June 1, 2011

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I continue to work my way through Eric Hoffer’s “The True Believer,” not because it’s a large book or because his style is difficult or because his concepts are complex. None of that is true. The book is 166 pages, the sentences are crisp and he draws upon experiences common to most of us. My progress is slow because his thoughts are provoking and cause me to take side trips in my head. 

Hoffer observes, for example, that the basic difference between conservative and liberal views about the world hinges upon whether one believes the present contains more benefits than the future:

          “Fear of the future causes us to lean against and cling to the present, while faith in the future renders us receptive to change.”                                          (“The Desire for Change,” section 5)

The moment I read these words, a quote by the singer Judy Collins’ about the turbulent 60’s popped into my head:

          “We wanted so much to change the world; we all wanted to stop the war (Vietnam); we wanted to stop social injustice. They were good causes because      they had innocence about them.”                                                                (AARP, “The Magazine,” May/June pg. 52)


Faith in the future is a gift the young give to the world. They may pose as cynics but scratch an inch below the surface and you’ll find an optimist beneath. The hope we see in the Arab Spring is an example of youth’s irrational exuberance, and we who have lived long enough to witness such uprisings before wish them well. 

But can hopeful dreams improve the course of human kind?  My view is that they already have. Like the philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, I don’t believe history moves in a straight line but like a coil it loops upon itself, seeming to repeat the human experiences but never quite in the same way. That is a form of progress.