Thursday, July 8, 2010

"The True Believer" of Hopium

Hoffer's book is next on my list of donated titles for my local public library's fund raiser book sale. I was never motivated to read said book, judging by the cover that it was anti-GOP. Surprisingly, quite a bit of Hoffer's own beliefs seem to parallel Ayn Rand's, as in advocating the rights of the individual over the collective:

[T]he less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready is he to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause...The burning conviction that we have a holy duty toward others is often a way of attaching our drowning selves to a passing raft...There is no doubt that in exchanging a self-centered for a selfless life we gain enormously in self-esteem. The vanity of the selfless, even those who practice utmost humility, is boundless.

Hoffer seems to presciently predict the appeal of hopium:

[E]xtravagent hope, even when not backed by actual power, is likely to generate a most reckless daring. For the hopeful can draw strength from the most ridiculous sources of power -- a slogan, a word, a button. No faith is potent unless it is also faith in the future; unless it has a millennial component...If the Communists win Europe and a large part of the world, it will not be because they know how to stir up discontent or how to infect people with hatred, but because they know how to preach hope.

Hoffer seems to make a rather extravagant extrapolation from the anecdotal evidence of Hitler's personal experience to contend that frustrated artists allegedly possess a tendency to become totalitarian dictators:

The most incurably frustrated -- and, therefore, the most vehement -- among the permanent misfits are those with an unfulfilled craving for creative work. Both those who try to write, paint, compose, etcetera, and fail decisively, and those who after tasting the elation of creativeness feel a drying up of the creative flow within...are alike in the grip of a desperate passion...Their unappeased hunger persists, and they are likely to become the most violent extremists in the service of their holy cause.

If the above theory is correct, this would seem to argue for defunding the NEA in order to prevent to creation of potential proto-Fascists. Hoffer includes some pithy epigrams:

If a doctrine is not unintelligible, it has to be vague; and if neither unintelligible nor vague, it has to be unverifiable.

Hoffer dislikes all organized religion, surprisingly (by today's standard), periodically pointing out the historical shortcomings of all, including Islam, but, unsurprisingly, focusing specifically on Catholicism as the baddest of the lot. Presumably, this is because the book was written before the 1960s, the decade when it was politically correct to be Catholic (unless one was also a Republican, in general, or William F. Buckley, in particular) since both a Democrat US president professed this religion & the pope promoted nuclear disarmament for everyone & never openly criticized Communism. Once a pope came along who openly dissed & fought against Communism, Catholicism returned to being the bad religion that is the source of everything wrong in the world. In a conclusion paragraph that would be PC even by today's standard, Hoffer contends:

[F]anaticism...was a Judaic-Christian invention.

Hoffer proffers that after propaganda comes compulsion:

[S]teel fingers of coercion make themselves felt everywhere and great emphasis is placed on mechanical drill, the pious phrases of the fervent propaganda give to coercion a semblance of persuasion, and to habit a semblance of spontaneity.

Dovetailing into the previous post's theory of the confluence of Red & Green objectives, Hoffer hypothesizes that what is typically viewed as the "American Dream" of rising standard of living for successive generations keeps Americans motivated. Destroying this historic dream would, therefore, help to demotivate Americans in supporting current social structures:

The gross ideal of ever-rising standard of living has kept this nation [the USA] fairly virile. England's ideal of the country gentleman and France's ideal of the retired rentier are concrete and limited. This definiteness of their national ideal has perhaps something to do with the lessened drive of the two nations. In America, Russia, and Germany the ideal is indefinite and unlimited.

& conversely, motivate Americans into supporting proposed new social structures:

Not only does a mass movement depict the present as mean and miserable -- it deliberately makes it so. It fashions a pattern of individual existence that is dour, hard, repressive and dull. It decries pleasures and comforts and extols the rigorous life. It views ordinary enjoyment as trivial or even discreditable, and represents the pursuit of personal happiness as immoral.

I also donated a David Horowitz book written before he saw the light & stopped being a Communist (which seems to annoy the Amazon reviewer, whose gradient of goodness seems to operate in exactly the opposite direction): Empire and Revolution.

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