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The True Believer

It’s been many years since I read The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer, but this time around was just as educational as the last time. The book is short – 168 pages – and I read it in a few hours.

Hoffer’s contention is that “mass movements do not usually rise until the prevailing order has been discredited. The discrediting is not an automatic result of the blunders and abuses of those in power, but the deliberate work of men of words with a grievance.” Certainly, we see that at work in this country now. Starting with the infamous Lewis Powell memo of 1971, the forces of corporate power have steadily undermined the middle class and impoverished the lower class. Right-wing intellectuals have been engaged in a 40-year campaign to discredit and undermine our political institutions to further private greed. These actions have generated a belated response by left-wing intellectuals that is rendering the government of this country illegitimate – in Hoffer’s words, discredited.

As yet, there is no mass movement, because a mass movement requires the existence of “fanatics [who] can move in and take charge only after the prevailing order has been discredited and has lost the allegiance of the masses.” As a perfect example of this precarious state of affairs, according to a recent Rasmussen poll, only 19% of Americans believe that Obama and Romney are the “two best people running for the presidency.”

There are fanatics across the political spectrum, my good friend with whom I clashed recently being an example of a fanatical left winger. We are all sickeningly familiar with the positions of the Gingriches, Becks, Bachmanns, Palins, Ryans, and hundreds of other fanatical right-wingers that populate the Republican Party. And, of course, those fanatical right-wingers can point out hundreds of examples of fanatical left-wingers. What will it take to ignite a mass movement? No one knows, but John Michael Greer, in a blog post on the Archdruid Report, says that his money is on a dramatic military defeat for the United States, although he also acknowledges that the triggering event could be “political, or economic, or even environmental.”

We haven’t gotten there – yet. Unfortunately, I think we are going to get there. When we do, it isn’t going to be pretty. Not at all. Hoffer mentions a number of ugly mass movements in his book, among them the American and French revolutions and the events in 1917 in Russia.

So, how does this tie in with my previous post about my good friend? She went off on me, accusing me of “venomous” anger, which I most assuredly am not guilty of. Hoffer, again, has the answer. In chapter 14, he lists the “unifying agents” of a mass movement. They are: hatred, imitation, persuasion and coercion, leadership, action, and suspicion.

Psychologists often use the term “projection” to explain otherwise inexplicable events and I think this definitely explains my friends’ actions: she hates, with a passion, an innumerable number of people who are to the right of her political positions. She revels in visiting political sites that confirm her stances (confirmation bias) and wallows in that hatred. When I pointed out that using the words “amerika” and “pressitute” didn’t help, she projected her anger on to me. How dare I attack her icons??

Thank you, Eric. Of course, my analysis applies equally to those on the Right, who engage in vitriolic denunciations of liberals of various stripes. As Hoffer writes, “mass movements can rise and spread without belief in God, but never without belief in a devil.”

This hasn’t been a “fun” post to write, but I needed to sort out all of my feelings since being viciously attacked by my friend. Will the friendship survive? I don’t know.

If you want to gain a better understanding of the forces ripping our country apart, I would highly recommend that you get yourself a copy of The True Believer and read it, s l o w l y.

1 Comment on “The True Believer”

  1. #1 Debi Kelly Van Cleave
    on Sep 6th, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    I just read your last few posts. (I always said society reminded me of the hierarchy horses have!)

    Don’t give up on your friend. You and she are more alike than not. Criticism is very hard for anyone to take. I know it was frustrating to you but I know YOU want to educate people so that things change. Emotions are running very high for everyone lately. Think about your long term goals. I don’t think you want to lose her. You are an intelligent peace lover. I’ll talk to you more later.

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