Jun 192002

The relevance of Eric Hoffer’s book The True Believer to suicide bombing is obvious, and Jason Rubenstein has an excellent post about it. You could do worse than this if you want to understand the character of the suicide bomber:

There is a tendency to judge a race, a nation or any distinct group by its least worthy members. Though manifestly unfair, this tendency has at least some justification. For the character and destiny of a group are often determined by its inferior elements….The reason that inferior elements of a nation can exert a marked influence on its course is that they are wholly without reverence for the present. They see their lives and the present as spoiled beyond remedy and they are ready to wreck and waste and wreck both: hence their recklessness and their will to chaos and anarchy. They also crave to dissolve their spoiled, meaningless selves in some soul-stirring spectacular communal undertaking — hence their proclivity for united action. Thus they are among the early recruits of revolutions, mass migrations and of religious, racial and chauvinist movements, and they imprint their mark upon these upheavals and movements which shape a nation’s character and history.

  6 Responses to “News That Stays News”

  1. How does this stuff even resonate with you? Do you actually believe that any culture is worth anything? Culture is a disease inherited by stupid children who never realize that their parents were clueless idiots.

    There’s a very simple formula at work with "culture". Whenever there is a power imbalance between tribes, one will exploit the other until violence erupts.

    Hoffer and Rubenstein are just momma’s boys trying to sugar-coat the truth: humanity is a collection of stupid, naked apes. Occasionally, there is a two sigma event. Be proud of that.

  2. I am the first to agree that humanity owes the vast majority of what progress it has made since crawling out of the ooze to a few two-sigma events. And certainly we are an absurd collection of stupid apes sub specie aeternitatis. But, speaking as a stupid ape, I think we can spare a few thoughts for things that happen closer to the middle of the distribution. Hoffer is pointing out, correctly, that it is usually the worst elements of any society that find violent political action the most attractive. Violent eschatological politics is a fact of human life. Hoffer has a theory about it, a theory that’s largely true. What’s your problem with that exactly?

    The stuff our parents feed us is all pretty bad but it has improved over time, as two-sigma events ramify through the race. And even here one is obliged to make distinctions. It’s bad, very bad, that Israeli children are taught that the Jews are specially chosen by God and need a nation all their own. But it’s far worse that Saudi children are taught that Jews are the devil and that it’s heroic to kill yourself as long as you kill a bunch of them into the bargain.

  3. There are worthwhile revolutions that result in violence too. So what is Hoffer’s point. Sometimes people are violent and sometimes not. Some are sane and some are not.

    My problem is with wasting time on noise and with people aligning
    themselves one way or another.

    There should be one label for everyone in every culture: failure. It should be each person’s mission to shed that label in their lifetime by contributing something that improves the world. Most will fail — which makes that label very appropriate.

  4. A couple of points:
    a) The concept of "chosen people" is that of a people chosen by God to obey God’s law as a requirement of their existence as a people (‘nation’ in archaic terms). It is a theological point, not a political point. It is not "we’re better than everyone, nyah nyah nyah and we are entitled to our own State".

    Zionism is the movement that proposes the Jews have a nation all their own. Judaism and Zionism are not congruent in any way.

    b) I can’t find any redeeming argument in Norm’s posts. Culture, as much as he’d like for its existence to cease, nonetheless exists. Cultures fail as much as they succeed, I venture, and Norm’s proposal seems rooted in solipsism. If “it should be each person’s mission to shed that label in their lifetime by contributing something that improves the world” what is the result? A culture for which this is the primary tenet. Culture is sticky: you can’t get away from it.

  5. Where is the solipsism? Creating a fantasy world around dogma and tradition is more akin to solipsism than what I am proposing.

    I’ve heard plenty of religious and cultural apologists proclaim that their religion and/or culture is "beautiful" or "meaningful" but have not been presented with any evidence. Progress has almost always come from heretics whose ideas have only persevered on the strength of their veracity.

  6. MadSwede, the Smarter Harper’s Index guy, also has a page with a few more choice Hoffer quotes.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>