the city where Gandhi got his start as the leader of the nonviolent protest movement, and that in that spirit it would be much wiser for Palestinians to insist upon peaceful protests by them and their followers as a better way to call attention to their cause and win the support of people around the world. I didn’t mention it at the time, but I believe non-violence by Israelis and a focus on peaceful engagement would be more effective for their interest in safety and peace (assuming their cause is not to “cleanse” all of the occupied territories for their exclusive use).

    Fortunately, more of the above history has surfaced in the last few decades despite still being suppressed by the MSM. As mentioned, that history needs to include Netanyahu’s role in promoting and nurturing Hamas in order to block peace talks and deliberately set up the Hamas attack of last October 7 in order to justify the “genocide” in Gaza.

    The record demonstrates that Netanyahu’s real goal, besides desperately trying to stay in power, and unstated publicly, is not to destroy Hamas, which he knows very well he cannot accomplish anyway, as he thereby merely creates more terrorists. His real goal is to wipe Gaza clean of Palestinians to prepare it for occupation solely by Israelis and incorporation as part of a greater Israel, eventually to include all of the occupied territories.

    In my opinion, this is a foolish, misguided, if not insane goal, and not at all in the interests of Israel or its people, their safety or prosperity. Carrying it out will cause widespread condemnation of Israel and on the U.S. for supporting it. Such belligerence may also incur the serious danger of nuclear war, and the potential resort by Israel to the “Samson option”, sometimes threatened by Netanyahu, of destroying itself rather than give up its sociopathic dream of a greater Israel that kills or removes all Palestinians from the occupied territories and makes those territories part of a greater Israel.

    If there is any hope for a better future and lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians, all parties, including the U.S. must devote and dedicate a sincere and sustained effort to achieve a permanent peace that establishes a genuine two-state solution, guaranteed by major outside parties. Serious progress toward that end will probably require the removal of Netanyahu from power as an unyielding obstacle to peace. Then, hopefully, sane and responsible leaders on both sides will succeed in ending the occupation and negotiating a permanent peace based roughly upon Israel’s 1967 borders and two secure states that both recognize their need to cooperate together in peace for a better future for all. That may take years to negotiate and achieve, but it will be more than worth the effort.

    A little personal background: I was born and raised in Ohio. At Yale I was a history major with a minor in political science. In 1966, I graduated from the University of Michigan Law School and have been practicing law primarily as a trial attorney ever since, with some earlier specialization in corporate law and toxic tort cases. I have Jewish ancestors and in-laws, including a nephew I correspond with who is working for a major internet company in Israel with his Jewish Israeli wife. I also have German relatives, coincidentally including a distant (3rd) cousin who was the wife of the leader of a failed assassination attempt against Hitler, and another distant cousin, whom Angela Merkel called the “conscience of Germany,” for his call upon Germany to acknowledge responsibility for its crimes against humanity of World War II. From 1970 to 1976 I was president of the Toledo (Ohio) Council on World Affairs, hosting among many others, George H.W. Bush as our consul to China in 1975 (just seven months before he became head of the CIA). I was the host for about 18 years until 2020 of an educational forum, first at a liberal church in Denver, then independently, that hosted speakers weekly on both or all sides of vital political, economic, environmental, and social issues that cry out for wise and lasting solutions, including Israel-Palestine. I’m also currently the chair of a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit organization engaged in the effort to establish publicly owned banks such as by the state of Colorado and elsewhere in the nation. I applaud the efforts of the leaders of our Yale ’62 coffee chats to keep us engaged in informed and respectful discourse about the many vital issues that confront us all as well as our nation and the world.

    My best to all,

    Earl

  • Ken Merkey

    Quite a treatise. I am in general agreement with 2 exceptions. Israel was created as a response to the Holocaust. There is no question that the Jewish people inhabited the area long before anyone else, including the Palestinians. The geography of the world is an ever-changing scenario. If you argue that the Jews do not deserve a homeland in Israel, then you would also have to agree that the USA should be given back to the Indians.
    As to campus demonstrations, the laws must be enforced. Pitching a tent on common property is trespassing. Forcing open closed buildings is breaking and entering. Spitting at a police officer is assault. Most of the protesters are not students; some are, in fact, paid. Early and forceful implementation of order is needed. The protesters know that the liberal college administrators are weak and will always lean towards tolerance. It is not fair to the students and faculty who are not involved in protesting to have their classes and graduation ceremonies cancelled.

  • Bill Weber

    Earl,

    Thanks for this concise and complete essay on the Israeli situation.

    You certainly implied that the USA has been a major supporter of Israel, but it might better be said that the unwaivering support by the USA has emboldend the Israeli government to proceed with their action against the native Palestinians.

    And, Ken, the Anastasia Jews from Europe began coming to Palestine before WWII and after 1948 quickly displaced the native Jewish population.

    In any event, we have a country with too many people living a small place with few resources and they hate each other.

    I wonder what the eventual outcome of the current crisis will be? In our lifetime?

    Bill Weber

  • Bill Weber

    Earl,

    Thanks for this concise and complete essay on the Israeli situation.

    You certainly implied that the USA has been a major supporter of Israel, but it might better be said that the unwaivering support by the USA has emboldend the Israeli government to proceed with their action against the native Palestinians.

    And, Ken, the Anastasia Jews from Europe began coming to Palestine before WWII and after 1948 quickly displaced the native Jewish population.

    In any event, we have a country with too many people living a small place with few resources and they hate each other.

    I wonder what the eventual outcome of the current crisis will be? In our lifetime?

    Bill Weber

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