Monday, March 3, 2014

Eric Hoffer: dissipation


"DISSIPATION is a form of self-sacrifice.  The reckless wasting of one's vigor is a blind striving to 'liquidate' an unwanted self.  And as one would expect, the passage from this to other forms of self-sacrifice is not uncommon.  Passionate sinning has not infrequently been an apprenticeship to sainthood.  Many of the insights of the saint stem from his experience as a sinner."

-- Eric Hoffer --
from The Passionate State of Mind

In other words, dissipation is an indirect form of suicide.  This seems reasonable to me.  Or perhaps  it's a way of punishing oneself for some sin or transgression.

Does this seem reasonable to you?

That great sinners sometimes become saints has been noted before.   One of the most famous examples is St. Augustine who, after spending many years in dissipation, converted and became one of the most respected leaders of the early Christian Church.

This is the point made by C. S. Lewis in his great satirical work, The Screwtape Letters, specifically in the section titled  "Screwtape Proposes a Toast."  Screwtape is responding to complaints by other devils that the souls served up at the banquets recently have been bland and tasteless, flabby and insipid.  He agrees, but he then points out that while the quality of souls has decreased, the quantity has considerably increased.  There is no risk of famine today because of the great number of souls that just sort of end up in hell without even choosing to do evil.   The reason for the diminished quality of souls is clear:

"The great (and toothsome) sinners are made out of the very same material as those horrible phenomena the great Saints."

This, I believe, is the same point Hoffer is making at the end of his statement.  Strong or passionate feelings are the same, but what makes the difference in them is the focus of those feelings.  There are ways of measuring the intensity of one's feelings, but there's no way of identifying the focus of those passions, short of asking the individual.  Emotions are much the same in all, but what makes the difference is the focus of those strong passions.


  1. If "dissipation" is a sinful failure to use properly and honorably one's time and energy for improvement of self and surroundings, then we perhaps all sinners. But who other than the individual is properly positioned to make that value judgment?

  2. Are you saying that nobody therefore can decide that another is acting in a way that constitutes dissipation?

  3. When I think "aloud" in comments, I often do not know the answers to my own questions. Am I being too pseudo-Socratic?

    But, in attempt to answer your question, I would say that no one ought to judge another person -- unless it is within the socially constructed framework of judicial process.

  4. Blogger may have eaten my attempted response. I try again.
    I think no one should judge another person, except within the socially-constructed judicial process.

  5. RT,

    Hoffer was speaking in a general sense. He does not name anyone nor is he judging any specific person. He simply suggests that a person who acts in this way is committing a slow form of suicide.