I read this essay Why Nerds are Unpopular a few days ago and feel the need to share it with everyone. I don’t agree with all of it, Graham is looking deeply into a shallow pool when he examines the American High School Experience but a lot of it rings true to me. School is the only place to be (outside of prison) where attend by law, with no real method of exit. I remember thinking that I hated life in middle and high school, only to find after I left that I just hated being in school, confined with people I didn’t really know for eight hours a day with no option of leaving.
Eric Hoffer has several essays about being useful as the key to self fulfillment. Being in school, you are by definition, not being useful. I’m also reminded of Joel Spolsky’s dictum “Happiness is controlling your environment. If you’re the socially awkward type, (which I was!) then you have no control over the only environment you have any hope of controlling, which is your social environment.
Well worth reading.
Check out this Econolog post about why Hitler chose the Jews, it’s creepy.
I figure I’ll make up for my light blogging by posting some of my favorite Hoffer quotes, still the most insightful thinker of the 20th century, along with Mencken. I was trying to remember the first quote below (from his classic, The True Believer) when I was thinking about the current immigration kerfluffle, I figured I would repost them all for posterity.
It is easier to hate an enemy with much good in him than one who is all bad. We cannot hate those we despise. The Japanese had an advantage over us in that they admired us more than we admired them. They could hate us more fervently than we could hate them. The Americans are poor haters in international affairs because of their innate feeling of superiority over all foreigners. An American’s hatred for a fellow American (for Hoover or Roosevelt) is far more virulent than any antipathy he can work up against foreigners. It is of interest that the backward South shows more xenophobia than the rest of the country. Should Americans begin to hate foreigners wholeheartedly, it will be an indication that they have lost confidence in their own way of life.
The remarkable thing is that we really love our neighbor as ourselves: we do unto others as we do unto ourselves. We hate others when we hate ourselves. We are tolerant toward others when we tolerate ourselves. We forgive others when we forgive ourselves. We are prone to sacrifice others when we are ready to sacrifice ourselves.
It is not love of self but hatred of self which is at the root of the troubles that afflict our world.
The history of this country was made largely by people who wanted to be left alone. Those who could not thrive when left to themselves never felt at ease in America.
We are ready to die for an opinion but not for a fact: indeed, it is by our readiness to die that we try to prove the factualness of our opinion.
It was the craving to be a one and only people which impelled the ancient Hebrews to invent a one and only God whose one and only people they were to be.
When hopes and dreams are loose in the streets, it is well for the timid to lock doors, shutter windows and lie low until the wrath has passed. For there is often a monstrous incongruity between the hopes, however noble and tender, and the action which follows them. It is as if ivied maidens and garlanded youths were to herald the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.
When our individual interests and prospects do not seem worth living for, we are in desperate need for something apart from us to live for. All forms of dedication, devotion, loyalty and self-surrender are in essence a desperate clinging to something which might give worth and meaning to our futile, spoiled lives.
Unless a man has talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden. Of what avail is freedom to choose if the self be ineffectual? We join a mass movement to escape individual responsibility, or, in the words of the ardent young Nazi, “to be free from freedom.” It was not sheer hypocrisy when the rank-and-file Nazis declared themselves not guilty of all the enormities they had committed. They considered themselves cheated and maligned when made to shoulder responsibility for obeying orders. Had they not joined the Nazi movement in order to be free from responsibility?
We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand. A doctrine that is understood is shorn of its strength.
Self-righteousness is a loud din raised to drown the voice of guilt within us.
When people are free to do as we please, they usually imitate each other.
Whenever we proclaim the uniqueness of a religion, a truth, a leader, a nation, a race, a part or a holy cause, we are also proclaiming our own uniqueness.
The sick in soul insist that it is humanity that is sick, and they are the surgeons to operate on it. They want to turn the world into a sickroom. And once they get humanity strapped to the operating table, they operate on it with an ax.
Our credulity is greatest concerning the things we know least about. And since we know least about ourselves, we are ready to believe all that is said about us. Hence the mysterious power of both flattery and calumny…. It is thus with most of us: we are what other people say we are. We know ourselves chiefly by hearsay.
The ratio between supervisory and producing personnel is always highest where the intellectuals are in power. In a Communist country it takes half the population to supervise the other half.
Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions, that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect. The rejection of approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes freedom, tolerance, and equity.
The Savior who wants to turn men into angels is as much a hater of human nature as the totalitarian despot who wants to turn them into puppets.
Commitment becomes hysterical when those who have nothing to give advocate generosity, and those who have nothing to give up preach renunciation.
I hang onto my prejudices, they are the testicles of my mind.
The chief difference between me and others is that I have plenty of time — not only because I am without a multitude of responsibilities and without daily tasks, which demand attention: But also because I am basically without ambition. Neither the present nor the future has claims on me.
How terribly hard and almost impossible it is to tell the truth. More than anything else, the artist in us prevents us from telling aught as it really happened. We deal with the truth as the cook deals with meat and vegetables.
Religion and nationalism, as well as any custom and any belief however absurd and degrading, if it only connects the individual with others, are refuges from what man most dreads: isolation.
Take man’s most fantastic invention — God. Man invents God in the image of his longings, in the image of what he wants to be, then proceeds to imitate that image, vie with it, and strive to overcome it.
The ability to get along without an exceptional leader is the mark of social vigor.
“Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.”
I check my rss reader, and lo and behold, one of the tech blogs I read has a review of The True Believer by Eric Hoffer, which formed my world view greatly.
Convergence is nice.
It seems that ZenPundit is a fan of Eric Hoffer too, as well as Mises and Orwell. Interesting.
Of fact-checked for that matter. Nonetheless, here are two bigthink ideas that have occurred to me recently:
- With the notable exception of Imperial Japan, America hasn’t gone to war with any country that likes itself in the past 100 years. While I don’t usually go for theories involving Constructivism, all of the countries we’ve had conflict with, Nazi Germany, North Vietnam and North Korea, et al, are all fighting to some degree for national pride. This is why I’m not particularly worried about Iran, because the Iranians seem to like being Iranian.
- The rise of dominant militaries can be summarized as discipline vs identity. By this I mean that the troops can be effective via skillful execution of a central plan, or simply by being themselves. The Romans were a good example of a disciplined group. They were able to carry out the will of their commanders due to training and tight organization. On the other hand, the Mongols required little central direction and usually just had to be their fearsome selves to successfully win wars. Most of the major conflicts through history can be characterized as a clash between these two tactics.
Somehow I stumbled across this book The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 on Amazon and it provoked two thoughts.
- First I thought of Eric Hoffer’s adage, to wit, Americans can only hate Americans, they consider foreigners to be inferiors and feel sorry for them. That would make this book a sign of health, albeit an ugly one.
- Then I thought of the South Park episode “The Mystery of the Urinal Deuce” and the lines:
Kyle: So who was responsible for 9-11?
Stan: A bunch of pissed off Muslims. What are you, retarded!?
Yesterday I did a tough 80 miles on the Silver Comet. It was a hotter than usual, and for some reason I decided to push myself speed wise. I averaged a mile an hour over my usual speed for that distance, and my heart rate was about 10-15 bpm over the usual rate as well. I mistimed the start of the ride and wound up riding for an hour in a darkness usually found in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Riding safely in this sort of dark mandated an unusually upright and uncomfortable posture for the final hour (I had to keep my vision focused on the area covered by my headlight, which was small).
I’m also on a low-carb kick at the moment.
After I got home I finished Eric Hoffer’s autobiography, Truth Imagined. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on the book later. The book describes his time as a migrant farm worker in California in the 20s and 30s. One interesting thing he writes about is the sheer variety of people he encountered while on the bum. People of learning and accomplishment, forced by the depression into a migrant way of life. It struck me that this is a as a little remarked price of prosperity, as well as the relative meritocracy that is part and parcel of a free society. To wit; in good times one is more likely to meet people just like oneself than in times of physical and economic catastrophe, for good or ill.
That night I had a dream where I attended a cocktail party, wearing a tuxedo. I was talking to an interesting and confident woman my age named Trea. I had told her the observation mentioned above and she opined that I had the cause and effect backward. Economic catastrophe’s are caused by the mixing of people (grouped by ability, not race) which interferes with the division and specialization of labor.
What does this labor produce? Society and culture. The conventional view (of mine anyway) is that society and culture are like an investment portfolio; it’s outside one’s immediate grasp, it changes over time, and grows incrementally. Trea’s view was that society is produced and consumed, and does not change incrementally at all. It’s like the contents of one’s pantry; food goes in, it goes out, but it doesn’t last forever, and neither grows nor evolves.
In economic parlance, society/culture are stocks, not flows, which is the way I usually think of them.
I’ve usually don’t have these sort of dreams, nor do I have new (to me) ideas in dreams. I’m not sure what to make of it all.
And if you’ve read this far, I’m impressed.