‘The Passionate State of Mind’ by Eric Hoffer

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“One does not really love mankind when one expects too much from them.”

 

Eric Hoffer (July 25, 1898 – May 21, 1983) was a sociologist who was consumed by the power within each individual to strive for good or ill. He speaks of the psychology of mass movements and the turmoil within the individual with a depth of understanding of and sympathy for mankind.  “Our quarrel with the world is an echo of the endless quarrel proceeding within us. The revolutionary agitator must first start a war in every soul before he can find recruits for his war with the world.” 

 

Eric Hoffer would have been great on Twitter. Below are my favorite insights of his (Bolded sentences are ones I found particularly enlightening):

 

A poignant dissatisfaction, whatever be its cause, is at bottom a dissatisfaction with ourselves. It is surprising how much hardship and humiliation a man will endure without bitterness when he has not the least doubt about his worth or when he is so integrated with others that he is no aware of a separate self.

 

It is usually safe to predict that the fulfillment of an excessively cherished desire is not likely to still our nagging anxiety. In every passionate pursuit, the pursuit counts more than the object pursued.

 

Every intense desire is basically a desire to be different from what we are.

 

Every extreme attitude is a flight from the self.

 

The passionate state of mind is often indicative of a lack of skill, talent or power. Moreover, passionate intensity can serve as a substitute for the confidence born of proficiency and the possession of power.

 

Where there is the necessary technical skill to move mountains, there is no need for the faith that moves mountains.

 

The genuine artist is as much a dissatisfied person as the revolutionary, yet how diametrically opposed are the products each distills from his dissatisfaction.

 

Radicalism itself ceases to be radical when absorbed mainly in preserving its control over a society or an economy.

 

A nation is “tired’ when it ceases to want things fervently. It makes no difference whether this blunting of desire is due to satiety, reasonableness, or disillusion. To a tired nation the future seems barren, offering nothing which would surpass that which has been.

 

The autonomous individual, striving to realize himself and prove his worth, has created all that is great in literature, art, music, science, and technology. The autonomous individual, also, when he can neither realize himself or justify his existence by his own efforts, is a breeding call of frustration, and the seed of the convulsions which shake our world to its foundations.

 

We have to prove our worth and justify our existence anew each day. When, for whatever reason, self-esteem is unattainable, the autonomous individual becomes a highly explosive entity. He turns away from an unpromising self and plunges into the pursuit of pride—the explosive substitute for self-esteem. All social disturbances and upheavals have their root in crises of individual self-esteem, and the great endeavour in which the masses most readily unite is basically a search for pride.

 

When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other. Originality is deliberate and forced, and partakes of the nature of a protest. A society which gives unlimited freedom to the individual, more often than no attains a disconcerting sameness.

 

Pride is a sense of worth derived from something that is not organically a part of us, while self-esteem derives from the potentialities and achievements of the self. WE are proud when we identify ourselves with an imaginary self, a leader, a holy cause, a collective body or possessions. There is fear and intolerance in pride; it is sensitive and uncompromising. The less promise and potency in the self, the more imperative is the need for pride. The core of pride is self-rejection.

 

Nationalist pride, like other variants of pride, can be a substitute for self-respect. Hence the paradox that when government policies or historical accidents make the attainment and maintenance of individual self-respect difficult, the nationalist spirit of people becomes more ardent and extreme.

 

It has been often said that power corrupts. But it is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. Hatred, malice, rudeness, intolerance, and suspicion are the fruits of weakness. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from the sense of their inadequacy and impotence.

 

We almost always prove something when we act heroically. We prove to ourselves and others that we are not what we and they thought we were. Our real self is petty, greedy, cowardly, dishonest and stewing in malice. And now in defying death and spitting in its eye we grasp at the chance of a grand refutation.

 

Excesses are merely gestures. It is easy to be extremely cruel, magnanimous, humble or self-sacrificing when we see ourselves as actors in a performance.

 

To most of us nothing is so invisible as an unpleasant truth. Though it is held before our eyes, pushed under our noses, rammed down our throats—we know it not.

 

The rabid radical remains in the dark concerning the nature of radicalism, and the religious concerning the nature of religion.

 

The uncompromising attitude is more indicative of an inner uncertainty than of deep conviction. The implacable stand is directed more against the doubt within that the assailant without.

 

We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves.

 

Absolute power is partial to simplicity. It wants simple problems, simple solutions, simple definitions. It sees in complication a product of weakness—the torturous path compromise must follow. There is a certain similarity between the pattern of extremism and that of absolute power.

 

Man is eminently a storyteller. His search for a purpose, a cause, an ideal, a mission and the like is largely a search for a plot and a pattern in the development of his life story—a story that is basically without meaning or pattern. The turning of our lives into a story is also a means of rousing the interest of others in us and associating them with us.

 

The reformer prides himself on the possession of an eternal unchangeable truth. It is his hostility towards things as they are which goads him to change them; it is as if they were inflicting on him an indignity. Hence his passion for change is not infrequently a destructive passion.

 

The sick in soul insist that it is humanity that is sick, and they are the surgeons to operate on it. They want to turn the world into a sickroom. And once they get humanity strapped to the operating table, they operate on it with an ax.

 

Our power over the world is far greater than we dream. We fashion everything we touch in our own image.

 

By discovering our own blemishes in others we as it were assert our kinship with others.

 

The pleasure we derive from doing favors is partly in the feeling it gives us that we are not altogether worthless.

 

The attempt to justify an evil deed has perhaps more pernicious consequences than the evil itself. The justification of a past crime is the planting and cultivation of future crimes.

 

It is an awesome thing that when we expose people, however undeservedly, to hatred, they tend to become hateful. Our prejudices, suspicions, and lies have this power to compel souls into a conforming pattern. It is as if the world, of its own accord, furnishes reasons for our unreasonable attitudes.  

 

We are made kind by being kind.

 

It would be difficult to exaggerate the degree to which we are influenced by those we influence.

 

To find the cause of our ills in something outside ourselves, something specific that can be spotted and eliminated, is a diagnosis that cannot fail to appeal. To say that the cause of our troubles is not in us but in the Jews, and pass immediately to the extermination of the Jews, is a prescription likely to find wide appeal.

Our credulity is greatest concerning the things we know least about. And since we know least about ourselves, we are ready to believe all that is said about us. Hence the mysterious power of both flattery and calumny.

 

A soul that is reluctant to share does not as a rule have much of its own. Miserliness is here a symptom of meagerness.

 

Our impulse to persuade others is strongest when we have to persuade ourselves. The never wholly successful task of persuading ourselves of our worth manifests itself in a ceaseless effort to persuade others of it.

 

In the chemistry of a man’s soul, almost all noble attributes—courage, honor, hope, faith, duty, loyalty, etc.—can be transmuted into ruthlessness. Compassion alone stands apart from the continuous traffic between good and evil proceeding within us.

 

Original sin? It is probably the malice that is ever flickering within us. Seen thus, it is a grievous error for those who manage human affairs not to take original sin into account.

 

To be fruitful, an enthusiasm should be but as a condiment. Pride in our country and race, dedication to justice, freedom, mankind, etc., must never be the main content of our lives, but an accompaniment and an accessory.

 

IN most cases elimination comes to nothing more than substitution: we substitute a close relative for the bad trait we have eliminated, and the dynasty continues. Envy takes place of greed, self-righteousness that of selfishness, intellectual dishonesty that of plain dishonesty.

 

Some generations have patience and some are without it. This is t=one of the most crucial differences between eras. There is a time when the word “eventually” has the soothing effect of a promise, and a time when the word evokes in us bitterness and scorn.

 

They who go places give no thought to security.

 

To have a grievance is to have a purpose in life. A grievance can almost serve as a substitute for hope; and it not infrequently happens that those who hunger for hope give their allegiance to him who offers them a grievance.

 

It is often the failure who is a pioneer in new lands, new undertakings, and new forms of expression.

 

There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day: we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life. Moreover, when we have an alibi for not writing a book, painting a picture and so on, we have an alibi for not writing the greatest book and not painting the greatest picture. Small wonder that the effort expended and the punishment endured in obtaining a good alibi often exceed the effort and grief requisite for the attainment of a most marked achievement.

 

Rabid suspicion has nothing in it of skepticism. The suspicious mind believes more than it doubts. It believes in a formidable and ineradicable evil lurking in every person.

 

Stupidity is not always a mere want of intelligence. It can be a sort of corruption. It is doubtful whether the good of heart can really be stupid.

 

To know a person’s religion we need not listen to his profession of faith but must find his brand of intolerance.

 

Our greatest pretenses are built up not to hide the evil and ugly in us, but our emptiness. The hardest thing to hide is something that is not there.

 

The real persuaders are our appetites, our fears and above all our vanity. The skillful propagandist stirs and coaches these internal persuaders.

 

Much of a man’s thinking is propaganda for his appetites.

 

You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you.

 

Unpredictability, too, can become monotonous.

 

To the old, the new is usually bad news.

 

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