May 27, 2011


I am revisiting Eric Hoffer’s work of the 1950’s, “The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. Though it is 60 years old, the ideas are as relevant and fresh as if a paint can had been opened and its contents thrown against a blank wall. His thesis is that discontent alone does not make for change. Those perilously poor and on the edge of their existence, Hoffer argues, are the least likely to create uprisings for fear any movement will throw them headlong off a cliff. The desire for change comes from those who are modestly secure but hope for future improvements. People in this category tend to believe that conditions outside themselves are responsible for their circumstances. 

Hoffer also argues that as governments are created by people, they tend to behave like them. Nations that fare better than others will receive the enmity of those less prosperous. A host of reasons will be given for that enmity, some of them reasonable, some of them exaggerated and some little more than propaganda. At the center of this discontent is each nation’s desire to equalize with more advanced countries. Sometimes this enmity will lead to bloodshed.

       “For there is a monstrous incongruity between hopes, however noble and tender, and the action which follows them.

        It is as if ivied maidens and garlanded youths were to herald the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.” (Hoffer, “The True Believer”) 

If Hoffer is right about the nature of social movements, then the road to peace strikes me as a simple one. As a specie we need to do a better job of sharing.   What if we sent aid and not bullets to defeat the terrorist? What if we altered the paradigm of the marketplace a little and think less about competition and more about cooperation? 


Does this notion sound naive? Consider the alternative. If developed countries of the world continue to behave like the monkey with its hand stuck in a bottle because it refuses to let go of the banana then we, like it, will suffer.