Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Why You Should Not Be An Intersectional Feminist


The Wikipedia description of the concept of intersectionality begins as follows:
Intersectionality (or intersectional theory) is a term first coined in 1989 by American civil rights advocate and leading scholar of critical race theory, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. It is the study of what Crenshaw contends are overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination. Intersectionality is the idea that multiple identities intersect to create a whole that is different from the component identities. These identities that can intersect include gender, race, social class, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, age, mental disability, physical disability, mental illness, and physical illness as well as other forms of identity.  These aspects of identity are not “unitary, mutually exclusive entities, but rather…reciprocally constructing phenomena.”  The theory proposes that we think of each element or trait of a person as inextricably linked with all of the other elements in order to fully understand one's identity.
On the face of it, this is not an unsound concept.  So what is so wrong with intersectional feminism that you should not be one?  The devil is, as he so often is, in the details.

An an insightful article critiquing of intersectional feminism, author Helen Pluckrose describes the philosophical and ideological shift that took place as intersectionality became the party line in organized feminism.  And, by extent, the state religion of all first world nations.
Liberal feminist aims gradually shifted from the position: 
“Everyone deserves human rights and equality, and feminism focuses on achieving them for women.” 
to 
“Individuals and groups of all sexes, races, religions and sexualities have their own truths, norms and values. All truths, cultural norms and moral values are equal. Those of white, Western, heterosexual men have unfairly dominated in the past so now they and all their ideas must be set aside for marginalized groups.” 
Liberal feminism had shifted from the universality of equal human rights to identity politics. No longer were ideas valued on their merit but on the identity of the speaker and this was multifaceted, incorporating sex, gender identity, race, religion, sexuality and physical ability. The value of an identity in social justice terms is dependent on its degree of marginalization, and these stack up and vie for primacy. This is where liberal feminism went so badly wrong. When postcolonial guilt fought with feminism, feminism lost. When it fought with LGBT rights, they lost too.
Pluckrose details how cherry picked postmodern philosophy enabled the jettisoning of universal liberal and egalitarian values as underpinning feminist theory and replacing it with moral and epistemological relativism.  I detail elsewhere both the strengths and weaknesses of postmodernism, and how it has, on balance, been a negative thing for leftism.   Long story short, postmodernism asserts that metaphysics and epistemology - the nature of reality and the nature of man's means of knowing reality were, to a considerable degree, socially constructed and subjective.  At the very least, it rejected the idea that there are singular overarching "metanarratives" applicable to all people at all times.  Claims to objective reality were to be broken down or "deconstructed" to reveal that their foundations are little more than self serving biases.  Implicit in this was a cultural relativism that urged people to not be so judgemental of other cultures, even if those cultures appeared on the surface to be less advanced and prosperous than our own.

This is not so, so bad.  But it can be problematic if carried to a natural, logical extreme.  If cultures and morality are truly culturally subjective, than on what grounds could it be asserted that cultures that stressed racial and gender egalitarianism are truly preferable to racist or patriarchal cultures?  How could claims that universalistic liberalism was a western social construct that could be shown to implicitly favor white males be reconciled with racial and gender equality being values belonging exclusively to western liberalism?

If such questions were posed, they were no doubt deemed taboo.  The claims of critical race theory and feminist theory seemed strangely immune to postmodern deconstruction, and tended to be treated as if they were eternal truths binding on all people at all times.  Metanarratives, for lack of a better word.  It was just implicitly assumed that theories built around marginalized identities were infallible.  Best not to say anything, though.  It's not wise to point out the cherry-picking when the people doing it could make or break your academic career.

Thus began the move into intersectionality that Helen Pluckrose describes above.

Add Peggy McIntosh's knapsack of privilege dogma that was adopted into the women's studies canon in the late 1980s, and the prejudice plus power encyclical that also became canonical, and the foundations for the most toxic regressive left theory since Lenin were set.

Intersectional feminism in any kind of practice inevitably becomes a complete trainwreck.

People are all inevitably placed on several abacuses of privilege vs. marginalization:

  • Male vs. Female
  • White vs. P.O.C (person of color)
  • Heterosexual vs. LGBTQ
  • Cisgender vs. Transgender
  • Thin vs. Fat
  • Able bodied vs. Disabled
  • Christian vs. Atheist vs. Non Christian vs. Muslim

With identities falling to the left being considered privileged compared to identities on the right.  The tendency in intersectional feminism is to assume that incontestable moral and intellectual authority is conferred by the possession of marginalized identities.  Those with fewer marginalized identities are generally expected to shut up and feel guilty about their privilege.  At the very least, they are not to challenge people with more marginalized identities on anything.  Those with more marginalized identities are implicitly expected to resent their more privileged counterparts, and are given full license via the prejudice plus power rationalization to abuse them as much as they want.  

No intersectional feminist will admit to the above paragraph, but that is the observable truth of it in action.  The problems have become so glaring that even that even Everyday Feminism - the spiritual successor to Pravda if there ever was one, has speculated that its ideological structure lends itself to abuse.  Not that intersectional feminists would deal with such an accusation directly, mind you.  If you are more privileged than they, they would simply point this out and, as far as they're concerned, this would shut down the argument.  

An exaggerated example to illustrate the way this works in practice: In a disagreement over math, wherein a white male asserted that 2+2=4 and a queer woman of color asserted that 2+2=5, typical intersectional feminist sophistry would not take the form of coming out and saying that the answer was five.  Instead, they'd point out that the math textbooks of the past were written by white males, and thus the queer woman of color experienced oppression while being taught, most likely by a teacher who was white, cis and straight, that 2 and 2 made 4.  Claims made under a marginalized person's experience of oppression in intersectional feminism can only be compared to outright divine revelation and command in fundamentalist religion in terms of being absolute in all conceivable ways: moral, metaphysical, epistemological and otherwise.  These claims supercede any and everything else and to contest them is evil with a capital E, beyond even heresy or treason.

The white male would then be chided and told to check his privilege for arguing with the queer woman of color on the matter in the first place.  His insistence that 2 and 2 made 4 would, most likely with some canned formulaic copy-pasta response, be attributed to an unwillingness to relinquish privilege, because "when you are privileged, equality feels like oppression."  Expect lots of reference to "angry white dudes" or the like, often some witty portmanteau: "mansplaining" or "whitesplaining", and some likewise clever and satirical misspelling of  "dewd" or "wypepo."  These kinds of vacuous signalling are, for whatever reason, prized in intersectional feminist circles.  

They've also made an artform of other kinds of disingenuous and deceptive argumentation.  Expect lots of bulverism - short and vague responses that imply that you've crossed some unseen line placing you beyond the pale of reason, morality or respect.  "Wow!  Just Wow!" is the ur-copy-pasta here.  Greenwalding - intentionally taking parts of opponent's statements out of context and making them say something very different than what they were intended to say, is also common.  As are more common logical and referential fallacies including slippery slopes and moving goalposts.  True Scotsmen are unheard of among intersectional feminists.  Two wrongs making a right is the basis of much of its "prejudice plus power" moral system. 

Showing that you "get it" is of paramount importance.  Dogpiling on nay-sayers is one of the very, very few actions that privileged sympathizers (that for reasons I can't fathom, are vast in number) can be almost assured of approval of from their more marginalized superiors.  Appeals to authority come with the territory here, with the "experience of marginalized people" and the theoretical dogmas underlying this kind of thinking being considered infallible.  Emotional reasoning is rampant - a marginalized person being "triggered" is considered oppressive, no matter the intent behind the action that caused said triggering.  Bootleg videos of SJW meltdowns, of the kind so often captured at Milo Yiannopoulos lectures, are a result of this.  

Catastrophization underlies the dogma of the "microaggression", where even the most innocuous actions or gestures on part of the privileged are taken as indicative of privilege and oppression, and therefore just grounds to trigger a marginalized person.  The privileged, of course, are completely responsible, regardless of intent, and cannot argue for reasons outlined above.

The ends always justify the means with intersectional feminists.  As with Lenin and his historical idea of "Kto Kovo" - "Who, whom?" actions are judged not on the basis of whether they are right or wrong, but by who benefits and who suffers as a result of them. There is no recourse or appeal for the "privileged."  

Another Leninist trait is vanguardism.  Intersectional feminists make bold statements on behalf of entire demographics of people.  Are they really speaking for all blacks or all women, or are they speaking for the women's studies department or the black studies department?  They represent themselves and their ideologies, not all people who share their demographics, whatever they may tell you.

Suffice it to say, this is hardly a recipe for mental health or satisfactory relationships.  I do not think it out of the question that there is a disproportionate prevalence of cluster B personality disorders within intersectional feminist ranks.  Like fascism, fundamentalism and Stalinism, intersectional feminism is a completely closed and completely authoritarian system.  This has been shown, with such examples as the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Milgram Shock Experiment, to bring about blind obedience to authority regardless of who is getting hurt, and can even attract outrightly sadistic personalities.  As Nazi and Stalinist examples demonstrate, absolute power combined with a legitimizing ideology is the formula for atrocity.

Of course, intersectional feminists are guilty of nothing on the scale of the holocaust or the holodomor.  But honestly, the only thing holding them back at this point is not having absolute power.  But they are given carte-blanche in most media and academic environments.  This should be troubling for everyone.  No idea should be above criticism.  Sacred cows walk the road into regressive darkness.

Not all intersectional feminists are malignant psychopathic nutjobs.  Many, if not most are well meaning people who genuinely want to give voice to the downtrodden.  The problem is not that every intersectional feminist is a bad person.  The problem is that intersectional feminism as a belief system is both tightly closed and - quite ironically - extremely hierarchical.  And this does attract antisocial people.  Many too deal with psychological problems stemming from abuse, bad upbringings or a general lack of self esteem that they find easy to project onto other people or society as a whole via intersectional feminist rationalizations, as opposed to the challenging work of seeking therapy and healing via challenging themselves.  

Beware of psychologizing people, however, unless you have good cause to do so - you've observed clearly bizarre behavior or, as they do surprisingly frequently, the intersectional feminist just comes right out and tells you they have issues.  I see this in blog posts and magazine articles quite consistently.  Or you are a trained psychologist.  Keep poor mental health as a possible explanatory factor for truly unhinged behavior in the back of your mind, as opposed to it being a go-to response that you can use to easily and conveniently handwave claims you disagree with.  

It also bears mention that economic inequality is regarded as being of lesser importance to intersectional feminism, and class is treated as race, gender and so on are: as an identity.  This is a distortion of the nature of economic class as a vector of identity.  Class is attributable to relations of production, not an immutable genetic trait.  Another problem with intersectional feminism is that in attributing privilege to genetic factors such as race, gender or sexual orientation, the real halls of power: big business and big government, escape scrutiny.  Perhaps that is why media and academia likes intersectional feminism as much as it does.  And libertarians have no less reason to balk at intersectional feminists than Marxists do.  The smallest and most marginalized minority of them all is the individual, who turns out to be completely invisible in intersectional feminist praxis.

If at all possible, do not deal with intersectional feminists unless they show you that they are at least open to other points of view.  Especially steer clear of them if they demonstrate abusive or manipulative behaviors.  Do not allow yourself to become subject to their authority.  A common intersectional feminist strategy is to assume positions of influence and authority in organizations and use them to impose their will.  Stop them if you can, or leave organizations wherein this happens, if you can.

And for the love of God, do NOT let them convince you that they are within their rights to control, manipulate or abuse you in any way simply because they have more marginalized identities than you, and because guilt by association and collective responsibility, you owe this to them.  You don't.  Let me make that crystal clear.  You don't owe it to anyone to be a doormat.

On the other hand, listen with an open mind to claims intersectional feminists make regarding the realities of life for marginalized people.  They can be valuable repositories of knowledge regarding specific social issues.  Not uncommonly, they advocate for good reforms, if you can sort the moral absolutism and panic from the legitimate claims.  Resist the temptation to "whataboutery" in a vain effort to establish moral equivalency.  You will not convince them. Sometimes, agreeing with them, especially when warranted, can disarm them.  Sometimes.

I do not condemn intersectional feminism because, as a white dude, I get short shrift from it.  That is sufficient reason to condemn it, but that it not its greatest sin.  What is truly damning about intersectional feminism is its betrayal of the core values of racial and gender equality.  It turns all of our backs on the reasons we abandoned racism and sexism in the first place.  Because people are more than their genitals, their skin color or who they're sexually attracted to.  And people want to be, and deserve to be, evaluated on more than just those characteristics.  People told to "check their privilege" rightly feel objectified, reduced to bare biological characteristic, by the praxis of intersectional feminism.  

White people can, and should, have opportunities to enjoy healthy and mutual beneficial relationships with people of color.  Men can, and should, have opportunities to enjoy healthy and mutually beneficial relationships with women.  Straight people can, and should, have opportunities to enjoy healthy and mutually beneficial relationships with LGBTQ people.  Poor and working class people should have opportunities to benefit from a progressive movement centered around economic inequality and keeping money out of politics, and the opportunities to rise as high as their talents and efforts allow them.  These opportunities benefit everybody.  Guilt and shame for the marginalized together with resentment and self righteous entitlement for the marginalized benefit no one.  For a fleeting sense of self righteousness, the "marginalized" people who accept intersectional feminism's faustian bargain loose all of the above opportunities.

As I write this, the greatest threat to these opportunities comes not from the Ku Klux Klansman or the homophobic and puritanical fundamentalist preacher.  Rather, the greatest threat now comes from those who have usurped the mantle of the good causes that brought us to the brink of victory over the Klansman and the fundamentalist.  That victory begins to slip away.  We must snatch it back.

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Sunday, 26 February 2017

If You Are Going to Be Anti-Capitalist, At Least Be Smart About It.



If You Are Going to Be Anti-Capitalist, At Least Be Smart About It.

The Resist Capitalism hashtag has been circulating on Twitter lately.  Not surprisingly, a lot of what's been appearing under this hashtag has a lot more to do with women's studies talking points than with any actual analysis of how capitalism actually works.

Some people apparently haven't taken their other red pill recently.

So how does capitalism actually work.  When you're confused, look at the facts.  Merriam-Webster offers this definition:
An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market,
The most historically prevalent critical analysis of capitalism comes from Marxist theory, whose definition of capitalism isn't all of that much different than the Merriam-Webster definition.  The Wikipedia article on Marx's theory on the "Capitalist Mode of Production" attributes to capitalism the following characteristics:
  • Both the inputs and outputs of production are mainly privately owned, priced goods and services purchased in the market. 
  • Production is carried out for exchange and circulation in the market, aiming to obtain a net profit income from it.
  • The owners of the means of production (capitalists) are the dominant class (bourgeoisie) who derive their income from the surplus product produced by the workers and appropriated freely by the capitalists.
  • A defining feature of capitalism is the dependency on wage-labor for a large segment of the population; specifically, the working class (proletariat) do not own capital and must live by selling their labour power in exchange for a wage.
Thus, definitions of capitalism that actually understand that capitalism is an economic system are remarkably consistent in their descriptions of the characteristics that capitalism actually has.  Whether capitalist profit constitutes "surplus value produced by the workers" is, perhaps debatable. I think it does after a point, but a strong case can be made for profit constituting compensation for the risks capitalists take when they invest.  How much is too much is a fair point to consider.

But that capitalism is marked by private ownership of capital is undebatable as its key feature.

So let's look at some of these tweets to come out of what's passing for anti-capitalist thought these days.
Because Capitalism is inherently sexist, racist, classist, ableist and ageist.  It is universally the most oppressive force.
Okay, classist. We'll definitely give her that.  But where does any of the rest of this come in at all, at least as being fundamental to the nature of the capitalist system.  Of course, capitalism is not completely incompatible with racism, sexism and so on, though it does produce a kind of social levelling in that it systematically erodes the importance of relations based on kinship, blood and soil in favor of relationships based entirely on financial transaction.  This was actually a part of Marx's critique of capitalism.  But the above quote explicitly claims that capitalism is inherently sexist, racist, etc.  Well, what happens if the means of production are owned by women or minorities and white dudes are selling their labor power in order to scrape by?
Raising children, domestic chores, and caregiving for the elderly/disabled are all forms of undervalued or unpaid labor.
This is frankly as close as we're going to get to a good and valid criticism of capitalism here.  A lot of social services are not easily commodified and sold for a profit, unless the people on whose behalf these services are being performed are wealthy enough to pay for them.  And even then, they will naturally wish to pay as little as possible for these services.  In The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, Frederick Engels did make what was at the time a valid comparison of women's role in the home vis-a-vis the male breadwinner with the relationship of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie, particularly if she's inhibited or barred from having an independent source of income, which a lack of childcare would inevitably contribute to.

Nevertheless, this is not a damning indictment of capitalism.  What happens when, as they do a minority of the time, men perform these duties?  Child and eldercare and household maintenance are not imposed by capitalism, but rather would be necessities regardless of the mode of production.
Meanwhile, forcing men into the role of breadwinner contributes to heteronormativity, cisnormativity and toxic masculinity.
What characterizes periods of untrammelled capitalism, such as the industrial revolution and the present day, is an erosion in gendered differences in the home.  Women worked in the dark Satanic mills of the Dickensian era as well as in the dark Satanic cubicles of the information age.

I dare you, dear reader, to beg, borrow or steal (don't buy - it will make the capitalists rich!) a copy of The Condition of the Working Class in England, again by Frederick Engels, published all the way back in 1845.  It has page after page of lurid details of the effects of rampant industrial capitalism on the family structure of working class families unfortunate enough to live in the quintessential Dickensian time.

Remarkable is a passage regarding a male who was unemployed while his wife was condemned to fifteen hour days in a textile mill.  Following this passage, Engles asks, "Can anyone imagine a more insane state of things than that described in this letter?  And yet this condition, which unsexes the man and takes from the woman all womanliness ... this condition which degrades in the most shameful way, both sexes, and through them, humanity ... "  It would seem that the Lehman Bro's meltdown wasn't the first "Mancession" we've ever experienced.  Again, capitalism, if anything, erodes gender roles because it reduces all relationships to buying and selling, which gender is not an essential prerequisite to engage in.
The Patriarchy needs capitalism.  White supremacy needs capitalism.  Capitalism reinforces and maintains systemic oppression.
White supremacy and patriarchy predated the capitalist mode of production, sometimes by milennia.  Are we to believe, based on this, that feudalism or antiquity were times and modes of production marked by gender and racial equality?  How would this be, if patriarchy and white supremacy needed capitalism?

It is possible in a capitalist mode of production to resort to ideologies such as white supremacy or male supremacy to rationalize the relegating of women and minorities to lower positions in the class hierarchy.  This did happen.  But racist and sexist ideologies would be part of the superstructure - which refers to a set of external, cultural traits which can be, and usually are, a consequence of the dominant productive forces, which are the base.  The accompanying chart illustrates this.  The important thing to remember is that the superstructure is "downstream" from the base and is dependent on it, not vice versa, though the superstructure and help to reinforce the base.  So capitalism is not dependent on racism or patriarchy, and in fact may be the force that eventually undermines non-economic social inequality.  Marx and Engels explain how in The Communist Manifesto:
The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment” … The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation. 
This means that the nature of capitalism is to erode the importance of all factors save one in human relations: economic transaction.  The march of globalization and the push for race and gender based social equality occurring at the same time are not accidents.  Women and minorities are much more valuable as workers, consumers and taxpayers than they are as second class citizens with limited rights to be any of these, once the market for white males is saturated.
Poverty isn't a sign that capitalism is failing.  It is a sign that it is working.
Another claim that may actually be more true than false.  Marx theorized that a gradual immiseration of the working class and poor would gradually occur as capitalism reached the end of its ability to profit off expansion of markets.  We have not seen this in the west because the global division of labor has exported most, though not all proletarian roles to the third world, and social safety nets help with the rest.  Not that there isn't poverty in the first world, but we're generally spared the worst of it.  The real inequalities in wealth between capitalists is unprecedented - we now live in a world of multi billionaires and potentially trillionaires.  Eight billionaires now hold as much wealth as half the world's population.  And this is very much the result of capitalism working precisely the way Marx and Engels said it would.
Capitalism and systemic oppression have a symbiotic relationship.  They feed into one another.  We must dismantle both.
Depends what we mean by systemic oppression.  If this relates to identity politics, then no it doesn't, for reasons already discussed.  If by systemic oppression we refer to class differences reproducing economic inequality, than unregulated capitalism would certainly reproduce this.  I somehow doubt that's what this tweet meant, though.
Capitalism is innately ableist.  I am disabled and unable to work.  Do I not still deserve food, medicine, any quality of life?
I would suggest that nature is innately ableist.  If you are disabled and unable to work, you aren't going to be able to provide for yourself regardless of the mode of production.  Whether charity or social welfare steps in to assist is another matter, and again, one not dependent on the mode of production.
Capitalism is sexist.  It devalues the labor that women/mothers do, and are expected to do, in our society.
Capitalism doesn't care one way or another about your vagina, as I think has been demonstrated by now.  What is incentivized under capitalism is buying low and selling high in an effort to make a profit.  If the work that women/mothers do is unpaid or poorly paid, this has a lot more to do with the fact that the work typically associated with female gender roles is not easily commodified or is not productive from the standpoint of converting paid labor time into profit.  That capitalism fails to adequately remunerate such work when it is socially useful, essential even, is a very real market failure.  But this failure is not contingent on the people doing the work having vaginas.  If men did it, it would still be devalued work.  This is largely why birthrates are falling, and women are increasingly eschewing marriage and motherhood in favor of careers. Looked at this way, it is capitalism that is really behind feminism.
Sexism and capitalism work together to reinforce gender norms that are harmful to women, men and gender non conforming folx.
See above.

There are places to go to learn about capitalism, both for and against.  The women's studies classroom is not one of them.

I discuss Marxist theory, identity and capitalism in my Other Red Pill series.

The Other Red Pill, and I do Mean Red
Living in a Material World
Tense Relations
The Desert of the Real
Class Dismissed!
No Class
Race to the Bottom
Engendered Failure
A Touch of Class
Wake up!  Class is Back in Session





Why I am not an MRA

Doesn't it make you swoon?
I know I'm going to catch flak for this, but I don't care much for the men's rights movement. I do think they make good points - I've read Warren Farrell for example and found his work quite profound. In fact, it really takes a wrecking ball to this idea that men have conspired to make the world a wonderful place at the expense of women. You can't reasonably believe that after reading Farrell's works.

Why I don't really relate to the MRM is rooted in my overarching distrust of identity politics. I do think that there's all kinds of room to criticize the excesses of feminism, and some points made by the MRM are valuable in that regard.  Decades of ideological protectionism has produced a very real feminist echo chamber with next to no external checks on its claims.  The MRM can by helpful in remedying that.  The MRM also brings our attention to real issues that men are confronted with.  Glaring disadvantage (to varying degrees depending on jurisdiction) in divorce settlements and child custody arrangements being the most obvious example. 

The feminist demonization of male heterosexuality; this presumption underlying much of feminist theory that male sexual attraction towards women is somehow demeaning and objectifying of women is something else that needs to be challenged and the present taboo against disagreeing with feminism desperately needs to be broken here.  The MRM can help in that regard.  The equation of compliments and polite civil greetings on part of men towards women with harassment, objectification or even oppression, commonly seen on social media, is a manifestation of this.  If taken at all seriously, especially in any kind of public policy context, this kind of thinking could effectively close the door on prospects for male-female encounters of all but the most institutional kind. 

The ever expanding definition of rape, and the ever narrowing definitions of consent, and the increasingly onerous requirements for obtaining legal consent - an express verbal "yes" given for every touch, kiss or caress, and even that be nullified if there's any alcohol or mental illness or any factor that could in the slightest call into question the strict legal capacity to give consent, constitute another manifestation of this.  The end game here, I suspect, is to make legal intercourse, for all intents and purposes, impossible for men.

Although most feminists profess to disagree in principle with the notion that all things "boy meets girl" are inherently sexist or oppressive - and may even trot out their own relationship as proof of this, the restrictions imposed on gender dynamics by these kinds of very popular demands made by very widely circulated and credible media outlets that represent the mainstream of liberal opinion on gender issues, would make establishing even platonic, let along erotic relationships extremely difficult.  That many feminists choose to make exceptions to their own rules for themselves and the men they get the D from should not be taken as proof of feminism's flexibility and open mindedness.  It should be taken as proof of moral hypocrisy on part of the feminists so doing, and a tacit admission on their part that their system of sexual morality and conduct is no more reasonable and in alignment with human nature than that of the religious conservatives they so smugly see themselves as superior to. 

Compound that with inundation of  feminist perspectives casting heterosexual relationships in so consistently negative a light; as being about nothing other than unequal distribution of domestic labor, unequal pay, riven with male insecurity and unreasonable male behaviors contrasted to the relief women are expected to seek and experience in all-female spaces, as characterized by universally poor male sexual performance and an expectation of female preference for marital celibacy, dildos, lesbianism, asexuality, promiscuity, anything other than relational intimacy - all hermetically sealed by a propensity to yell "fragile male ego" at any dissention from any of the above on part of men - as if this kind of petty weaponized rejection is something we should just sit back and relish, and feminist gender dynamics become a mortal threat to healthy heterosexual relationships, even if it turns out to be death by a thousand cuts rather than a swift beheading. 

A strong MRM could be a countervailing force for reason and love in gender relations.  On the other hand, groups like MGTOW could just up the ante and make things worse rather than better.  Don't get me wrong: you, dear reader, be you male or female, have every right as far as I'm concerned to live your life as you see fit, and if that involves not having a significant other of the opposite sex, good luck to you.  I once wanted an unattached life myself.  May you succeed where I failed.  But to advocate widespread rejection of the opposite sex, as feminism often implicitly and, in the case of separatist feminism, explicitly does, and MGTOW likewise does, is to advocate for the infliction of protracted neurosis and frustration culminating in a demographic holocaust upon whichever population is to embrace this as a form of gender based political activism.  It would inflict incalculable and irreparable damage on the psychological fabric of such a society.

But even a less strident form of male activism than MGTOW could end up becoming a gender flipped version of the worst aspects of feminism.  I've noticed that in every debate I've ever read between feminists and MRAs - though flame war is a better description in just about ever case, since debate implies a reasoned exchange of views and that's most definitely not what happens - the exchange always boils down to each side saying to the other, "you're just ugly and can't get laid" - with cats and mother's basements figuring in there somehow. Inevitably, one side resigns in frustration over the strident unreasonableness of the other, and both remain more convinced than ever that the opposite sex is hopelessly screwed up.  There's not much of a future in this.

Taken to their logical conclusions, demands upon heterosexual relationships would end up more closely resembling shari'a law than they would anything previous generations of liberal feminists struggled and fought for.

Wait a minute ...

Of course,  feminism - in its more reasonable forms, is still needed to protect and safeguard the rights of women. Life is certainly not all wine and roses for all women at all times, and men are not blameless. This is especially true in communities where, for religious reasons, women still very much are second class citizens.  This is what I find both astounding and disturbing about What looks like an alliance of feminists and Islamists, particularly in opposition to the Trump presidency.  While I don't condone the more boorish things Trump has said about women, you can't compare the danger posed to women by macho locker room bluster with the danger posed to women by shari'a law.  Given the dour attitudes that both feminists and Islamists appear to have towards free and fun expression of happiness and attraction between the sexes, however, I can see the kinship the two might have with one another, though from where I sit, it promises to be a stormy relationship.

What I worry about regarding the MRM, though, is its own potential to become a kind of rank gender partisanship. That "Male good female bad" thinking could, and does, easily arise from it.

Because that, in its own way, is exactly what happened to feminism. What began as being "just about equality" or just about "the same treatment of women as for men" has become a blinding and fanatical form of gender partisanship. Motivated by dogmatic adherence to feminism, whole cohorts of young women (and their male sympathizers) have circled the wagons and harnessed collective groupthink to hermetically seal themselves away from any kind of criticism or dissent. Driven by a sense of universal and historical mission, these women regard themselves as quite entitled to ceaselessly make unilateral demands of men with no countervailing concessions, tar all men with collective responsibility and guilt by association for the very real crimes and misdeeds of some men, and to effectively kill any prospect for intimacy and trust between the sexes by making militant confrontation the permanent and universal norm for gender relations. Backed by unilateral academic and media support and an arsenal of canned responses and copy pasta with which to respond to nay-sayers, the impact that this has had on gender dynamics is nothing short of devastating.


As an antidote to this, we need to step back from identity politics. We don't need a male version of the same thing. Given what we should now know about ideological and identitarian polarization, feminism and the MRM will most likely feed off one another and each further radicalize in response to the other. This is certainly what I've seen in every single exchange between MRMs and feminists that I've ever seen. If that process becomes normalized, it could well mean the death of heterosexual love in its entirety. The prospect of this worries me greatly. I really hope people of both (yes, both) genders can learn to take a step back from their attachments to gender ideology and start reasoning honestly about these kinds of issues.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Motion 103: Too Canadian to be Shari'a

Don't Worry Folks, Canadians are Still Much Too Diffident and Timid for Something as Decisive and Firm as Shari'a Law.  It's not Coming Here.



Not yet anyway.  But there's been no shortage of fear and hysteria coming from what's trying to pass itself off as the alt-right in Canada.  

"The Canadian government is preparing to silence anyone who criticizes Islam" states Faith Goldy of Rebel Media, in an article entitled, Freedom to Offend: Freedom of Speech, not Sharia.  
Their anti-Islamophobia motion (which will, in all likelihood, be voted on during this parliamentary session) resembles a kind of blasphemy law in favour of one preferred religion above all others. If this motion passes, Canadians can be persecuted for expressing any criticism of Islam, even when warranted.  This unfounded anti-Islamophobia legislation flies in the face of our Constitution and its embedded Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Sharia law and it’s related speech codes are not a reasonable limit on my freedoms.   According to our charter of rights and freedoms — we’re all equal. Every individual (not a belief system or ideology) is equal before and under the law. We all have equal protections and benefit equally from the law.  Muslims do not get special treatment or protections.
Ermahgerd!  God help us!  So long as the God we're calling on for help is not Allah.  Then I guess we really are screwed.  

But let's not arm up against the Caliphate of Canadaistan just yet.  

I really do hope we haven't sunk to the level of taking Rebel Media at all seriously.  For those of you who don't know, Rebel was established in February 2015 by a geeky little neo-con by the name of Ezra Levant, who'd been with that paragon of investigative journalism, The Sun News Network, for a few years prior to that and had been writing opinion pieces in Sun newspapers at least as far back as the 1990s.  Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes and one time Canadian Libertarian Party candidate Lauren Southern - two pundits beloved in alt-right and even some alt-left circles for reasons I'll never fully grasp (okay, the baser part of me can understand Lauren's popularity) contribute to Rebel.

Ezra Levant is not exactly Joseph Pulitzer, to put it mildly.   The list of people to whom Mr. Levant has issued retractions and apologies to, or been accused of libel by, isn't exactly short, and he has been on the receiving end of more than one Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ruling.  While some of Mr. Levant's positions on free speech issues and criticisms of the vague and far reaching nature of Canadian "Human Rights Commissions"  do resonate with me, he's also an unrepentant neo-con and I've read numerous anti-social democratic editorials penned under his name.  No thanks.

Rebel has not been alone in its fearful attacks on motion M103.  BreakingNews.ca "For alternative breaking news global and domestic", which is totally not a fake news site, proclaims "Toronto: Sharia Police Arrest Trump supporter for speaking vs Islam."  

Sharia police?  Okay.  Sounds like totally not fake news, but whatever.

Not surprisingly, centrist and progressive outlets are claiming that the Liberal Member of Parlaiment who proposed M103 has received huge amounts of hate mail, are claiming that attendees at a rally against M103 put on by Rebel Media were giving Nazi like salutes, or are at least urging a less frantic reaction.  The notion of tackling "Islamophobia" in Canada was given further impetus by the tragic slaying of six and injuring of nineteen more when a gunman opened fire in the Islamic Cultural Center in Quebec City on the evening of January 29.   Also not surprisingly, a "truther movement" questioning the official narrative that the shooter was a white nationalist has emerged.

InfoWars and Rebel Media.  Like I say, not quite Joseph Pulitzer.

Don't misunderstand me.  I'm no fan of the Islamic faith - or of religion in general.  There are many genuinely barbaric aspects of Shari'a Law.  Secularism and separation of church and state are fundamental components of a free and open society.  From what I've heard of Islamic jurisprudence from places like Saudi Arabia, the Islamic State and Afghanistan under the Taliban, I think any reasonable person can be forgiven for taking a pass on it.  It has no place in the liberal west, and its incursion into western nations is rightly troubling.

But does Motion 103 before the Canadian parliament really amount to the beginnings of Shari'a in Canada?   As on old friend of mine used to say, when you're confused, look at the facts.  The text of M103, submitted by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and (c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
There IS plenty not to like here.  I am not defending this motion.  But it isn't the implementation of Shari'a law north of the 49th parallel.   It's as simple as that.  It just isn't.

M103 is incredibly vague and ambiguous, and alludes to a vast, sweeping and all but certainly unattainable goal; nice as it would be to be rid of "systemic racism" and "religious discrimination", I think it a safe bet that, human nature being what it is, this isn't going to happen and that a "whole of government" approach to attempting this will be, at best, an extremely expensive exercise in virtue signalling and, at worst, could possibly entail some erosion of civil liberties such as free speech.  Even in that worst case scenario - which I do not think likely - I don't see Shari'a law on the table here. 

Fears of erosion of cultural distinctiveness in the Great White North are vastly overstated.  This is, if anything, a quintessentially Canadian solution to a quintessentially Canadian problem.  The motion calls for:

  • A standing committee mandated to collect data to "contextualize" hate crime reports
  • Conduct needs assessment for impacted communities
  • Present its findings to Parliament within 240 days of the adoption of this motion.  
I would not bet money on their being a report ready for Parliament within 240 days.  I would bet money on a recommendation for more money and an extension of the mandate which, when completed, will most likely either recommend further study or contain recommendations for Parliament. Whatever these recommendations end up being, the sitting government will most likely do what Canadian parliaments usually do: simply shelve them, quietly as possible, ideally, and with no mention of how much money was spent on the whole endeavor.  The figure would no doubt embarrass the sitting government. 


Chopping off hands for theft is just so Saudi Arabia!  Stoning to death for adultery is much too Taliban for us Canucks.  But strongly worded condemnations, standing committees and needs assessments?  Watching Hockey Night in Canada in your Igloo over a beer and back-bacon, and politely apologizing for it all when you're done doesn't get any more Canadian than that, eh?

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Reason, thy name is Caitlin Johnstone


I first came across Caitlin Johnstone's writing on "Newslogue", described on its home page as follows:
Welcome to Newslogue 
Newslogue is Australia’s first online publishing platform that matches audiences to writing they love. Our digital environment provides you with stories from your favourite writers direct to your front page, because a newspaper isn’t a platform, and social media isn’t news.
Ms. Johnstone is also on Twitter, and is definitely worth following.  She is one woke chick, let me tell you.  Here's a small sampling:

Two words: American privilege. Democrats will gleefully accuse their political opposition of white privilege, male privilege, straight and cis privilege in their attempts to hand the government over to politicians who want to topple governments and drop cluster munitions on cities overseas, because the alternative might make things a little uncomfortable for them at home. How many of my readers were accused of “white privilege” for their decision to back Jill Stein over Hillary Clinton in the general election? Quite a few I’d imagine. They’d rather have elected a President with an extensive history of supporting disastrous military intervention after disastrous military intervention, who was promising to shoot down Russian military planes over Syria and provide “military responses” for Russian “cyber attacks”, than fight the political system that forces them into voting for World War 3 in a pants suit. All because the orange guy said he’d build a wall.
 The Establishment Is Incapable Of Winning The Media War
The message, of course, being that David Brock’s brand of ham-fisted astroturfing will poison anything it touches. Progressives want real human beings, not a corporatist agenda wearing a fake nose and glasses pretending to be a human being. 
No, David Brock is not a winner. But he’s also the best they’ve got. There’s a reason Brock was hired by the Clinton campaign despite having spent the first part of his career attacking the Clintons; he’s the very sharpest tool in the establishment’s tool shed. And even he is far too blunt for the job. He simply cannot compete with the energy, adaptability, speed and hunger of the anti-globalist grassroots movements on both the left and the right which oppose everything Brock stands for. 
What the corrupt systems which control our world are rapidly realizing is that you simply cannot artificially imitate a grassroots movement. When your candidates have their words being audited by entire teams of campaign strategists before making a single tweet, there’s no competing with thousands of minds all around the world pouring inspired creativity into a memetic war against the rigid, blocky ideas you’re trying to circulate.
 You Can’t Fight Trump Without Understanding TheAnti-Globalization Movement
Trump, like Sanders, and like all progressives who are worth a damn, is an anti-globalist. He opposes the way multinational corporations and banks have used legislation, war, and predatory trade deals to subvert the needs of the nation to powerful elites who are not limited by or loyal to it. You cannot understand the Trump movement without understanding globalism and the anti-globalization movement, and most Democrats don’t. Anti-globalization was the crux of Trump’s entire campaign, and most liberals are still squealing about racism and sexism as the thing that got him elected. This is wrong, and the rank-and-file left will be unable to mount any meaningful grassroots counteroffensive until this changes. 
I doubt any of the hyperventilating Democrats who are breathlessly gasping that Trump is the next Adolf Hitler have taken a moment to reflect on the fact that Hitler was not exactly the poster-boy for non-interventionism. Trump has been advocating non-interventionism so extensively that some critics have been accusing him of isolationism, which, if you haven’t figured it out yet, is kind of the exact opposite of trying to conquer the world and make everyone look like Ryan Gosling. Non-interventionism happens to be an essential part of both the progressive and anti-globalist movements; if you support America’s policy of military interventionism and world-policing, you are not progressive, you are a war hawk like Clinton and Bush.
This one I find especially poignant.  I distinctly recall being one of about eight or so left wing people in the western hemisphere in the mid 1990s, and each month's issue of Dissent, Z Magazine and The Progressive were stuffed with articles warning of the dangers of NAFTA, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the International Monetary Fund and so on.  All of this columnated in the anti globalization protests in Seattle and elsewhere beginning in 1999.  Of course, the Clinton wing of the Democratic party and their copycats in the Canadian Liberal Party and the British Labour Party were all for globalism, but organized labor and anti poverty groups in general were against it and strove to warn all who would listen (not very many, I can assure you) that it would not be the grandeur that the media in the 1990s promised us it would be.

Perhaps organized labor should adopt a green frog as a mascot.  Perhaps people will listen to them this time.

And speaking of mass media blitzes to groom the populace into the acceptance of shitty policy:

So to recap, an elite insider of the Democratic party met with a group of powerful neoliberal oligarchs to discuss how they would use their footholds in the media, the internet, academia, faith-based groups and think tanks to create “a group situation where information, ideas, and beliefs are uncritically bounced from insider to insider and amplified, while dissenting views are censored and/or ignored,” exactly like the idiocy-generating manipulation machine that conservative think tanks were inflicting upon Americans of the political right. They planned this, and they succeeded, which is why Democrats have been acting like raving lunatics lately.
This one's a doozie.  Well worth reading, for it contains links to Podesta email 59125, which is essential reading for anyone really curious about where the current form of the regressive left came from.  There's two, actually, found under the attachments: NYC Meeting 2007 and 2008 Combined Fundraising ...  They are downloadable doc files.  Well worth the read, and I'll likely do more blog posts and YouTube videos about them in the future.  They lay out a solid blueprint for precisely how to build an astroturf political movement, and confirm all your worst suspicions about the state of progressive blogging and journalism during the late Bush and Obama years.  It is also continuing to pay dividends into the Trump presidency.

Yes, it did involve George Soros, in case you were wondering.

The Democratic establishment has lulled us into believing the lie that as long as its politicians are paying lip service to Black Lives Matter and advocating gay marriage, that it’s acceptable for them to choke us all to death by helping big money institutionalize the Walmart economy, shrinking our wages and making it a struggle to acquire medicine or put food on the table while spending trillions of dollars slaughtering millions of people overseas in corporatist wars. “Vote for me! Sure I’ll sell America’s infrastructure to my plutocrat owners and fight to protect them from tax loopholes while you work two jobs just so your kids can eat, but I’ll never assume your gender!” 
That is the fake left. That is the entirety of the Democratic establishment right now, and it’s what we need to be fighting. We need to be shining a big, bright light on that neoliberal bullshit at every opportunity until the whole country gets sick of it and flushes it down the toilet where it belongs. Let’s stop collaborating with their ineffectual demonstrations and manufactured outrage and start attacking the real oppressors. Let’s become real rebels.
Shocker: Amidst some valid criticisms, a lot of anti Trump sentiment on social media is "look at how witty I am" vanity and signalling.   

Establishment Dems Hold Minorities Hostage And Demand Support For Corporatist Policies As Ransom: The hyperbole in this one gets a bit carried away, but its essential point still stands:
I’m talking about the way the Democratic establishment extorts voters into supporting them and their soul-crushing corporatist policies under the threat of losing their civil rights. Everyone watched during the 2016 election cycle as the Dems forced a warmongering corporate crony into the nominee slot and then bullied, shamed and gaslighted progressives into supporting her because if they didn’t, minorities, LGBT people and women will lose their rights. The decision to invest your vote in a progressive third party was propagandized as a “mark of privilege,” because if you didn’t support the woman who wants to start wars, continue the policies which increase income and wealth inequality, and enslave Americans to predatory trade agreements while staving off welfare and universal healthcare, disadvantaged groups will lose their rights. 
This was not an accident, of course. The Republican and Democratic parties have figured out a scheme for working together to leverage Americans into supporting corporatist oppression no matter which party they vote for. The Republicans have agreed to threaten reproductive rights, gay rights and immigrants while wooing rural Americans who want to protect their culture and their families, while their neoliberal brothers in the Democratic party threaten the exact same things if you refuse to vote for their brand of corporatist exploitation. It would only take one party to stop this psychopathic game and give people both social justice and economic justice, but the Democrats choose not to be that party, because it keeps corporate donations rolling in. They deliberately perpetuate this evil for power and money.
The G.O.P are far from innocent, of course, for they threaten their base with the spectre of a liberal boogeyman forever coming to take their guns and their bibles away.  The article overall is a little harshly worded, but more true than false, ultimately.  

So you think you’re a badass, crowing about Michael Flynn’s resignation and making fun of Trump? You think you’re a rebel, spelling his name tRump like a naughty eight year old kid from the forties? It’s because “rump” means “butt”, right? Is that the gag? Be careful you don’t cut yourself on all that edge there, Lenny Bruce … 
This is not a defense of Trump; I see Trump as largely irrelevant and very low on the list of priorities America’s political left should be focusing on. This is simply a reminder to liberal Americans that you cannot attack Trump without propping up the Democratic establishment, and you cannot prop up the Democratic establishment without supporting the oligarchs who own it. When you celebrate the Deep State’s counteroffensives against the Trump administration, you are not cool, you are not anti-establishment, and you are not a rebel. You are a tool.
While most of Ms. Johnstone's articles attack the regressive left establishment, some of them also address looming economic problems.  And - surprise surprise - offer reasonably sound analysis.

The Right Has No Answer For Automation Job Loss, But The Left Does

Donald Trump is not going to solve America’s job creation problem. The manufacturing jobs are gone forever; they’re not coming back, and artificial intelligence advancements are only going to make things much, much worse very, very soon. Trump might be able to coerce companies into staying in America for a little while with protectionist policies, which might temporarily make it harder for CEOs to leverage unions into accepting dehumanizing wages for workers, but none of that will do anything about the imminent job apocalypse that’s just around the corner due to rapid advancements in artificial intelligence and robotics. There's no way "entrepreneurship" can compete with the rate at which artificial intelligence is going to accelerate in advancement. Conservatives have no answers for this problem, and neither do the fake-left neoliberals. 


But the true left does. AI and automation will make it much easier for a few lucky plutocrats to make a tremendous amount of money for themselves, which is just fine and dandy, because they’ll be able to afford a lot more taxes. With those taxes, we could easily help fund the basic living expenses of everyone in America. There will still be some jobs to be had, which will provide some people with some extra gravy for whatever cool skills and ideas they have that they want to put to use, but the soul-crushing demand that people find stupid, arbitrary tasks to do in order for their existence to feel justified will be eliminated.  
So all in all, what's not to like here?  We need all the good, honest columnists and pundits that we can get at this point, and Newslogue in general and Caitlin Johnstone specifically delivers it in spades.  Keep up the good work!



Thursday, 9 February 2017

The True Believer transcript

At the request of a viewer of the presentation of Eric Hoffer's The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements on Samizdat Broadcasts, the written transcript of that video.



The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, hereafter referred to simply as The True Believer, was a book written in 1951 by a longshoreman and casual laborer named Eric Hoffer.  Since then, it has been published in 23 editions and is regarded as a landmark in the study of the psychological and social causes and outcomes of fanaticism.  What follows is an analysis of this book.

Born in late 19th century New York, Hoffer lost his eyesight at the age of seven, only to have it mysteriously return again at age 15.  Fearing that he’d go blind again, Hoffer seized on every opportunity to read, acquiring a library card and spending his off work hours, in his own words, “between the books and the brothels.” Luckily, he did not lose his vision again, nor his love of reading, and he became an avid student of history and philosophy, among other subjects.  He was unusual for a writer and thinker of political science given that he came from a working class rather than a classically academic background.  He was thus an idol of mine when I first read The True Believer in 1996, when I was in trade school to become a cabinet maker, a trade I would abandon in favor of professional driving years later.

Like Hoffer, I absorbed a lot of books, and later YouTube videos when not at work or raising a family.  In the twenty years that have passed since reading The True Believer, I cannot say that I’ve found a work that is so precise and succinct, that so clearly and laconically explains so much.  This will be the first of a series of videos devoted to an analysis of The True Believer and the implications that Hoffer’s observations and overarching thesis have on present day politics and world events.
 
The preface opens with this passage, which sets the tone for the entire work: “This book deals with some peculiarities common to all mass movements, be they religious movements, social revolutions or nationalist movements. It does not maintain that all movements are identical, but that they share certain essential characteristics which give them a family likeness.  All mass movements generate in their adherents a readiness to die and a proclivity for united action; all of them, irrespective of the doctrine they preach and the program they project, breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred and intolerance; all of them are capable of releasing a powerful flow of activity in certain departments of life; all of them demand blind faith and singlehearted allegiance. All movements, however different in doctrine and aspiration, draw their early adherents from the same types of humanity; they all appeal to the same types of mind.”

Later on in the preface: “This book concerns itself chiefly with the active, revivalist phase of mass movements. This phase is dominated by the true believer—the man of fanatical faith who is ready to sacrifice his life for a holy cause—and an attempt is made to trace his genesis and outline his nature. As an aid in this effort, use is made of a working hypothesis. Starting out from the fact that the frustrated predominate among the early adherents of all mass movements and that they usually join of their own accord, it is assumed: 1) that frustration of itself, without any proselytizing prompting from the outside, can generate most of the peculiar characteristics of the true believer; 2) that an effective technique of conversion consists basically in the inculcation and fixation of proclivities and responses indigenous to the frustrated mind.”

Though published in 1951, this paragraph from the conclusion of the preface is as fitting for today as it has ever been: “It is necessary for most of us these days to have some insight into the motives and responses of the true believer. For though ours is a godless age, it is the very opposite of irreligious. The true believer is everywhere on the march, and both by converting and antagonizing he is shaping the world in his own image. And whether we are to line up with him or against him, it is well that we should know all we can concerning his nature and potentialities.”

Truer words were never written.

The book is divided into four parts, each analysing particular aspects of mass movements and those who are attracted to them.

Part 1. The Appeal of Mass Movements. 
Part 2. The Potential Converts
Part 3. United Action and Self Sacrifices
Part 4. Beginning and End

Part 1. The appeal of mass movements. 

Central to Hoffer’s approach to mass movements emphasises that “When people are ripe for a mass movement, they are usually ripe for any effective movement, and not solely for one with a particular doctrine or program.”  At the heart of Hoffer’s thesis is the observation that people have a tendency to project the causes of personal failure onto the world around them, even in instances where the failure is clearly rooted in personal shortcomings.  This is the root of discontent that can, under the right circumstances, grow into a desire for change.  

The desire for change depends a great deal on two things: a sense of power and cause for hope, and of these the second is more primary.  Without either, but especially some kind of faith in a vision of the future, the result is a conservatism rooted in a fear of the future and desire to cling to the present.  Those who have power are more likely to use it to “Ward off the new and cling to the status quo,” while “The abjectly poor also are without faith in the future. The future seems to them a booby trap buried on the road ahead. One must step gingerly. To change things is to ask for trouble.”

When a sense of power combines with faith and hope to produce soul stirring enthusiasm for drastic change, however, it doesn’t seem to matter where people are on the social hierarchy.  Hoffer notes that “there can be revolutions of the privileged as well as of the underprivileged” and he cites the movement of enclosure in 16th century England and the industrial revolution of two hundred years later as examples that “set the minds of the manufacturers on fire.”  

And in keeping with the pattern, the advent of information technology and the internet at the end of the 20th century had precisely the same effect on the currency trading classes, leading to an unquenchable enthusiasm for globalization and free trade that dominated the politics of the 1990s.  All of these developments “began a revolution “as extreme and radical as ever enflamed the minds of sectarians” and changed the face of England, and eventually the world, beyond recognition.

The fusion of faith and a sense of power in the sort of individual who sees their own lives as being irredeemably spoiled and without value and justifiable only if devoted to a cause greater than, and more importantly outside of oneself is the recipe for the creation of the True Believer.  What’s important to understand is that the source of this sense of power and boundless faith need not be grounded in a sober assessment of reality.  In fact, practicality and level headedness in the character of a movement mitigates against its attraction to the True Believer, for what the true believer really seeks is escape from a self that is seen is spoiled or irredeemable, and a denial of one’s own life and happiness as an acceptable justification for one’s actions seems to be crucial to the character of the True Believer.  

Hoffer repeatedly refers to this state as “frustration” and is the state of mind which drives what he calls the desire for substitutes.  He writes: “To the frustrated a mass movement offers substitutes either for the whole self or for the elements which make life bearable which they cannot evoke out of their individual resources.”  

Hoffer goes on to say that “There is a fundamental difference between the appeal of a mass movement and the appeal of a practical organization. The practical organization offers opportunities for self-advancement, and its appeal is mainly to self-interest. On the other hand, a mass movement, particularly in its active, revivalist phase, appeals not to those intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but to those who crave to be rid of an unwanted self. A mass movement attracts and holds a following not because it can satisfy the desire for self-advancement, but because it can satisfy the passion for self renunciation. People who see their lives as irremediably spoiled cannot find a worth-while purpose in self-advancement.” 

This is the principle behind some of the most memorable and poignant quotes in The True Believer:

“Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.”

“The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready is he to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.”

“When our individual interests and prospects do not seem worth living for, we are in desperate need of 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. Hence the embracing of a substitute will necessarily be passionate and extreme. We can have qualified confidence in ourselves, but the faith we have in our nation, religion, race or holy cause has to be extravagant and uncompromising. A substitute embraced in moderation cannot supplant and efface the self we want to forget.”

The crucial thing to understand about the True Believer as a person is that the thing in which they believe is of lesser importance than the place that faith itself has in the psychological makeup of the true believer.  This is what truly armors the true believer against argument and persuasion from other belief systems.  Even the most thorough refutation of their world view does little to convince them, for the true believer is not coming at their beliefs from a position of rationalism or empiricism.  The faith of the true believer is what gives them identity and purpose. 

Hoffer writes: “The burning conviction that we have a holy duty toward others is often a way of attaching our drowning selves to a passing raft. What looks like giving a hand is often a holding on for dear life. Take away our holy duties and you leave our lives puny and meaningless. There is no doubt that in exchanging a self-centered for a selfless life we gain enormously in self-esteem. The vanity of the selfless, even those who practice utmost humility, is boundless.”

This accounts for perplexing blend of selflessness and vanity so often seen in religious, political or identitarian fanatics. The entirety of their moral center is the extent of their devotion to that in which they’ve placed their faith, rather than in any genuinely rational or empathy based moral system that seems intuitive to those not in a state of frustration and thus reconciled to the present.

Hoffer observes “However different the holy causes people die for; they perhaps die basically for the same thing” for the different sub-categories of mass movements become more alike as they become more prominent.

Part II – The Potential Converts. 

Hoffer lists a number of kinds of people that seem especially prone, depending on the circumstances, to become true believers.  Remember that frustration, as Hoffer calls it, is the essential characteristic of the true believer, and they are drawn to anything that can offer hope and a sense of power.  This very rarely involves the abjectly poor or the truly downtrodden and oppressed, for in Hoffer’s words, “awed by the immutability of the order of things.”  “The poor on the borderline of starvation live purposeful lives” and that “where people toil from sunrise to sunset for a bare living, they nurse no grievances and dream no dreams.”

People most likely to become true believers are those who have recently seen a shift in their life prospects. “those whose poverty is relatively recent, the “new poor,” who throb with the ferment of frustration. The memory of better things is as a fire in their veins. They are the disinherited and dispossessed who respond to every rising mass movement,” and observes that the Puritan revolution in 17th century England and European fascism were both supported by recently impoverished segments of the population.  Much has been said of the vulnerability of working class white males in our time to reactionary mass movements, displaced as they are by deindustrialization and the recent rise in status of women and ethnic minorities.  They are naturally receptive to those who promise to make America great again.

 Speaking of which, Hoffer points out that “discontent is likely to be highest when misery is bearable; when conditions have so improved that an ideal state seems almost within reach.  A grievance is most poignant when almost redressed.”  This is a potent observation.  More fascinating still is the observation that “In both France and Russia the land-hungry peasants owned almost exactly one-third of the agricultural land at the outbreak of revolution, and most of that land was acquired during the generation or two preceding the revolution.  It is not actual suffering but the taste of better things which excites people to revolt.”

A similar dynamic may explain why fanatical and militant strains of feminism have infected social media in the 21st century, precisely that time in history when the prospects for women, at least in the first world, never looked so good.  It’s also worth noting that the recently liberated are sitting ducks for proselytizing holy causes because “Freedom aggravates at least as much as it alleviates frustration. Freedom of choice places the whole blame of failure on the shoulders of the individual. And as freedom encourages a multiplicity of attempts, it unavoidably multiplies failure and frustration.”

What the recently dispossessed and the recently elevated have in common is an perceptual gap between the realities of their lives and what they believe to be possible in their lives.  This gap is called frustration, and what can fill it is a proselytizing holy cause.

 “It is obvious that a proselytizing mass movement must break down all existing group ties if it is to win a considerable following. The ideal potential convert is the individual who stands alone, who has no collective body he can blend with and lose himself in and so mask the pettiness, meaninglessness and shabbiness of his individual existence.  Where a mass movement finds the corporate pattern of family, tribe, country, etcetera, in a state of disruption and decay, it moves in and gathers the harvest. Where it finds the corporate pattern in good repair, it must attack and disrupt.” 

The western world of the 21st century has witnessed over previous generations the breakdown of community, family and economy in a way that’s left many people isolated.  Climbing divorce rates, increased degrees of abstinence, celibacy and childlessness, decline in organized religion and organized labor and declining living standards for the middle and working classes all contribute to a sense of futility and frustration.  The recent growth of causes such as Black Lives Matter, libertarianism, tumblr feminism, the alt-right and the presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders make clear that we have thus been made sitting ducks for proselytizing holy causes.

“It is futile to judge the viability of a new movement by the truth of its doctrine and the feasibility of its promises. What has to be judged is its corporate organization for quick and total absorption of the frustrated. Where new creeds vie with each other for the allegiance of the populace, the one which comes with the most perfected collective framework wins,” and he cites the historical triumphs of Christianity in the ancient world, Communism in Russia and Nazism in prewar Germany as evidence of this.  It may well be today that the progressives, with their identity politics and at least partial social and economic collectivism are edging out the more individualistic conservatives for much the same reasons. 

“The general rule seems to be that as one pattern of corporate cohesion weakens, conditions become ripe for the rise of a mass movement and the eventual establishment of a new and more vigorous form of compact unity. When a church which was all embracing relaxes its hold, new religious movements are likely to crystallize. H. G. Wells remarks that at the time of the Reformation people “objected not to the church’s power, but to its weaknesses ...  Their movements against the church, within it and without, were movements not for release from a religious control, but for a fuller and more abundant religious control.”  If the religious mood is undermined by enlightenment, the rising movements will be socialist, nationalist or racist. The French Revolution, which was also a nationalist movement, came as a reaction not against the vigorous tyranny of the Catholic Church and the ancient regime but against their weakness and ineffectuality. When people revolt in a totalitarian society, they rise not against the wickedness of the regime but its weakness.” 

Liberalism in both Catholicism and mainline Protestantism thus directly paved the way for militant socialism, and later the militant identity politics of the new left.  So called “regressive leftism” has made the least headway in regions such as the US south, where the Southern Baptist Convention did not liberalize to nearly the same degree, and so gave its congregations the corporate cohesion they sought, especially as their way of life was challenged by the demise or racial segregation.  It is most prevalent in those regions where the once dominant Lutheran or Anglican denominations became lukewarm, such as northern Europe, Great Britain and her former English speaking colonies, and the North-East United States.  

The new left counterculture who promised liberation from stringent social norms through the “deconstruction” of western culture and the Christian religion could not have miscalculated the true yearnings of their target audiences more grievously than they did.  Congregations who were once given purpose, moralized on the virtues of self sacrifice and a corporate body to belong to by fire and brimstone preachers now get the same from women’s studies professors and feminist bloggers.  It is a myth that the institution of the confessional has fallen into disuse – “checking your privilege” now plays the same role. 

Other kinds of people that Hoffer identifies as being susceptible to a rising mass movement include misfits, the inordinately selfish, the ambitious feeling unlimited opportunities, minorities, the bored and sinners.  All of these categories of people naturally face greater struggles to fit in with the societies they find themselves in.  They cannot find identity and anonymity in the corporate bodies of the society they find themselves in, and so are more vulnerable to the frustration that underlies the character of the True Believer.  Mass movements themselves, or at least their leadership, seem to understand this.  At least instinctually if not intellectually.  The successful movements of history go out of their way to appeal to the outcast and the marginalized, though not necessarily the powerless.  Christianity was very blatant in this regard, as any reading of the bible makes clear – “whatever you do unto the least of my brethren, so also shall you do unto me.”

At the other end of the historical spectrum, the true appeal of intersectional feminism is not to those demographics it deems marginalized identities, but to marginalized psyches looking for a sense of purpose in a historical mission bigger than themselves.  It is not as unusual as it may first seem that most social justice warriors come from the upper echelons of society, and many are themselves rich white cishet able bodied males.   For what it truly offers is not liberation from racism, misogyny and homophobia, but rather liberation from the self, from the present and above all, from personal freedom and liberty, which really boil down to incarceration with the first two.  This is the liberation that is and has always been at the heart of the True Believer.

Part 3 – United Action and Self Sacrifice.  This section is further broken down into “Factors promoting self sacrifice”, which looks more deeply at the psychological appeal that the mass movement has to the true believer, and “Unifying Agents”, which looks at the ways in which a mass movement generates and preserves the kinds of psychological and social conditions that attract and retain true believers.  Those two subsections taken together, part three explores the sociology of the mass movement while it is in what Hoffer calls its active and revivalist stage.

Factors Promoting Self Sacrifice – Hoffer opens this section up with identification with a collective whole as the first factor.  He says, “To ripen a person for self-sacrifice he must be stripped of his individual identity and distinctness. He must cease to be George, Hans, Ivan, or Tadao—a human atom with an existence bounded by birth and death. The most drastic way to achieve this end is by the complete assimilation of the individual into a collective body. 

The fully assimilated individual does not see himself and others as human beings. When asked who he is, his automatic response is that he is a German, a Russian, a Japanese, a Christian, a Moslem, a member of a certain tribe or family. He has no purpose, worth and destiny apart from his collective body; and as long as that body lives he cannot really die.”  It is interesting that Hoffer observes that identification with a collective whole becomes a sort of “immortality project”, along the same lines as the thesis developed by Ernest Becker in his 1973 study The Denial of Death.  Here, Becker describes civilization as ultimately being an elaborate defense mechanism against the knowledge of our mortality.

Hoffer claims that to individuated people without a sense of belonging, “mere life is all that matters” and personal happiness and success in life become of paramount importance.  This is the polar opposite of the psyche of the true believer, which cannot find in themselves happiness or purpose in existence and operate under the assumption that a higher purpose, goal or identity is necessary to justify themselves.  

To attract true believers, a mass movement must provide this external justification and must undermine the importance and significance of personal and individual justifications for life and happiness.  This is done fore mostly by the construction of an alternate identity for its members.
A powerful means of creating this sense of identity with a collective whole is through the tropes of mythology and ritual, which Hoffer refers to as “Make Believe.”  

The use of uniforms, of processions and public rituals, reiteration of mythological narratives that revolve around the group’s historical achievements and destined future triumphs, invocations such as prayers, slogans and chants, rituals designed to initiate newcomers into the group and cast the group as heroes in some larger drama that spans history all seem to be essential to the success of any mass movement.  

These are all done in a collective group context, usually in a repetitive manner and succeed in breaking down and bypassing the conscious mind’s more rational qualities and appealing to people on a more instinctive level. 

Central to this mythological projection is the idea of that members of the group have undergone some kind of personal and spiritual evolution by joining the group, and have been or are in the process of transitioning from prey to predator status as a result.  Hoffer observes that “In the practice of mass movements, make-believe plays perhaps a more enduring role than any other factor. When faith and the power to persuade or coerce are gone, make-believe lingers on.”  

This meta-mythological narrative of prey to predator evolution has at least the potential to strike a very deep chord in people, and may well be a, if not THE central experience of the human condition.  A mass movement leader able to tap into this instinct will make of himself and his followers a potent force indeed.

An important aspect of this Hoffer identifies as the depreciation of the present.  Once people start to become satisfied with their conditions of life, the psychic fire that animates the true believer begins to wane.  The present must be seen, at best, as a bridge between a once glorious past and a destined to be glorious future.  The bridge between the two is the true believer’s willingness to sacrifice contentedness in the present. 

The true believer cannot take solace in the present, and this is what insulates them from recognizing the validity of any actual real world successes the movement has enjoyed.  They can only truly be motivated by what Hoffer describes as “Things which are not.”  

People are, Hoffer claims, less likely to fight to the end for the things they have and value in the present real world, because their practical value is ultimately subordinate to the ultimate value that the person reconciled to the present places on their lives, or those things that make their lives possible.  This is in stark contrast to the true believer, who so recklessly dispenses with the present and this has, they feel nothing to lose.  

As an example, Hoffer cites “It was not the least of Hitler’s formidable powers that he knew how to drain his opponents (at least in continental Europe) of all hope. His fanatical conviction that he was building a new order that would last a thousand years communicated itself both to followers and antagonists. To the former it gave the feeling that in ‑ fighting for the Third Reich they were in league with eternity, while the latter felt that to struggle against Hitler’s new order was to defy inexorable fate.”

This sheds some light on why it is that academic, media, business and government leadership in the very late 20th and early 21st centuries have cowed so quickly and readily before even the most absurd demands of the politically correct social justice warriors, and why serious backlash came, when it finally did, from online videogamers.  For professionals and administrators in governing organizations are examples of the irony that Hoffer observes “that those who hug the present and hang on to it with all their might should be the least capable of defending it.”  Militant social justice activists and the online trolls who oppose them, on the other hand, are truly fighting for “cities yet to be built and gardens yet to be planted.” 

When discussing the importance of doctrine to the psyche of the true believer and the character of active revivalist mass movements, Hoffer makes clear that “The effectiveness of a doctrine does not come from its meaning but from its certitude.  No doctrine however profound and sublime will be effective unless it is presented as the embodiment of the one and only truth. It must be the one word from which all things are and all things speak. Crude absurdities, trivial nonsense and sublime truths are equally potent in readying people for self-sacrifice if they are accepted as the sole, eternal truth.”

Mass movements strive, in Hoffer’s words, to “interpose a fact proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world.  They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside it. The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ.”

“It is obvious, therefore that in order to be effective a doctrine must not be understood, but has rather to be believed in.  We can be We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand. A doctrine that is understood is shorn of its strength. Once we understand a thing, it is as if it had originated in us. And, clearly, those who are asked to renounce the self and sacrifice it cannot see eternal certitude in anything which originates in that self. The fact that they understand a thing fully impairs its validity and certitude in their eyes.”

“If a doctrine is not unintelligible, it has to be vague; and if neither unintelligible nor vague, it has to be unverifiable. One has to get to heaven or the distant future to determine the truth of an effective doctrine. When some part of a doctrine is relatively simple, there is a tendency among the faithful to complicate and obscure it. Simple words are made pregnant with meaning and made to look like symbols in a secret message. There is thus an illiterate air about the most literate true believer. He seems to use words as if he were ignorant of their true meaning. Hence, too, his taste for quibbling, hair-splitting and scholastic tortuousness."

“To be in possession of an absolute truth is to have a net of familiarity spread over the whole of eternity. There are no surprises and no unknowns. All questions have already been answered, all decisions made, all eventualities foreseen. The true believer is without wonder and hesitation. 

“Who knows Jesus knows the reason of all things.” The true doctrine is a master key to all the world’s problems. With it the world can be taken apart and put together. The official history of the Communist party states: “The power of Marxist-Leninist theory lies in the fact that it enables the Party to find the right orientation in any situation, to understand the inner connection of current events, to foresee their course, and to perceive not only how and in what direction they are developing in the present but how and in what direction they are bound to develop in the future.”

The appeal of the critical theory department and blogs such as Everyday Feminism, should now be apparent.  Implicit in what Hoffer has outlined above is the relative futility in using what would at first seem like sound argumentative tactics to deconstruct the doctrine of the true believer in order to persuade them to believe otherwise.  The most solid edifice of facts, data, relative examples, peer review, evidence and the strictest adherence to the rules of logic to support a thesis that refutes the doctrine of the true believer will not budge them, because the strict rationalist does not correctly grasp what truly motivates the true believer.  Hoffer suggests replacing one holy dogma with another as the best chance. This was successful when former Nazis converted to communism in east Germany after the war, and has been seen much more recently in the rise of the SJWs in populations once given over to conservative Christianity. 

This is because, according to Hoffer, “It goes without saying that the fanatic is convinced that the cause he holds on to is monolithic and eternal—a rock of ages. Still, his sense of security is derived from his passionate attachment and not from the excellence of his cause. The fanatic is not really a stickler to principle. He embraces a cause not primarily because of its justness and holiness but because of his desperate need for something to hold on to. Often, indeed, it is his need for passionate attachment which turns every cause he embraces into a holy cause.”

Hoffer notes that there is more likeness among fanatics of different causes than there is between the fanatics and the moderates of any given cause.  Had Hoffer been alive in the days of the internet, he would no doubt have been flamed and accused of being a troll for pointing out that, “The opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a God or not. The atheist is a religious person. He believes in atheism as though it were a new religion.  He is an atheist with devoutness and unction. According to Renan, “The day after that on which the world should no longer believe in God, atheists would be the wretchedest of all men.”  I’ve often thought this true of social justice warriors of all kinds, who would quite suddenly find themselves bereft of purpose were white supremacy, patriarchy or rape culture to be fully and completely defeated.

“So, too, the opposite of the chauvinist is not the traitor but the reasonable citizen who is in love with the present and has no taste for martyrdom and the heroic gesture. The traitor is usually a fanatic—radical or reactionary—who goes over to the enemy in order to hasten the downfall of a world he loathes. Most of the traitors in the Second World War came from the extreme right. “There seems to be a thin line between violent, extreme nationalism and treason.”  Anti-government militia groups in the US are the perfect case in point today.

Hoffer views several unifying agents as being important in the creation and maintenance of a fanatical state of mind.  These are: hatred, imitation, persuasion and coercion, leadership, action and suspicion. 

Hatred is so essential in Hoffer’s view that he claims that “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil. Usually the strength of a mass movement is proportionate to the vividness and tangibility of its devil.”  As with many elements of the true believer and the causes they support, the movement’s adversary is to be judged not in terms of the real or tangible threat it objectively poses, but by whether group cohesion is maintained by belief and fear of it.  An ideal devil must be powerful and evil enough to require single minded devotion to the cause. 

To Hoffer, such unreasonable hatreds and fears “are an expression of a desperate effort to suppress an awareness of our inadequacy, worthlessness, guilt and other shortcomings of the self. Self-contempt is here transmuted into hatred of others—and there is a most determined and persistent effort to mask this switch.”  This is much more important in Hoffer’s view than whether the movement has a just grievance with its hated foe. While a just grievance may buoy the movement’s hatred of its devil, just grievances are not what hatred is really all about.  The kind of hatred we see of mass movements – the Christian or the Muslim towards the infidel, the Nazi towards the Jew, the Communist towards America, the neo-conservative towards the US democratic party or the feminist towards the patriarchy, are about projecting one’s own frustration onto an evil that has been blown up in magnitude to a degree that no venomous sentiment is unwarranted.

This element of projection in mass hate drives a tendency – remarked upon not just in Hoffer’s work but in numerous sources, for people and movements to project their hatred upon people much like themselves, and to imitate the people they hate: “Thus every mass movement shapes itself after its specific devil. Christianity at its height realized the image of the antichrist. The Jacobins practiced all the evils of the tyranny they had risen against. Soviet Russia is realizing the purest and most colossal example of monopolistic capitalism. Hitler took the Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion for his guide and textbook; he followed them “down to the veriest detail.”

Since the publication of Hoffer’s work, that the State of Israel should devote itself to ethnic purity and living space for its people, for feminists to devote themselves to policing culture and sexuality and for anti feminist men’s groups to emphasise their historical victimhood and marginalization, and for some of these groups to advocate sexual and romantic rejection of women in favor of gender separatism should thus come as no surprise to us.  Envy and a desire for something the hated people have is a critical component of frustration.

The frustrated seek escape from themselves, and find it in imitation.  Uniforms – from the black and brown shirts of the historical fascists to the plaid shirts of today’s social justice warriors are one device whereby an individual can lose their individuality in a corporate whole.  Slogans, jargon, buzzwords and other language that originate not in the self work to similar effect.  “The less satisfaction we derive from being ourselves, the greater is our desire to be like others.  We are therefore more ready to imitate those who are different from us than those nearly like us, and those we admire than those we despise.”  Given the frustrated’s propensity to imitation, movements must guard against member imitation of those outside the movement.  Thus cults, from the smallest pseudo religious new-wave gurus to the nation of North Korea, continually warn their members against exposure to foreign influences.

Between persuasion and coercion, Hoffer attaches greater importance to the later.  He notes that propaganda is generally ineffective unless it tells its audience what they are already predisposed towards wanting to hear.

Quote Hoffer, “The truth seems to be that propaganda on its own cannot force its way into unwilling minds; neither can it inculcate something wholly new; nor can it keep people persuaded once they have ceased to believe. It penetrates only into minds already open, and rather than instill opinion it articulates and justifies opinions already present in the minds of its recipients.”  The value of propaganda lies in the rationalizations that it lends to coercive actions and tactics. 

“Contrary to what one would expect, propaganda becomes more fervent and importunate when it operates in conjunction with coercion than when it has to rely solely on its own effectiveness. Both they who convert and they who are converted by coercion need the fervent conviction that the faith they impose or are forced to adopt is the only true one. Without this conviction, the proselytizing terrorist, if he is not vicious to begin with, is likely to feel a criminal, and the coerced convert see himself as a coward who prostituted his soul to live. Propaganda thus serves more to justify ourselves than to convince others; and the more reason we have to feel guilty, the more fervent our propaganda.”

Leadership is indispensable to a mass movement, but the conditions and circumstances must be right for a movement to arise, or the leadership will not matter.  But “Once the stage is set, the presence of an outstanding leader is indispensable.”  Communism would have faltered without Lenin and without Mao to reinvigorate it in the postwar years.  Fascism and Nazism were explicit in their worship of a leader who embodied the chosen people.  Most of the mass movements of our time – the religious right and feminism, have no single figure to embody their principles and have thereby been hampered.  The alt-right’s fervent support for Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential elections is rooted in the knowledge that a leader to embody the movement is what will make or break them long term.

Quote Hoffer: “It needs the iron will, daring and vision of an exceptional leader to concert and mobilize existing attitudes and impulses into the collective drive of a mass movement. The leader personifies the certitude of the creed and the defiance and grandeur of power.  He articulates and justifies the resentment damned up in the souls of the frustrated.”  As with all other aspects of a mass movement, what makes or breaks a good leader is whether the frustrated can project onto him all the hopes and aspirations they cannot have for themselves.

Persons not inclined to support mass movements – people lacking in frustration and being reconciled to the present, cannot comprehend the blind faith and obedience that the true believer places in leader and doctrine.  How could even scientists and artists abase themselves as they did before the medieval inquisition, Stalinist show trials or the demands of social justice groups today?  But abasement before a doctrine and leader greater than themselves is the deepest yearning of the true believer and therefore the more self flagellating and submissive the act of obedience before the movement, the purer and better the display of loyalty to the one true faith.  As with many elements of the behavior of the true believer, this kind of conduct is driven by a desire to escape the burdens of individualism and responsibility.

Hoffer concludes his discussion of leadership with a discussion of the difference between leaders of a mass movement and leaders in a free society.  “In a more or less free society, the leader can retain his hold on the people only when he has blind faith in their wisdom and goodness. A second-rate leader possessed of this faith will outlast a first-rate leader who is without it. This means that in a free society the leader follows the people even as he leads them.”  This is in stark contrast to what makes a good leader in a mass movement.  Hoffer noted that “One of the reasons that communist leaders are losing out in our unions is that by following the line and adopting the tactics of the party, they are assuming the attitude and using the tactics of a mass movement leader in an organization made up of free men.”

Whether the flamboyant leaders of today’s “cultural libertarian” movement will succeed in breaking the social justice stranglehold on college campuses will end up depending a great deal on whether the temperament of the free man exists in greater abundance than the frustrated temperament of the true believer in our post secondary institutions.

“The awareness of their individual blemishes and shortcomings inclines the frustrated to detect ill will and meanness in their fellow men. Self-contempt, however vague, sharpens our eyes for the imperfections of others. We usually strive to reveal in others the blemishes we hide in ourselves. Thus when the frustrated congregate in a mass movement, the air is heavy-laden with suspicion. There is prying and spying, tense watching and a tense awareness of being watched. The surprising thing is that this pathological mistrust within the ranks leads not to dissension but to strict conformity.”

“Mass movements make extensive use of suspicion in their machinery of domination. The rank-and file within the Nazi party were made to feel that they were continually under observation and were kept in a permanent state of uneasy conscience and fear.  Fear of one’s neighbors, one’s friends and even one’s relatives seems to be the rule within all mass movements.  Now and then innocent people are deliberately accused and sacrificed in order to keep suspicion alive. 

Suspicion is given a sharp edge by associating all opposition within the ranks with the enemy threatening the movement from without. This enemy—the indispensable devil of every mass movement—is omnipresent. He plots both outside and inside the ranks of the faithful. It is his voice that speaks through the mouth of the dissenter, and the deviationists are his stooges. If anything goes wrong within the movement, it is his doing. It is the sacred duty of the true believer to be suspicious. He must be constantly on the lookout for saboteurs, spies and traitors.”

Those moderate liberals and libertarians who await the decline of the online and academic social justice movements beneath the weight of their own ceaseless self renunciations and internal accusations of racism, misogyny and homophobia will be waiting a long time.  This is only happening with intersectional feminists today because its predecessors – conservative religion and social purity have grown lukewarm.  Social justice will not implode as a result of its internally repressive culture, for this is precisely the kind of environment that the frustrated seek and the scoldings they receive for their privilege and ideological shortcomings are what they feel their failed, ineffectual selves truly deserve.  Only through a redoubled effort to check one’s privilege and struggle against internalized misogyny and racism does the admonished social justice warrior finds purpose. It is when intersectional feminism begins to moderate just as some other puritanical ideology begins its rise to replace it that the SJWs will begin to decline.

Part 4 – Beginning and End.  

This portion is a discussion of the three kinds of people who make a mass movement – the men of words, the fanatics and the practical men of action.  Hoffer also discusses good and bad mass movements.  While his assessment of the character if the true believer is generally negative, Hoffer also emphasises that they ultimately play a socially necessary role in brining about necessary change in stagnant societies.

Hoffer notes the importance of the ruling regime keeping at least most of its learned classes loyal to it.  Contrast the long hegemony of the Catholic church of the middle ages – when only the ordained could read or write – with the secularism arising from the anti-intellectual culture of neo-conservatism and the religious right.  The right wing signed its own death warrant when it abandoned academia, while those progressives who lamented that fact that “they were taking over congress while we were taking over the English department” might have been onto something after all.

The secret, in Hoffer’s view, to maintaining the loyalty of the men of words, is recognition: “there is a deep-seated craving common to almost all men of words which determines their attitude to the prevailing order. It is a craving for recognition; a craving for a clearly marked status above the common run of humanity.”

Any regime alienates its literate class at its peril.  “To sum up, the militant man of words prepares the ground for the rise of a mass movement: 1) by discrediting prevailing creeds and institutions and detaching from them the allegiance of the people; 2) by indirectly creating a hunger for faith in the hearts of those who cannot live without it, so that when the new faith is preached it finds an eager response among the disillusioned masses; 3) by furnishing the doctrine and the slogans of the new faith; 4) by undermining the convictions of the “better people"— those who can get along without faith—so that when the new fanaticism makes its appearance they are without the capacity to resist it. 

They see no sense in dying for conventions and principles, and yield to the new order without a fight.
The difference between the men of words and the fanatics, in Hoffer’s view, is that the former are creative while the later are not.  Ideas are a form of self expression to the man of words, and where these have an outlet, his life has purpose.  This, at least in part, reconciles the man of words with the present and thus mitigates against the frustration that produces a true believer. 

The difference between how the man of words and how the fanatic approach a belief system is a key means of distinguishing a true believer.  To the man of words, a belief system is something to be understood on a rational level.  The fanatic cannot do this.  As Hoffer says, “Once we understand a thing, it is as if it had originated in us. And, clearly, those who are asked to renounce the self and sacrifice it cannot see eternal certitude in anything which originates in that self. The fact that they understand a thing fully impairs its validity and certitude in their eyes.”  To the fanatic, the movement is not merely a good idea worth trying out, but the only hope for salvation. 

Rational men of words therefore argue in vain when they try to use reason and persuasion on the fanatic.  For what the rationalist is up against is not the fanatic’s misguided logic, incorrect facts or mistaken conclusions, but rather the fanatic’s deep seated angst and frustration, for which their extreme beliefs are a kind of psychological defense mechanism.  Indeed, the flustered man of words cannot comprehend how the fanatic takes pride in precisely how preposterous are the things they believe.  This is because the rationalist does not understand that the fanatic does not seek truth in any objective sense, but escape from their hated selves and the hated present, of which sound logic and reason are too much a part for the fanatic’s taste.

It is for this reason that the fanatics are useful for giving a mass movement thrust and vitality, but also dangerous to its long term success unless the movement can be commandeered by the third kind of movement activist – the practical man of action.  The appearance of this man tends to mark the end of the revivalist phase of the movement, and their focus is more on consolidating institutional power than perpetuating a climate of fevered ideological passion.

“With the appearance of the man of action the explosive vigor of the movement is embalmed and sealed in sanctified institutions. A religious movement crystallizes in a hierarchy and a ritual; a revolutionary movement, in organs of vigilance and administration; a nationalist movement, in governmental and patriotic institutions. a nationalist movement, in governmental and patriotic institutions.”

The contrast between the men of words, the fanatics and the men of action is that the man of action is neither a man of reason nor a man of faith, but a man of law.  Loyalty to the new order is kept by drill and ritual, with the early men of words and fanatics being canonized and their ideas and struggles made into scripture and heroic narrative.  But a pragmatic streak runs through the man of action – he is more like Brezhnev than Lenin, more like the medieval popes than like Christ or St. Paul, more like today’s postmodernist professors and bloggers than like the radicals of the new left of the 1960s.  The success and survival of the institutions created by the movement is paramount, its founding ideals more something to pay lip service to and venerate for the purposes of maintaining public support than something essential to the present day.

Hoffer warns that “Where a mass movement preserves for generations the pattern shaped by its active phase (as in the case of the militant church through the Middle Ages), or where by a successive accession of fanatical proselytes its orthodoxy is continually strengthened (as in the case of Islam), the result is an era of stagnation—a dark age.”  North Korea and jihadist Islam are the most glaring and extreme examples of this in the world today.  To much lesser extent, radical feminism on college campuses perpetuates its existence in much the same way – the practical women of action who teach critical theory, serve as executive directors for women’s rights organizations and lobby for government funds display an understanding that a loyal cadre of devoted activists locked in a life-or-death struggle against “the patriarchy” is essential for the ongoing justification for the jobs they do and – more importantly – their sense of identity and purpose.

Hoffer observes that when a mass movement has concrete and measurable goals and objectives, and occurs within a smaller and more homogenous population, the active phase of the movement is shorter and less intense.  While Hoffer claims that it is unusual for a mass movement leader to embody the traits of any two, let alone all three subtypes of movement activists – men of words, fanatics and men of action – leaders who do know when and how to transition into and out of the active revivalist phase also keep the bloodshed and upheaval minimal.  Likewise, for when a fanatical leader dies and a practical man of action can take his place, such as when Deng Xiaoping succeeded Mao in China.

Though Hoffer oftentimes seems judgmental towards mass movements and their followers, he also concedes that they are useful, necessary even, at rousing stagnant societies and bringing about needed reform.  Without the art of religiofication, as Hoffer calls it, Churchill would not have been able to rouse the people of Great Britain to resist Nazi Europe, and Martin Luther King Jr. would not have stirred the conscience of a generation against the evils of racial prejudice.  It is, perhaps, for want of a stirring national mythology that the populations of postmodern Europe drift into existential malaise in the face of drastic demographic changes occurring within their borders.

Hoffer does not rule out the rise of a Hitler or a Stalin in a country with an established tradition of freedom, but doubts whether they could keep power indefinitely.  The western world has seen mass movements rise and, in some cases, fall since the second world war: the new left, the religious right, the social justice warriors and the populist right in Europe and its American counterpart in Donald Trump’s presidential bid.  None of these come anywhere near what the mass movements Hoffer covers were.  The factors that have thus far been mitigating against the rise of a truly transformative mass movement in the western world remain elusive.  

But we cannot be sure that none will arise. 

Eric Hoffer himself misspoke gravely when he noted that “It has probably been one of China’s great misfortunes during the past hundred years that its mass movements (the Taiping rebellion and the Sun Yat-sen revolution) deteriorated or were stifled too soon. China was unable to produce a Stalin, a Gandhi or even an Atatürk, who could keep a genuine mass movement going long enough for drastic reforms to take root.”  Ironic it was that Mr. Hoffer penned these words precisely as Chairman Mao Zedong was in the final stages of consolidating his hold over the world’s most populous nation.  

Be careful what you wish for, Eric!

It has been widely acknowledged that the tone of political discourse in the western world has gotten more caustic in recent years.  Electorates grow frustrated with governments and elites that show themselves to be out of touch, or even contemptful of their concerns.  Progressive and conservative groups and people have less and less to say to one another.  Blogs, YouTube channels, cable television networks and print media appeal more and more to ideological niches, wherein people are exposed less and less to differing view points, and increasing extremism becomes a tool to display loyalty towards one’s own identity group and contempt for others.  Racial and religious tensions rise amid concerns over immigration and terrorism, and black power and white supremacy groups alike grow more militant and daring. 


While the future cannot be foretold precisely, all of the indicators bear out Eric Hoffer’s 1951 words, 

“The true believer is everywhere on the march, and both by converting and antagonizing he is shaping the world in his own image.  And whether we are to line up with him or against him, it is well that we should know all we can concerning his nature and potentialities.”