‘Stockholm syndrome’ was first identified during a well-documented bank heist in 1973. It refers to the strange emotional bond that developed between the robbers and their hostages.
In an FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin (2007), the authors, who describe the phenomenon and are concerned with hostage negotiation techniques, remind us of Machiavelli’s astute observation: ‘Men, when they receive good from whence they expect evil, feel the more indebted to their benefactor.’ Indeed, the report explains that ‘victims are overwhelmingly grateful to captors for giving them life and focus on their acts of kindness, rather than their brutality.’
A survival strategy, Stockholm syndrome is a psychological response to abuse that involves trauma bonding. If affected by the syndrome, hostages see their fate as intimately linked to the well-being of their captors, whose feelings they become deeply concerned about. Such a bond can become so strong that the hostages refuse to cooperate with law enforcement. If the ‘system’ let them fall into a life-threatening situation, why trust it?
Stockholm syndrome found immediate psychological relevance in abusive domestic, coach-athlete, and workplace relationships. It can be arguably extended to socio-politics when individuals become captive of a belief system.
Consider the ongoing culture war where being vegetarian and flying frequently, wearing a COVID mask and driving a diesel SUV, believing in both corporate finance and sustainability, or supporting both capitalism and government regulation breaches clannish rules. Bound by an increasingly authoritarian version of the politically correct (as codified on each side of the polarized political spectrum), citizens lose their freedom of expression and mind.
This Machiavellian Stockholm Syndrome has been gleefully engineered by divisive political factions on both sides of the aisle to indoctrinate their constituencies, exploiting underlying feelings of nostalgia and anger. Citizens have been pressured to pledge allegiance to one side and stick to its manifesto, emotionally attached to a chosen political ideology, even when it does not align with their identity.
In this process, they have reached a mental state akin to that of hostages: focused on their captors’ positive features while playing down their less savory ones, harboring a deep distrust of the establishment, subservient, infantilized, reduced to primal emotions, unable to escape.
It is a brain robbery.
How to break this manipulative trauma bond? By introducing an alternative, reputable, apolitical authority figure able to compete for the hostages' attention.
But where on earth is it?