Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hoffer on Power and Weakness

Yesterday I shared with you one of my favorite comments from one of my favorite authors, Eric Hoffer, the Longshoreman Philosopher. Hoffer has a lot to say on a lot of topics, and I don't agree with him on everything, but I nevertheless think he's one of the greatest thinkers ever.

I'm re-reading his book The Passionate State of Mind at the moment, and was struck by two passages that appear to have real relevance to our current miserable political and economic mess. First is this one ...

"It has often been 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."

And the second was this one ...

"You do not win the weak by sharing your wealth with them: it will but infect them with greed and resentment. You can win the weak only by sharing your pride, hope, or hatred with them."

I think we can see the essential truth of the first observation just by looking at the rise of movements like the Tea Party. We feel weak and powerless when we begin to believe that we have no voice in our government and our future, and see those with more power and influence buying the representation we believe ought to be freely available to all. Those who feel powerless and exploited strike back in whatever ways they can, and rudeness, intolerance and suspicion are rampant in every facet of what passes for political and social discourse today - the rudeness that makes it okay to shout down a speaker rather than engaging him with better and more defensible ideas, the intolerance that makes people lash out at immigrants in general rather than illegal immigrants; and the suspicion that poisons our ability to believe anything we hear because we've grown so used to false "facts" and streams of statistics cherry-picked or twisted to advance a particular agenda.

As for the second observation, it sounds like a rock-ribbed Republican sentiment, doesn't it? But it's true, at least as far as it goes. People don't want handouts, they want jobs. We have an obligation as a society to look out for those who, through no fault of their own, fall on hard times. But we run the risk of creating a culture of entitlement when we resort to welfare rather than economic recovery. People tend to grow resentful at the thought that they must depend on handouts rather than on the fruits of their honest work (pride and hope, in Hoffer's words), and that resentment can grow to hatred in time ... as, sadly, it seems to be doing of late.

Eric Hoffer wrote his major works in the 1950s, but he would have well understood the present time.

Have a good day. Don't let yourself be corrupted, whether by power or by weakness. More thoughts tomorrow.



eViL pOp TaRt said...

Hoffer's point may be reflected in the UK with some of the people on the dole, and with some of our unemployed slackers.

They really need jobs. And hope. Not slogans.

I'll look for one of Hoffer's books.

eViL pOp TaRt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Years ago there was a movement in California schools to increase self-esteem among children there. I wonder if that movement was somehow related?

Speaking as someone who was unemployed for a bit, it hits you home. I found myself taking jobs like clerking in convenience stores just to be busy.

Duckbutt said...

I read The True Believer years ago. I enjoyed his terseness and come-to-the-point style. He was a real life longshoreman.

Banana Oil said...

Good thoughts. Unfortunately, there's a lot of intolerance floating around nowadays. Hoffer sounds like a real philosopher of practical life.

Mike said...

I think embarrassment is the gateway emotion that leads to all the other negative emotions. People do some really stupid things when they're embarrased.