Wednesday, February 22, 2006


The True Believer.
More and more I am drawn back to the wisdom in Eric Hoffer's classic work, "The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements."
For example, he write in Chapter 2, "People who see their lives as irremediably spoiled cannot find a worth-while purpose in self-advancement. The prospect of an individual career cannot stir them to a mighty effort, nor can it evoke in them faith and a single-minded dedication. They look on self-interest as on something tainted and evil; something unclean and unlucky. Anything undertaken under the auspices of the self seems to them foredoomed. Nothing that has its roots and reasons in the self can be good and noble. Their innermost craving is for a new life -- a rebirth -- or, failing this, a chance to acquire new elements of pride, confidence, hope, a sense of purpose and worth by an identification with a holy cause. An active mass movement offers them opportunities for both....
"To the frustrated, a mass movement offers substitutes either for the whole self or for the elements which make life bearable and which they cannot evoke out of thier individual resources."

Hoffer wrote his book in 1951, and commented upon Stalin, Hitler, labor movements, and more. It is "must" reading for anyone wanting to grasp world events currently unfolding. For example, rioting and killing due to a cartoon. Are we to belief that the cartoon is what caused that behavior?

I am not a big follower of marching in the streets, though I have done it -- back when we urban areas were being sprayed with malathion, it was a bit too much to remain silent. Still, it is too easy to get swept up in mob mentality.
I was strongly influenced by the wisdom of the early Noah Seminars and the folks that conducted them. They believed that it was important to focus on personal change and growth, and do it within the system. I am also reminded of the words of Barton Boehm, who was quoting his martial arts master Kiyoshi Suzuki: "Be extremely hard on yourself, but be extremely kind to others."

NOTE: My hope is to add new posts at least once a week to stimulate discussion among like-minded individuals. But I will delete any inappropriate language or personal attacks. I hope that that you find this forum for sharing and discussion useful. Christopher Nyerges


Jason said...

Welcome to the wonderful world of blogging. Great first post.

'People who see their lives as irremediably spoiled cannot find a worth-while purpose in self-advancement'

'To the frustrated, a mass movement offers substitutes either for the whole self or for the elements which make life bearable and which they cannot evoke out of their individual resources.'

I'll be chewing on those lines for a while. I think it's definitely true - I've seen that in my own life for sure. I guess the flip side is that mass movements can bring an individual to a point they have trouble reaching on their own - the trick it seems is in how people transition out of mass movements - will the temporary injection of confidence and enlightenment serve to propel the person to a next level, or will it send them into a downward spiral of dependency?

anitra said...

though humans, as a social species, are probably prone to "mob mentality," it occurs to me that perhaps there are constellations of cultural features that make particular populations more or less susceptible to mob kinds of behaviors -- things like prominent types of religion, social structure (economic stratification, segregation, community cohesion, raising of children, etc), and political structure -- which perhaps is what the book discusses.

of course, there is also the very interesting and relatively new phenomenon of global interconnectedness, which has been increasing in the last few hundred years, and especially the last 100; it makes increasingly large structures possible, and this is probably what made the scope and structure of the problem new and worthwhile of study to someone in the 50's.

i find the problem of community size and structure interesting and relevant partly for this reason. somehow, entities that are very distant from me in as many ways as i can count have profound influence on my behavior and freedom; and in some people these same distant entities inspire such profound reactions as loyalty -- a feeling of commity, of connectedness, to a group larger than the human mind is capable of conceiving. and i think this behavior is further telescoped by the difficulty we have in our culture of overcoming apathy and organizing meaningful community on a scale that we can comprehend -- not that it doesn't exist at all, but certainly not with the ubiquity or depth that it has in the past, or that we are capable of.

jcd said...

Christopher -

I always find something of value in your writings: in this case, it is the quote, "Be extremely hard on yourself, but be extremely kind to others." Thanks.

gabrielle said...

Thanks to your blog, you'll springload many to the new world of communicating online. How fun...creating a community, as usual.

"I remain professionally angry and personally gentle." This comes from a man who teaches peace in a world that promotes something far different. I appreciated the quote...helps me frame a balance. How do you stay engaged but not numb (within the system), and maintain an integrity of the self that shines beyond the externals and is itself its own beacon for change, in more subtle ways?

In these times, this tension is hard on individuals and relies on a collective of strength. This collective, I believe, is much different than mob mentality. Maybe the difference is this: one aspires (embodies) for community, the other depends and is possessed (owned) by it.

Christopher said...

I find all these comments useful. I often wonder when it is better to remain silent, and when speaking up is better, and how do you know the difference. Sometimes silence and control are far more effective. At other times, it is impossible to be silent. It is always wise to choose one's battles very carefully, or else we find ourselves being used by other forces that we did not comprehend existed. Christopher

seguetosolar said...

...thanks for this bit of intuitive and positive zen-like reasoning. In this age when millionaire politicians, corporate heads, public energy presidents, government czars, environmental agencies and other leaders seem to follow the path of corruptness and deceit I'm glad to see there is a blog to get an insightful and perceptive take on it all. I'm definitely going to get that Hoffer book.

Christopher said...

Mark!!! I cannot believe you have not already read Hoffer's book years ago. I happened to pick it up not long ago, right after reading in the paper about some of the suicide bombers in Irag. Hoffer's insight into human character is so keen that he could have been writing commentary for today.

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