The Empty Man

The Empty Man ★★★★★

Collective hysteria is a phenomenon that transmits collective illusions of threats, whether real or imaginary, through a population and society as a result of rumors and fear. This concept has existed in circulation since the Middle Ages, and famous examples of this include: The Salem Witch trials, the Dancing Plague, the infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast, Satanic Panic, but one specific case that happened in my home state interests me the most, due to its...unsettling specificity. In 2002, ten girls attending a rural high school (I'll keep the name redacted for the sake of respect) suddenly believed that they were being hunted by a razor wielding serial killer. Seriously, this paranoia spread so fast and hard that one suspected man was assaulted by a mob, one of the girls harmed herself in order to manufacture evidence for the police. The threat of death was palpable and everpresent to these girls. And yet (take this with a grain of salt, mind you), after two weeks of thorough investigation, nothing showed conclusive. The case was dismissed, and all of the women were charged with public mischief offenses.

So what's the difference between collective hysteria, and the ordinary proliferation of ideas we're all familiar with? How do we know, for example, that the following axiomatic statements aren't just complete insanity:

-Some truths are socially intolerable (TRUE)
-The scientific method is a tool of oppression (TRUE)
-A woman is just as likely to have a penis as a man would (TRUE)
-There can be no change without violence (TRUE)

I think what establishes this delineation is perception. Reality is an intangible, undefinable thing; existence is incalculable and so in order to derive meaning, society molds constructs based on agreeable morals and ethics, usually fashioned from a collective sense of empathy. We all agree the sun exists in the sky, a celestial body with which the Earth revolves around, but due to parallax each of us experiences it in a different place. Sometimes standing still, we can experience this illusion, with merely our eyes and a focal point.

But how exactly does collective perception produce certain populist ideas as truisms, and some as not?

This question has no answer.

Fear ultimately is an emotion we experience to instill certain behaviors into us, so that we as both a species and an individual can avoid the oncoming inevitability of death. More evolved life utilizes the curse of communication rather than merely brain-chemical processes to convey these ideas. Many parents tell their children the story that a monster lives under their bed or inside their closet as a way for children to settle down faster, or perhaps not wake up in the middle of the night to wander around the house. The installation of this fear however, has unintended consequences. It re-established a subconscious fear of the dark in an entire generation of people. And as we grow older, more cynical and rational, this fears often either dissipate or evolve into something else, but every time I wake up and sit at the edge of the bed, I instinctually keep myself from dangling my legs over the edge. I know there's nothing under there, I keep my bedroom clean enough to the point where I can guarantee that...but something could be under there, no? There's space for something down there, right?

This anxiety electrifies the mind and allows ourselves to convince our brains of practically anything. The problem with an idea, is its potential potency. The way it can form new habits and behaviors. And there's very little justification needed for us to readjust to this new way of thinking. The difference then, between collective hysteria and objective truth (if that even exists) is perception. No matter what life you lead or what belief system you hold, there are women who have penises. There have been scientific findings which are perverted to produce a specific outcome, one which reinforces a racially biased status quo. These events are not something people consciously decided to enact, but are a consequence of an observation of our environments. Nobody conjured these ideas into existence through sheer force of will, they simply existed and we noticed. Collective hysteria is manufactured. Everyone involved with the hysteria perceives the same thing, and often the chemical constructions of our brains forcibly change themselves to accept a new reality. Instead of casually observing our world and reacting accordingly, the hypothetical we actively observe our world, intentionally looking for coincidences to string into causation. To those living outside the hysteria, the phenomenon is unable to be witnessed.

Another question: if something is witnessed by one person and not another without basis in evidence, does that something not exist?

This question has no answer.

There are certain things perceived that are so strongly perceived, whose codification has existed since civilization provides at least some merit to the idea. For example: spirituality, gnosticism, occultism. Many people believe in a higher being, and an afterlife. Neither of these things can be proven nor disproven, meaning that buying into these concepts is neither right or wrong. It's simply a choice of believe. But the idea's proliferation has significance. It's a collective idea, one born from more than just instinct. Animals, as far as we know, do not believe in a god, Abrahamic or otherwise. So how did the idea come into place?

An example: the concept of the tulpa, a "mind made body" has extended from ancient Buddhist writings (see: Patisambhidmagga and Vasuddhimagga) all the way to modern Western magics. In his seminal work, The Astralograph, occultist Joseph Leng expressed the creation of a tulpa in a formula:

Thought +
Concentration +
Time =

This is known as thoughtform.

Ontology is the branch of philosophy that studies concepts such as existence, being, becoming, and reality (particularly dealing in metaphysics). Part of existence and reality is the idea of your being and your essence being witnessed and interpreted by others. In real life, through social prescriptions and verbal communication it's relatively easy to understand people's intentions. However, for example, in a simulacrum such as the internet where interaction is reduced to pure stream-of-conscious thought and constructed faceless egos, communication has evolved into something amorphous. The perception of intention, especially on social media, is more important than the intention itself.

I'll give an example: In the face of monstrous and examinable violence at the hands of a monopolized ruling authority over a historically subjugated class/race of people, many who weren't privy to this beforehand joined together in the prototypically leftist cause of police abolition. Phrases such as 'defund the police', and 'acab' became so memetic, so ingrained in our social consciousness it became codified. But realistically, did any tangible value come from the proliferation of this idea in this space? Empirical evidence shows that annual police budgets have mostly gone up, and police departments themselves weaponize the commodification of this idea to project a disingenuous sense of acknowledged culpability to the feckless purses which provide them their power.

A third (series of) question(s): Does the devaluing of an idea via its memetic repetition and interpolation through people who don't possess the proper lived experience to internalize it devalue the principle which formed the idea? Are ideas bulletproof, and people who ruin them? Or are certain ideas formed ruined?

This question has no answer.

It's easy to control the flow of information of ideas if you weaponize their dilution to your personal benefit. The proliferation of misinformation is as commonplace as the proliferation of awareness about misinformation. The internet has evolved far beyond the boundaries of ethics with regards to communication, that we have essentially opened a Pandora's box; one in which truth and lie have blurred amidst the subjective haze of our existences. How do we define objectivity in a reality constructed from individual subjectivity? I previously mentioned some of the concessions we naturally make to define order, but in our current world that order is slowly changing and evolving. Sometimes for the better, for example: my identity is something which is becoming more commonly accepted and accommodated before. However, this change is sometimes for the worse. For the people revolted by women with penises, it's easy and in fact encouraged to construct counter-narratives - the current buzziest one is that the existence of people like me entices adults to groom children with ideology into performing sexual favors. It's the gay panic of the 1950s translated into the modern era, with a new culture war target. But nothing is stopping these hateful people from researching and digging for a case where one transgender person did, in fact, molest a child and utilize that story to reframe their worldview. What can we do then, except protest in an individual capacity, to fight for ethics, to fight for empathy? We can't possibly indict the cosmos for a thought...can we?

Nothing exists. Even if something exists, nothing can be known about it. Even if something can be known about it, knowledge about it can't be communicated to others. Even if it can't be communicated, it cannot be understood.

Discourse and observation create hysteria. We're fucked then, we've imprisoned ourselves in a zero sum game where communication is destined to fail. Ontology perhaps can save us, further discourse on the discourse can, perhaps our fundamental ethics and morals can aid us. After all, it's human nature to reach out, to understand, to help, to love.

I am going to admit something to you all. I lied to you. I manufactured evidence to prove my point in order to manipulate your perception. The story about the high school girls and the serial killer, all made up. The facts about Leng and his Astralograph, more lies. I intentionally did this to showcase how susceptible information can be perverted. How perception can be altered, how falsehoods rewrite objective truths. This movie, whether intentionally or not (thought I hope I've established how irrelevant intention is nowadays), also lied to you to change your perception. Its marketing, and especially its narrative were all smoke screens to make you believe it was a horror/thriller about a conspiracy involving some cloaked oneiric assassin who kills people through an urban legend. It's not. It's about one man facing a personal hell constructed inside a mental prison for a terrible thing he did. And that's how easy it is to control the truth. Your truth. Our truth.

I'm not going to be honest with you. The following story I'm about to tell you was either one I found scouring the internet at 4 am in the morning to get a rise out of you, or something my sleep deprived mind made up to also get a rise out of you:

There's a website in the deep corners of the internet, run by malicious and anonymous people who have access to nearly everyone's IP addresses and other sensitive information about them with presumably psychopathic and murderous intent. The URL is; most browsers will display an error image as if the site doesn't exist. But it does. Once you access it, the people in charge get sent a notification that you found them. They respond by sending someone to your place of residence. They'll track your movements, learn your schedules. When you go to work, when you fall asleep, how many people you live with. They'll learn which of your floorboards creak, how many light sources you have, how long it will take to get from the front door to your bed. And it's an inevitability they will find you, and they will get you.

You can choose to believe this story, or not. But there's an itch in your brain, right? Part of you is wondering whether my absurd claim is right, that part of you wants to prove me wrong, to find out for yourself if the story is true. The other part hesitates, perhaps the pragmatic or skeptical side wonders if that's a good idea. Surely, a website with a thuddingly obvious name like that can't be real...but it could. Anything could be real. Maybe there really were five prisoners of war who had experiments conducted on them involving sleep deprivation. Maybe if you say Bloody Mary in front of the mirror she will come and haunt you. Maybe someone does exit your closet while you sleep, to simply watch you before you wake. You don't know. You'll never know.

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