The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer (30/107)

Really excellent little book, very valuable in my quest to better understand human nature.

The “true believer” in this context refers to people who are ardent converts of any particular Big Idea, which can be religious or secular (usually political). What makes some people susceptible to cult leaders, or the Tea Party movement?

I used to worry, when I was younger, that my fascination with religion and its cultural influence was a sign that I was looking for something to believe in. I didn’t want to become a convert to anything, but I couldn’t seem to leave it alone, and so I was terribly afraid that one day I was going to wake up, find jesus, and become a born-again pain-in-the-ass.

After reading The True Believer I’m not so worried about that anymore, because I’m like zero for ten on the character traits that incline someone toward embracing a cause. The biggest one, that he discusses at length, is the idea of the “ruined self” — that people who are unhappy with themselves and their lives are far more eager to embrace a cause that they see as larger and better than themselves, that will redeem them and give them purpose, and take them away from their own miserable worthless selves. People who don’t feel like they’ve accomplished anything, who don’t get a sense of fulfillment from their job and/or hobbies, who feel like they’re not doing anything worthwhile with their lives and not living up to their potential.

(Interestingly, artisans tend to be all but immune to that ennui, which didn’t surprise me. It’s creative work, and every time you complete a project you get the satisfaction of having accomplished something. Stymied artists, on the other hand, can fall into black despair when their creative juices dry up and go looking for a Big Idea to lose themselves in instead.)

I could spend a very long time discussing all the things that I found noteworthy enough to make margin scribbles on, but instead I’ll just recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about why people behave the way they do. Short, concise, incredibly insightful, top-notch nonfiction.

***

And now, the Dredd picture of the day. This is how he smiles for a photo:

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