Category Archives: Hoffer

Being insightful as I throw stones

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!?

What dreams may come

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.

Interesting thought of the day

This post from Global Guerrillas leads to much thought. To wit:

As people connect outward onto this platform, they see both threat or promise. In response, they look inward for sources of strength to support them going forward, and in most cases find it wanting. Their states (and corporations) can’t or will not provide them that strength.

The result is an almost pandemic drive towards ethnic/religious identity — and — the increasingly muscular granular forces of clan, sect, gang, and tribe.

That leads to his linked articles of The Melted Map (a thought experiment about how a properly separated Middle East, while The Coming Anarchy chips in with The Real Central Asia.

Like most things, I’m reminded of Eric Hoffer. To paraphrase, changing times make misfits of us all, and those unable to adapt to new times will dream of a glorious past or a glorious future, but will forever resent the present.

All the articles are well worth reading.

Friday round up


Quotes That Caught My Eye
Eric Hoffer

  • The poor on the borderline of starvation live purposeful lives. To be engaged in a desperate struggle for food and shelter is to be wholly free from a sense of futility.
  • We lie the loudest when we lie to ourselves.
  • It is thus with most of us; we are what other people say we are. We know ourselves chiefly by hearsay.

Ambrose Bierce

  • Acquaintance, n.: A person whom we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to.
  • There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of old things we don’t know.
  • To be positive: To be mistaken at the top of one’s voice.

H.L. Mencken

  • An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
  • Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.
  • Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.
  • Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.
  • I believe that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely a waste of time.
  • It is even harder for the average ape to believe that he has descended from man.
  • Say what you will about the Ten Commandments, you must always come back to the pleasant fact that there are only ten of them.
  • The capacity of human beings to bore one another seems to be vastly greater than that of any other animal.

Adventures in stereotyping

I’m sure by now all of you have heard my “balloon” anecdote, which was the origin of my useful description of someone as a balloonist (someone who is more concerned with assigning blame than solving problems, often to the point of bringing in third parties simply to have someone to blame.

I now get a new one. For people who are perfectionists in dealing with other people, let us call them teleporters. The source of all this was a discussion of the LP‘s recent date with reality regarding Iraq. From Men’s News Daily, via Q and O, in response to something by Lew Rockwell.

Let’s instead scrunch our eyes tight, stick our fingers in our ears, and wish really, really hard. Then we can magically teleport to where we want to be instead of doing actual work to get there. And even better, if someone takes a step towards a freer society, let’s kick his legs out from under him rather than have the ideals and purity profaned by anything resembling an interaction with real life.

Perfectly put. To paraphrase Hoffer, most people would rather have a perfect excuse than an imperfect accomplishment.

Teleporter has a nice ring to it doesn’t it?

More Eric Hoffer

I don’t remember the exact quotes but the both these are from The True Believer (I think)

  • It is inherent in totalitarian societies to hide weakness and project strength, whereas free societies inherently project weakness and hide strength. ConvertToSteve(This will forever cause misjudgment and bizarre decisions to be made when one deals with the other.)
  • American can never hate foreigners because they feel sorry for them.

The Wall Street Journal echoes me

While reading the diary of Eric Hoffer I came across his account of talking an old Russian emigre who claimed that the long-term effects of Communism in Russia was biological. To wit all of the people who were naturally talented farmers, managers and such were sent to die in Siberian labor camps.

The authors of Freakonomics make a similar point when discussing abortion and the dramatic drop in crime since the early 90’s. Their argument: unwanted pregnancies become unwanted children who are far more likely to commit crimes. Seems pretty believable.

I hadn’t thought of the crime angle but I had thought that the long term effect, or the Roe Effect would be, to quote the Jargon Database

An up and coming term; is the tendency of the “pro-life” people to have more children than “pro-choice” people. Since pro-lifers tend to be politically more conservative and they pass this political outlook on to their children. There are fewer corresponding pro-choice children to acquire pro-choice (an other) values.

Rather, legalized abortion will produce people who don’t support it. It is not an Evolutionary Stable Strategy.

James Taranto in the Wall Street Journal reaches my same conclusion before I write about it. Oh well.

Ideas to elaborate on later

Here are ideas and historical (no emotional connection to me) events that have fundamentally affected my outlook.

In no particular order

  • Pareto Optimality
  • Coase Theorem
  • Hayek and Sowell on the limits and costs of knowledge
  • Gresham’s law
  • Napoleon’s invasion of Russia
  • Dominant Strategies
  • Schelling Points (as elaborated on by David Friedman)
  • The seatbelts kill theory of Steven Landsburg (though the theory might actually originate with George Stigler)
  • The diaries of Eric Hoffer (and his books, they’re fairly similar) as they deal with mass movements
  • Network effects
  • Robert Nozick’s notion of morality as a time saving device (morality is used very broadly) as explained in the Examined Life
  • The defensive boxing style of Pernell Whitaker

I’ll have more detail on what they are and how they are all used later.

This should be our national motto

As I wait for the Outlook repair tool to truncate my email file, here’s some stuff I’ve been meaning to get on the web. The below should be our national goal.

From Between the Devil and the Dragon by Eric Hoffer, the diary entry from February 11, 1959

I live in a society full of blemishes and deformities. But it is a society that gives every man elbow room to do the things near to his heart. In no other county is it so possible for a man of determination to go ahead, with whatever it is he sets his heart on, without compromising his integrity. Of course, those who set their heart on acclaim and fortune must cater to other people’s demands. But for those who want to be left alone to realize their capacities and talents, this is an ideal county. It is incredible how easy it is in this county to cut oneself off from what one disapproves–from all vulgarity, mendacity, conformity, subservience, speciousness, and other corrupting influences and infections.

Perfectly put.