Freddie DeBoer is also talking about this: like Hoffer, "advis[ing] against supporting organizations without clear, attainable objectives" such as BLM and other hysterical woke causes that can never be satisfied because they only have passionate desires but not attainable goals to be actually organized and worked for.

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Aug 20, 2023·edited Aug 20, 2023

Attainable goals start with real problems instead of manufactured problems

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Freddie has an enormous blind spot. He may advise against supporting organizations without clear, attainable objectives, but he only does so if he doesn't like where their wobbliness leads them. He's all in on gay rights organizations that have achieved their gay rights objectives and moved on to anti-gay rights objectives (i.e. trans objectives). ArtyMorty explains it well:


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An excellent summary. I use the term "foxhole friends" to describe the believers that leaders of mass movements are looking for - followers that will stick with you even when you are wrong.

After all, anyone can be a supporter and send money or tell others how great this new way is when it's right and you can give evidence for it. But the supporters you really want are the ones who will believe you when you are obviously lying, or argue for your position when it is patently foolish.

As for the various revolutions and movements coming from those who already have a great deal, I noticed this in college. I doubt I was smart enough to have come up with the idea myself. More likely, someone who had read Hoffer made the observation to me and I was ready to hear it. The complaint about "the 1%" from 10-20 years ago came from the 5-20% - or their children, who feared they were not going to make it that far and needed to declare the system rigged and unfair.

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A friend of mine loathes Trump. She won’t date/associate with anyone who supports him. When he was president, she was talking about how terrible he is, and I asked her if any of his decisions as president disrupted her own day-to-day life. After citing all the things he did to different sub-groups in the US, she couldn’t name anything in her own life that had changed as a result of him being elected.

I often think about this when politicians make it feel like the apocalypse is right around the corner, because it’s typically an apocalypse of their own making that only they can fix.

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Very timely, relevant and disturbing review of Hoffer's ideas. Connecting everyone via the Internet has been akin to pulling out all the carbon rods from the pile of uranium that had been dampening radiological criticality. So many genies have been released in such a short period of time and their previous containment bottles / magic lamps, have disintegrated.

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Razib Khan has an interesting essay on E O Wilson over at his substack. It's one of his most-read, so it's in the sidebar.

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Fantastic piece.

You write “in a modern world”, lack of community identification is fertile ground : post-modern is the correct statement.

I think this is more than me being fussy, it is the core of the problem.

Post modern by definition destroys our sense of belonging, it being consumed by the renunciation of any and all imposed patterns. It denounces communal values as oppressive and incompatible with the highest goal, the singular good: the liberation of the individual from all barriers to their own will. It casts us into a void, alone.

Modern has gods, post-modern sees only devils. Post-modern is as lazy and weak as it is destructive.

Sorry to be hectoring you.

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Ironically, I’m reading a book about pioneer life in America and have been thinking about how much more satisfied humans are when they have nothing and struggle just to survive. Pioneers are inherently faced with uncertain survival and the simplicity of meeting basic needs motivates them to do amazing things that bring a huge sense of self-satisfaction and happiness. We’ve run out of unknown frontiers to explore on this planet. So leaders of these mass movements focus on creating uncertainty in the future to have a reason to need a leader.

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Yes, I grew up in rural SW Missouri in the 1950s and we were poor, dirt poor. No running water, no electricity, farming with horses and mules in truly "subsistence" living where if you did not shoot, catch, or grow it you did not eat. And we were happy, yes dammit, actually happy. Everybody was poor so we did not know differently. And what we did have was the shared experience of extended family, church, and school.

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Interesting to read in light of Oliver Anthony's Rich Men North of Richmond. In this case it's clear who the devil is (the Rich Men North of Richmond) and he talks about his ingroup ("It's a damn shame what the world's gotten to, For people like me and people like you").

That said, I'm not sure this group's lot has gotten better and therefore they're frustrated - I think it's gotten worse in many ways due to globalization, opioids, breakdown of community. And they don't so much want to go to a wonderful future but to a past when families were intact, you could make a good wage in a blue collar job, and America wasn't corrupt (or at least as corrupt as it is now). So part of Hoffer's analysis appears correct but I'm not sure all of it applies.


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The restoration of the neverwas is an infinite task

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This is mind-blowing for me. I did not know about the book. Just put it on my Kindle reader.

I am similar to Hoffer in that I am a blue-collar worker having risen to what might be considered the pinnacle of the educated managerial class, a CEO... and I have been deeply philosophical my entire life... my friends and family might say to a fault. However, I believe that my more than basic understanding of human behavior is what has helped my rise in the management class. I think it is also what people need to do better with human-to-human relationships... which frankly is the key to socioeconomic growth and success for most people.

Hoffer explains what I see as the key point of human behavior in always resetting normal with increased expectations for more. It seems that this is both the advantage and the curse of the human condition... wanting more as our natural state propelling us in exploration and invention... but also resulting in killing (wars and otherwise).

Most of us can understand this at a deep level thinking about the rush of happy chemicals when we achieve some advancement... a promotion for example. Then two years or so into that new advancement we start to grow interested and expectant for another upward step. Competition with others is that wanting more. It is a good thing for society as long as rooted to a strong foundation of ethics and morality. That has been lost as we have drifted secular and started to justify almost any means of gaining more as being "moral". I believe when President Bill Clinton told baldfaced lies on national TV that he "did not have sexual relations with that woman" we started the fall as the leader of the free world implanted in everyone's head that the morality of getting more only requires that you get away with it.

"A strong community can counter the attraction of mass movements. When people feel a sense of belonging, this can guide them away from falling into the trap of large collectives that dissolve individual identities."

This connects with my opinion that mass immigration has contributed to a weakening of community. I always have spirited debates with people on this because they point to the US being a nation of immigrants, and I concede that it has been. But assimilation had been a requirement before. The cultural bigotry of existing citizens played a part... immigrants would not feel welcome clutching their old cultural ways and would shed them to become American. Remember T Roosevelt's warnings about "hyphenated Americans"? As we have wiped away bigotry with laws and societal change the pressure is gone and we are no longer melting... we have become multicultural and it is proving a failed experiment because the deeper emotional care we would otherwise feel for our neighbor as being part of our same community is missing.

Lastly, I see this point about this belief in the devil as misquoted in that is should be the influence of the devil. When foundation morality is ignored by people in their pursuit of more, whether individually or collectively, they are frankly demonstrating evil. Ironically with their collective power they get to brand those that oppose them as evil and seek to oppress and destroy them on that basis. I think many of those that join this party of aggression lacking foundational morality do know they are behaving badly... and it fuels their discontent about themselves and causes them more frustration that then feeds their need to clutch ideology and lash out in blame of others.

From my perspective there is only one remedy... to stop rewarding their immoral behavior with any wins so they begin to seek other paths to achieve what they want.

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Isn't this why 'wisdom' often leads people to value what they have instead of reflexively wanting more? Ideologies depend on their adherents always wanting more and in that way I've intuited for a while that membership is antithetical to individual wellbeing.

Thanks for this introduction to a fascinating thinker.

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"The True Believer" is one of those books I quit highlighting lest the entire book be highlighted. So many salient observations every bit as relevant today as they were 70 years ago. Opening my well-worn copy just now to a random page:

"However, the freedom the masses crave is not freedom of self-expression and self-realization, but freedom from the intolerable burden of an autonomous existence. They want freedom from “the fearful burden of free choice,” freedom from the arduous responsibility of realizing their ineffectual selves and shouldering the blame for the blemished product."


"With no more outside enemies to destroy, the fanatics make enemies of one another."

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Thanks for posting that first quote. It resonates with my experiences among activists.

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Holy cow. I wish everyone would read this. And understand it. Of all the explanations I've seen for our current situation in the US, this is the correct explanation.

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If only we created longshoreman of the same quality as we used too.

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Three notes:

"The book goes on, “A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.”"

This makes me think of Jordan Peterson, and his advice to get your own house in order rather than trying to save the world. I'm always amused by how much enmity he attracts; maybe this is partly why.

"Hoffer writes that “in a mass movement, the air is heavy-laden with suspicion…the faithful strive to escape suspicion by adhering zealously to prescribed behavior and opinion…strict orthodoxy is as much the result of mutual suspicion as of ardent faith.” This is consistent with modern notions of the enforcement of popular social norms. A widely-cited paper from 2009 proposed that people coerce one another into adhering to disliked norms to show that they themselves have complied out of genuine conviction and not because of social pressure. Indeed, some individuals might be especially prone to enforcing unpopular norms because they are worried that others will regard them as insufficiently sincere."

While this is certainly the case, I have often thought that another psychological aspect of this adherence is a kind of shame at following along so willingly. People don't want to see themselves as sheep, so they actually do convince themselves that they really believe.

Finally, regarding belief in a devil, the adage that "Conservatives think Liberals are stupid, Liberals think Conservatives are evil" I think resonates with the perfectible worldview and utopian strivings of leftist activists, as opposed to the (usually) more mundane considerations, and acknowledgements of tradeoffs, of conservatives. To be sure, this does not mean that this or that leftist or liberal or Democrat stance is wrong; nevertheless a lot of left-leaning activism has a far more religious bent to it than conservatism.

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"The dockyard philosopher reminds us that we should be skeptical of mass movements without clearly defined goals."

How about those with clearly defined goals? Are all mass movements necessarily bad? What about the Protestant Reformation? Maybe the future will be different than what happened in the earlier stages of the industrial revolution, which was a unique point in our historical development? I certainly hope so, for otherwise what chance is there for fairly rapid positive change on a generational timescale? How about a movement based on love instead of hate? Wouldn't Christianity qualify? https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00U0C9HKW

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i feel so ignorant, not having heard of this book. i hope someone can find a thinker/writer that provides a framework to change the trajectory of such mass movements. if someone is frustrated and angry and scared of their inner void, how do you get this person to abandon the mob and work on their own life to find "inner peace". community sounds fine....how does a large, complex society rebuild it ?

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