RATING: 8/10…READ: June 3, 2012
The short autobiography of “longshoreman” philosopher Eric Hoffer. Hoffer, a migrant worker and obsessive reader, recaps the people and stories prior to writing the best selling book the “True Believer.” It is an interesting tale of a drifter who no matter where he went put service and a positive attitude first. In a technology & white collar driven world, this book is a refreshing perspective from a very smart blue collar worker.
As I swallowed my food the vision of life as a road—a winding, endless road that knows not where it goes and what its load—came back to me. Here was an alternative I had not thought of to the deadening routine of a workingman’s life in the city. I must get out on the road which winds from town to town. Each town would be strange and new; each town would proclaim itself the best and bid me take my change. I would take them all and never repent. I did not commit suicide, but on that Sunday a workingman died and a tramp was born.
There is no hope without self delusion, while courage is sober and sees things as they are. Hope is perishable, while courage is long lived. It is easy in an outburst of hope to start a difficult undertaking, but it takes courage to bring it to conclusion. It needs courage to win wars, tame continents, build a nation. Man is at his best when his courage enables him to prevail in a hopeless situation.
Who were the pioneers? Who were the men who left their homes and went into the wilderness? A man rarely leaves a soft spot and goes deliberately in search of hardship. A man who has made good usually stays put. A change of habitat is usually a painful act of uprooting. Who, then, left for the wilderness and the unknown? Obviously, those who had not made good: men who went broke and never amounted to much; men who, though possessed of abilities, were too impulsive to stand the daily grind; men who were slaves to their appetites—drunkards, gamblers and woman chasers; outcasts—fugitives from justice and ex-jailbirds. Finally, there was a sprinkling of the young and middle aged in search of adventure. Clearly, the same types of people which now swell the ranks of the migratory workers and tramps had in former times made up the bulk of the pioneers.
The Self-hatred inherent in the weak unlocks energies far more formidable than those mobilized by an ordinary struggle for existence.
One should see the dominant role played by the weak in shaping man’s fate not as a perversion of natural instincts and vital impulses but as a starting point of the deviation which led man to break away from and rise above nature—not as degeneration but as the generation of a new order of creation.
Civilization was born in the small cities of Sumer and evolved in the small cities of Jerusalem, Athens, Florence, and Amsterdam. It is the individual who creates. In a creative milieu the individual is conscious of his identity but also has living ties with a community entity. In a village the individual is swallowed in the communal body, while in a big city the distinct individual finds it hard to form communal ties. Hence in both village and the big city there is a paucity of human encounters.
For the first time in my life I knew loneliness. People who feel lost and abandoned lose track of their comings and goings. They have no history.
Sheep never get used to life. They view anything that comes in sight as something outlandish and unprecedented. Though they are undeniably silly, there is something remarkably human about them. Their fear of loneliness is pathetic. One cannot help thinking that, like sheep, human beings herd together in tribes and nations and follow a leader because of their fear of life and their feeling being eternal strangers in this world.
The people who had seen their savings and hard-earned money vanish into nothingness would lose faith in our civilization and institutions. Kunze decided that the only those who raised their own bread and meat could have a measure of security. Thus Kunze’s passionate pursuit of security turned him into a farmer.
-“I can’t understand you,” he said.” Have you never thought of the future? How can an intelligent person live without a sense of security?”
-I answered seriously, “You won’t believe it, but my future is far more secure than yours. You think your farm gives you safety. But come the revolution, you won’t have a farm. On the other hand, as a migratory worker I have nothing to worry about. No matter what happens to the currency and the social system, sowing and harvesting will go on, and I’ll be needed. If you want absolute security, go on the bum and learn how to earn a living as a migratory worker.”
We are on the way of becoming a nation of middle-aged people and I see no harm in it. But we must find ways of stirring and maintaining a creative vigor in older people. We must reject the preposterous assumption that at forty a man is finished product incapable of new beginnings. There is no evidence that at forty a man learns of unlearns less readily than an adolescent. Certainly, the middle-aged are more sensitive, more conscious of the preciousness of life, and more patient in observation and execution. Our economic system makes it necessary for a man to spend half of his life in securing a steady source of income. There is half a lifetime left for the erection of a super structure. But not one in a million puts his hand to it. Retirement with us is a travesty and a cruel joke. It is an indictment of the American way of life that our declining years are soured by boredom and disappointment. Old age should be the fruit of a man’s life, sweet and fragrant.
My feeling is that similarities are natural, but differences are made by men. Sometimes we know the names of the men who initiated the difference, but most often these men are buried in unmarked and unvisited graves. History is made not by irresistible forces but by example.
It pleases me no end when I find that common, everyday happenings shed light on history. Perhaps the trouble with our written histories is that the historians derive their insights into the past from the stuffy of ancient relics and documents and not from the study of the present. No historian I know of will accept the fact that the present illumes the past rather than the other way around. Most historians take no interest in what is happening before their eyes.
In a moneyless society there is no freedom of choice, since it is ruled by sheer power, and no equality, since brute force cannot be distributed. Money power can be controlled without coercion.
The moment money ceases to play a dominant role, there will be an end to automatic progress. The breakdown of civilization will be marked by a breakdown of currencies. Money and profit making may seem trivial and mean. But everyday life is likely to be meager and difficult where people will act and strive only when animated by nobler motives.
Familiarity dulls the cutting edge of life. It is perhaps a mark of the artist that he is an eternal stranger in this world, a visitor from another planet.
It is the testimony of the ages that there is little happiness—least of all when we get what we want. Many outstanding persons who reviewed their lives in old age found that all their happy moments did not add up to a full day.