During my life I have set out to do many foolish things. I once vowed to read every worthy work of literature ever written. Not there yet. Later I decided I would not waste time on recent writing. I would not read anything that had not passed the test of time, say 25 years, a long period of time for someone who was 24.
Nevertheless, there is value in reading older works. There is a flood of writing today decrying our increasingly “tribal” world. One recent book, Sebastian Junger’s Tribe, explores the motivations for, and benefits of, belonging to a group with a distinct identity or purpose.
This topic was examined in 1951. Eric Hoffer, the longshoreman poet and philosopher, wrote The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. There is little, if anything, written today that Hoffer did not address. The best recent work is, at best, rediscovered wisdom.
Certainly, some good things come from passionate affiliations, but there is a truly a dark side to the mass movements that form and evolve in politics and beyond. Hoffer is at his best when he describes the motivations of those who feel they have meaningless lives and have no hope for a better future. Some give up all personal identity and sign on to follow a person or ideology and be a part of something larger.
Hoffer writes that those within mass movements do not require a god, but they need to find a devil. Those on both sides of the political spectrum, left or right, are very much the same. Pick a devil: communists, rich people, those of a specific sexual identity or race, capitalists, Catholics, Jews, technocrats, taxes, the deep state, and much more.
In the end, for some, there is little that gives more meaning to life than to passionately and unashamedly hate someone or something.
I read. I write. I learn. I’m in a writing group and I have four published books. I’m still pretty sure I’m not Steinbeck, but my heart and soul have found their way back to where they should be.