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91. Mass Psychosis in General

Various conditions, discussed in the preceding chapter, - i.e. in heavy cases when these conditions disable the affected person too often, or affect his or her physical health, — attract the attention of the Tungus, as abnormal conditions which require intervention. However, in this case, it would not become a social matter, for only the family, or at most near relatives, would be interested in the case. But the above described conditions may affect a very great number of persons who belong to the same unit — usually a clan, or a village, and even an ethnical unit. In this form the condition can be considered as mass psychosis, which may take two forms: an «epidemic» form that suddenly affects the unit and soon passes away, and an «endemic» form that from time to time affects groups of persons, even the same persons who belong to the same unit. The condition may also become acute, assuming extremely dangerous forms, and it may be long lasting, but not very harmful, — a chronic type. In using these terms «epidemic» and «endemic», «acute» and «chronic» I wish not to be misunderstood, — these are mere metaphoric expressions, which now do not presume any idea of «infection», although the analogy with an infection is rather great, and goes so far as to make application of «prophylactics», «disinfection», and «antiseptic treatment» possible. However, this will be a mere metaphor, for the essential of these conditions is imitation and functional disturbance, chiefly due to the disequilibrium of the complexes.

In the description of spirits known among the Tungus we had occasion to see how the groups may be affected by the spirits. We are now interested in the problem of the effects produced by them. On the other hand, we have seen that the number of spirits among all Tungus groups is great, and is gradually increasing. However, at the same time some of these spirits are also gradually forgotten, so that spirits of different age. origin and effectiveness are mixed up In the complexes. The renewing of the list of spirits is a very interesting phenomenon, for the introduction of a new spirit practically means an individual or a mass psychosis for a short or a long time. Indeed, not all spirits produce such an effect, for some new spirits leave the psychic complex of the Tungus well equilibrated, and some other spirits are invented (guessed) for the alleviation of the psychomental tension, sometimes caused by other conditions of Tungus life.

When the Tungus learn about the existence of spirits, for instance, among the Chinese, there may be two results; namely, the spirit may appear as an active one among the Tungus, or it may appear as a powerless one among them. The spirit may become influential in two different ways. Let us take the case of ain'i burkan which, as has been shown, is not of a Tungus origin. There was a time when the Tungus did not know about the existence of this spirit with its various manifestations. However, the infectious diseases ascribed to this spirit, at least some of them, were not unknown among the Tungus. It is very likely that some new diseases, formerly unknown among the Tungus, were also brought by the Chinese. The theory of this complex spirit perfectly explains all kinds of diseases of this group. So the Tungus now include in the list of these spirits' activity not only diseases produced by the contact with the Chinese, but also all other diseases which were known before.

In this case it is not likely that the acquaintance with the new spirit would bring mass psychosis, for the whole series of diseases are infectious, but the spirits of a foreign origin, in the Tungus eyes, will still be active. Indeed, among the Tungus. when they become acquainted with a new spirit symbolizing infectious diseases, there may be some cases of an imaginative sickness ascribed to the newly discovered spirits. But it will not last very long. Such an imaginative sickness is known among the students, beginners in medicine, when, with the progress of their studies, they suspect themselves of being affected by various diseases they are studying. As a matter of fact, the study of psychomental troubles, which are not conditioned by the physiological disfunctions, may have quite a bad effect on the students who have no well balanced and resistant minds.

Another case will be that, when a new spirit symbolizes not infectious diseases, but a certain psychomental condition which disables the affected persons. In such a case the spirit may become active immediately after the Tungus learn about its existence. In fact, when it is known that there are spirits which may produce upon girls an effect similar to that of a spirit in Shantung (cf. supra p. 243 f.), some Tungus girls who are susceptible may also become affected, imitating the Shantung girl, if they know how to do it, or creating a new form adapted to the Tungus complex.

However, not all spirits can become active among the Tungus, and the Tungus are conscious of it. Such cases will be those caused by the spirits symbolizing infectious diseases which do not affect the Tungus, and by spirits which symbolize psychomental disfunctions that are unknown to the Tungus, or cannot be introduced among them. In this case the conviction that such-and-such a spirit has no power among the Tungus is a perfect guarantee for the elimination of the new spirit's activity.

As to the psychomental nature of this conviction, I think that we have two distinct groups of cases, namely, a conscious and unconscious opposition, and a lack of psychomental susceptibility. In fact, some alien psychomental conditions disable the affected persons so much that their introduction among the Tungus would be equivalent to a destruction of the affected individuals. Therefore, these conditions, symbolised in spirits, will not be introduced at all. Into the group of cases of non-susceptibility of the Tungus we may include, for example, most of the cases connected with the sexual complex. In other ethnical groups, especially those which practice late marriage and which disable their members from normal sexual functions, a sexual maladjustment may be responsible for some psychomental troubles, while the Tungus in this respect are found in a somewhat better position (cf. SONT). Indeed, in these cases the Tungus conviction is a simple statement of facts, - the Tungus are not susceptible, — while in other cases the Tungus usually are, I think, unconscious of their methods of self-preservation, when they accept the idea of their inviolability by some spirits. This is merely one of the curious mechanisms of a self-regulation of the psychomental complex.

One may frequently hear from the Tungus complaints of the spirits that harm them. So I have several times heard them saying: «We are in a very bad position, for we have too many spirits. Our neighbours, the Russians, are happier, for the spirits do not harm them.» On the other hand, one may also frequently hear their statement that such-and-such spirits of the Chinese, Manchus, Mongols and other neighbouring groups are powerless among the Tungus. These are facts of great interest, for the Russian spirits (so from the Tungus point of view), in so far as they are «named» spirits (e.g. Jesus Christ, Saint Mary and various saints), do not produce such harm as the spirits adopted by the Tungus. Naturally, if these Russian «spirits» become known among the Tungus, they do not produce effects similar to those described in the previous chapter. By this remark I do not want to say that the Russian complex is free from the attempts at a theoretical justification of «hysteria» and other «hysteria-like» conditions, and that no other forms of producing these conditions are known among the Russians. However, there is an essential difference, namely, theoretical justification and other forms producing psychosis are not identified with the spirits of Tungus conception. Yet, their functioning presumes a social system quite different from that of the Tungus, and a different psychomental complex which for the Tungus is out of reach. Owing to this, the conditions which produce instability of the Russian psychomental complex remain unknown to the Tungus, and the Russian «spirits» as stimuli and justification of psychoses are absolutely harmless for the Tungus [500]. However, theoretically these harmless spirits may be assimilated and adapted by the Tungus for the same function as their own harmful spirits. Such one seems to be the case of some mafa which among the Dahurs (cf. supra) «speak Russian».

As to the other statement concerning powerless spirits, it is also a fact of importance as a condition eliminating certain cases of mass psychosis, owing to the conviction that the spirits are not powerful among the Tungus and as an indication that certain psychoses cannot affect the Tungus.

These are special conditions of the formation and existence (functioning) of the complex of mass psychoses. Doubtless the Tungus mass psychoses are based upon certain psychomental conditions which are «human» and are observed among other ethnical groups as well. However, this point of view gives us access to the problem of how the complex of mass psychosis is formed and how some elements are found in a complex, while other elements are absent. In particular cases of psychoses we have seen that they are gradually formed of the elements either borrowed from the neighbours or invented by the units themselves. Indeed, in these conditions the interethnical milieu is a permanent source of new elements. So we may say: the stronger the interethnical pressure, the richer the complex, i.e. the higher the chance to stimulate and to justify the mass psychosis. On the other hand, we have also seen that another favourable condition for the formation of this complex, an intensification of its function, is the condition of changing milieu which requires readaptation of the individuals and groups. Here I do not specify the kind of milieu. It may be a primary milieu, a secondary milieu in its various forms or a tertiary milieu.

In the case of primary milieu its change takes place because of the migration of the ethnical units, and because of the periodicity of short cycles. I now speak only of the periodicity of short cycles, for the periodicity of longer cycles affords the necessary time for a reaction, and readaptation, while in the case of short cycles immediate individual adaptation and that of groups of individuals is required [501]. This fluctuation of environmental conditions requires immediate reaction in the sense of adaptation to the periodical changes of the conditions of life, particularly of the supply of food. The point of importance is the change, as such, and not the more or less «favourable» conditions created by them for survival of the groups. It should be noted that there may be different effects of cyclic influence which depend on two conditions, namely, the local intensity (some regions are more and other regions are less affected) and elasticity of the psychomental complex of individuals, just as a form of cultural adaptation, and physiological adaptation which possesses lesser or greater elasticity and which, in the case of great elasticity, permits the unit harmlessly to change milieus; while in the case of very limited elasticity, the unit may survive only in the conditions to which it is accustomed. The seasonal and daily periodicity's do affect the system of equilibrium, but they are of such a short duration that every individual can easily adapt himself to them. However, the seasonal periodicity undoubtedly has a great importance, both direct and indirect, which is evident from various reports of travellers who observed intensification of psychoses during some seasons, e.g. in the winter. However, in so far as Tungus are concerned, I cannot say whether there Is any seasonal variation. I did not observe it. Yet, I have some doubt as to this phenomenon among other groups; namely, the question remains to be answered how far the factor of forced inactivity, need of distraction and forced gathering of many people under one roof are responsible for the intensification of phenomena regarded as «pathological» conditions. The daily variations have a great importance on behaviour, - individual fits during the morning hours are almost inconceivable among the Tungus, the most favourable hours being those after sunset. However, several aspects of the above described conditions are involved, namely, relative leisure in the evenings, possibility of hiding one self in the dark, also natural weariness of the nerves after the daily work, etc. These are factors which have very little to do with the change of environmental conditions, as directly influencing individuals, i.e. the influence of light and temperature as well as, perhaps, special rays, more active in the dark. Seasonal and especially daily variations are of such a short duration that the individual elasticity may easily be created.

From the above considerations as to the influences of a changing milieu, we may suppose that the psychoses may occur in especially favourable conditions during the periods of changes, especially cyclic changes of medium length (eleven-twelve years periodicity) connected with the sunspots and after the change of territories which differ in respect to climate.

The change of secondary milieu is also a factor favourable for the psychoses. In fact, any important change, e.g. in the methods of food supply, in the system of social organisation, etc. requires a readaptation of the psychomental complex. Instability during the period of readaptation is, of course, a well known fact, which does not require any special comments. The question is as to the intensity of the readaptation of the psychomental complex. In fact, if the process of readaptation occupies a very long period, it may proceed at a slow pace without affecting the functional equilibrium, but if it requires a short period, a special effort must he made which in individual cases and in groups, may easily result in a temporary disequilibrium which may facilitate manifestations of psychoses. In this way we introduce the idea of relativity of the process of changes referred to the unit of time. So that if the change proceeds at a certain speed the psychomental complex must change constantly and must adapt itself, in order to preserve its functional effectiveness in the newly created systems of adaptive equilibria. Naturally, when the tempo of variations is very high and the psychomental complex cannot be adapted with the same speed, the internal conflict is inevitable. In such conditions individual and mass psychoses are very likely to occur [502].

Another condition of relativity is that of inborn ability of psychomental changes, the elasticity of individual and therefore also of mass psychomental complex [503]. For the present we have to leave this remark without any further development, for we do not actually know whether there are any special inborn conditions in the ethnical units, i.e. different degrees of «conservatism», i.e. the sticking to the existing complex, or «reformism», i.e. the indifference as to the existing complex and readiness to change it at any moment. One thing is evident, namely, within certain limits variations of the ability of elastic adaptation of the psychomental complex depend not on the inborn conditions, but on the previous tempo of variations, to which tempo the ethnical unit is already adapted. Therefore, the chief condition seems to be the evenness or smoothness of the tempo of variations, the tempo itself depending on what may be compared with «full capitalization and amortisation» of the produced change. In such a setting of the problem we arrive at another problem, namely, that of impulses of variations and their variable intensity during periods of utilisation, and thus of the process of increase of population. This problem may be set only in so far as the processes are concerned in well adapted and not declining units; but with the declining units the situation is complicated by the conditions of inverse movement — the loss of adaptation and adaptiveness, and the lack of necessary response to the interethnical pressure. These questions may be left aside for the time being.

Finally, the change of psychomental complex may occur without being caused by the need of readaptation to the changing secondary milieu. Here I have in view the simplest case of changes which occur in the psychomental complex owing to the interethnical pressure, and to the increase or loss of the elements of the pre-existing psychomental complexes which we have already seen and which we shall discuss later.

The interethnical milieu in its direct and indirect manifestations produces the greatest influence on the conditions of the psychomental complex. An indirect influence consists in the changes of the complexes of material, technical adaptation and social organisation, which have to be made, owing to the interethnical pressure. The direct influence is the pressure of alien ideas (theories, conceptions) and behaviour as a source of imitation. In the previous pages of this chapter, I began my discussion precisely by showing a picture of this influence, for it is very evident and it is subject to a simple distinction among other elements. We have seen that a new spirit, discovered by the Tungus among their neighbours, may in certain conditions be easily introduced, and this fact alone may suffice for shaking the psychomental equilibrium of the individuals and groups and thus produce a mass psychosis. In this way the pressure of interethnical milieu is a permanent and direct source of ethnical psychomental disequilibrium, or, better to say, a permanent source of impulses of variations which require re-adaptation of the complex.

* * *

The above given picture of conditions responsible for the mass psychoses among the Tungus, — and it may be generalised for other ethnical units which are in quite similar conditions, — shows that there may be two theoretically fixed extremities (1) the condition of a perfect stability which theoretically (and only theoretically!) may be of two forms: a static stability and a dynamic stability; and (2) the condition of a perfect instability, which may be also of two forms. In fact, with an invariable primary milieu, an invariable secondary milieu (perfect adaptation in the given conditions), and an invariable interethnical pressure, a perfect static stability may be created. The individual cases of psychoses, chiefly brought about by the physiological disfunction, and as «normal» variations of «normal» condition (its extremities), will have no further spreading. On the other hand, the well balanced milieus and correct adjustment of the tempo of their variations and that of the psychomental complex will produce a dynamic stability as a system of moving equilibrium maintained by an adaptation of impulses of variations and responses. From the diagnostic point of view these cases are not difficult, and practically no static stability is observed.

The condition of complete instability, as a theoretical proposition, may be suspected to be static in the case when the physiological condition of the ethnical unit is a permanent source of psychoses. Such a case is not of common occurrence, for in the history of ethnical units it may occur only in the case of a complete biological decline which brings the unit very near to complete extinction. It is very unlikely that such a unit may survive for a full generation. Under the present condition of interethnical pressure such a unit would disappear within a few years. The case of a complete dynamic instability may occur in the condition of lacking adaptation as to the changes which proceed and as to the tempo of variations. This occurrence is also not frequent, and it is a theoretical one, for the unit has no time to maintain it and perishes early.

The groups, practically observed with respect to the conditions of mass psychoses, are usually found in the conditions ranging between the above indicated limits. The state of a perfect dynamic stability is not observed, as well as the state of a complete dynamic instability, for both may occur only for a short time in rare cases, as a mass phenomenon lasting no more than a few weeks or a few months, in the conditions of a shaken ethnical equilibrium, In the first case the equilibrium is restored, or the unit perishes; in the second case the centrifugal and centripetal movements rearrange the ethnical unit and the former equilibrium is restored.

In order to avoid here a possible misunderstanding I want to point out that, when in some ethnical units the mass psychoses take new ethnographical forms, they cannot be easily recognized and are often left unnoticed. This is very frequently the case in ethnical groups which are undergoing a process of positive impulsive variation, when mass psychoses usually remain unnoticed. On the other hand, if the ethnical unit is under the condition of negative impulsive variation, manifestations of mass psychoses can be easily seen, for they usually repeat one of the forms already experienced in the past. Indeed, in the observation of alien groups the situation is enormously complicated by the fact that the observers, as a rule, reflect their own complex, -they react on an alien complex, — so that normal phenomena may be taken for «mass psychosis», while real psychoses may be left unnoticed.

It happens often that the observer avoids inevitable errors only by limiting the scope of his work, confining himself to a selected group of facts (e.g. «behaviour» is one of the ways of selection) and by giving up the idea of operating with the psychomental complex as a whole. Indeed, such a justified avoidance of attacking the problem does not leave a great chance for reaching the goal of the investigation, i.e. the finding of a mechanism regulating psychomental complex in groups.

Undoubtedly any one who is interested in the problem would ask: how far the new spirits may produce mass psychosis, and how far the general psychomental-physiological conditions of ethnical units are responsible for the appearance of the new spirits? This question would be answered in accordance with the psychomental complex of the questioner himself, but it seems to me that if we have no direct indications as to the psychomental-physiological conditions, this question cannot even be put. A psycho-physiological condition, an existing cognition of it, — both in physico-chemical forms and in symbolization, — and a complex of its stimulation and justification form a system which does not allow us to solve the equation by an abstraction of various aspects. Even a successful analysis of a great number of cases does not permit us to generalize, for there will remain a certain group of facts which do exist, but are not yet analysed and described, and they may conceal the great secret. In other words, our present knowledge is not yet sufficiently advanced for such generalizations, and even for an adequate description of the system.

As far as possible the cases, like those observed among the Tungus, ought to be analysed and described, while the answer to the above indicated question must be left to the future.

As has already been shown, in some cases we may speak of spirits more or less definitely in the sense of their being the cause, and of psychosis as of an effect, while in some other cases we may speak more or less definitely of psychosis as a cause, and of spirits as of an effect, not only in terms of time, but also in terms of analysis. Yet a great number of cases will still remain, about which nothing definite can be said. In order to show how difficult the analysis can be I shall now point out that the alien origin of spirits and their history are not always certain, in the sense of showing the precedence of spirits to the psychosis, for the spirits may be only a new formulation («cognition») of a pre-existing psychosis. And still more difficult is the case when two aspects of the system, — the psychosis, its cognition and explanation (spirits), — are occurring simultaneously e.g. under interethnical pressure.

500. I must point out that such a broad comparison of the Tungus and Russian complexes is good only in general lines. As a matter of fact among the Russians from time to time there appear «movements» which have «pseudo-religious» stimuli and justification of psychoses usually known under the technical term of sectarianism (s 'ektantstvo). In its multifarious forms it may attain dimensions of mass psychosis affecting normal reproductive functions, etc. The «spirits» do play the same role as among the Tungus. though the forms are different. Here I also want to point out that the stimuli and justification of psychoses, both individual and mass, among the so-called civilized groups assume such forms that they are not at once recognized even by the psychiatrists. Moreover, the psychiatrists themselves may play the role of stimulators and justificators of some psychomental disfunctions, as has been suspected by some French specialists in hysteria (after Charcot). However, cf. supra. To this question I shall briefly return in the conclusive part of this work.

501. I leave aside the problem of how the individuals may react on the energy, chiefly electrical, as it seems emitted by the sun during the periods of spots, for the investigations known to me (cf. Sviatskij, op. cit.) do not show how far other ethnical groups may be affected by this condition. The investigation has been carried out among the Russians, so that we cannot say whether the same reaction can be postulated as effective among the Tungus. I admit that some ethnical units may acquire great elasticity in this respect and may not react at all directly on the special condition of the sun. However, here the question is confined to the direct influence, while indirect influence, as produced on the piants-animals-ethnical units' equilibria may greatly affect the individuals and especially ethnical units.

502. Vide supra.

503. In a pseudo-scientific justification of heterethnical reactions a tendency to explain ethnical differences from the «hereditary» (racial) condition was lately prevailing. Naturally, it was immediately opposed by a contrary tendency, namely, that of explaining them from the «cultural» differences, also the «environment». The «truth» is not always found in between two opposite opinions. As shown, both forms of adaptation actually are the same. However, certain functional phenomena are undoubtedly conditioned by the morphological and physiological characters of the organism, so within these limits «inborn conditions» may be held responsible. Unfortunately, no adequate investigations have been carried out, — we cannot now seriously use all gathered «facts».

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