Saturday, March 11, 2017

Eric Hoffer: totalitarianism in free societies


No. 28

There is a large measure of totalitarianism even in the freest of free societies.  But in a free society totalitarianism is not imposed from without but is implanted within the individual.  There is a totalitarian regime inside everyone of us.  We are ruled  by a ruthless politburo which sets our norms and drives us from one five-year plan to another.  The autonomous individual who has to justify his existence by his own efforts is in eternal bondage to himself.  

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



If autonomous individuals are in bondage to themselves, then the non-autonomous individuals must be in bondage to outside forces.  Since there is no escape from bondage, according to Hoffer, then I would prefer to be in bondage to myself.

Aside from death, is there another option which could free us from this bondage?  Or, does this bondage really exist?   

24 comments:

  1. an eminently debatable question... perhaps influenced by Tim's last post, i'd lean to the opinion that humans are myth-driven, and encaged by their subjective unconscious; we're all more controlled by our reptilian brains than most of us would think...

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    1. Mudpuddle,

      I don't know about the reptilian brain so much, but I certainly agree with the power of myth and unconscious habits and reflexive thinking habits on our "conscious" thinking.

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  2. Perhaps religious contemplative in their isolated enclaves are not bonded except to their contemplation. Zen? Desert monastics? Hmmm. I suddenly think of Canticle for Leibowitz. There goes my thesis out the window. But, hey, I gave it a shot.

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    1. that's the first mention of Canticle i've seen: tx for mentioning it... great book by Walter Miller...

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    2. Tim,

      Monastics as a group are just as dominated by external (to the individual) control as are we. Individuals may have more or less autonomy, I suspect, from the group, but is the internal control just as stronger, or perhaps stronger, than external group.

      One question just occurred to me: if such bondage exists, which is easier to overthrow? --the external or the internal?

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    3. Mudpuddle,

      A Canticle is one of my top ten favorite SF novels. Have you read the sequel, finished by another author? It's nowhere in the same class, or so I sadly think.

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    4. i'm quite sure i read it at one time, but due to it's unmemorability, i can't recall a thing about it...

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    5. Fred, all human bondage is both natural and deplorable. Now that I've said that bit of whirligig babble, I need to ponder whether or not it makes any sense.

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    6. Mudpuddle,

      I'm not even sure I remember the title correctly: something about the Woman of Wild Horse Mesa? I do remember that there were several working titles, though.

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    7. Tim,

      Chuckle . . . I think you could generate an interesting debate on both "natural" and "deplorable."

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    8. I remember a friend stumped by an essay title @ university: Are Human Rights Utopian? How can I write 2000 words on *that* he asked. You could write 2000 words on the *definition* of Human, I replied!

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    9. CyberKitten,

      And a bookshelf or two defining "rights" and "utopian."

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  3. All men would be tyrants if they could. Can't remember who said that. But it sounds about right.

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    1. Yvette,

      I wouldn't go so far as to say all, but I certainly agree that far too many would be tyrants, if given the opportunity.

      I think it was Lord Acton who said power corrupts. I've often wondered if perhaps the corruption was already there and gaining power just gave the opportunity to show it.

      Of course, it's the old chicken and the egg argument. . .

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    2. maybe that's another way of saying humans are not changeable....

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    3. Mudpuddle,

      I think all humans have the capacity to change, but far too few ever exercise it.

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  4. I can't agree with this statement as I understand it, because an inner politburo would have to be operating from an inner ideology, so to speak. But people are so malleable, changing from moment to moment, easily rationalizing what we're doing even though it goes against against an earlier mood. The politburo has its fixed dogma, but people themselves do not...even if we yearn for some sort of fixed truth. (Hence one of the attractions of political ideologies, religion, etc.)

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    1. Stephen,

      I think people are certainly malleable as far as mood and emotion are concerned, but thinking habits change much more slowly, or so it seems to me.

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  5. I think that people long for a fixed truth because once they find it (or more often are given it) they can stop thinking and wondering about a whole chunk of their lives. People (in general) don't like to think about the Big Questions - it's *painful* Having a fixed truth to lean on, and trot out when required, takes away the pain. It makes life so much easier....

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    1. CyberKitten,

      I agree completely. Ambiguity is painful, and most people rush to resolve it as quickly as possible, even to the point of denying contradictory information--see global change deniers, for example.

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    2. CK: words of truth: i totally agree with that... but at the same time (humans are so contrary), ambiguity is fun - explaining arguments and wars... if it wasn't why would we do it?

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    3. Ambiguity *is* fun - to those who can handle it.... for those of us who can play with ideas without having to believe in them. Most people I've met so far think ideas are made of concrete whereas in reality, I believe, they are made of candyfloss....

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  6. This is a very interesting quotation. I am not sure if I agree with it. I tend to thing that Stephen's view is closer to truth. I would need to read more of Hoffer has to say on this to have a very coherent opinion though.

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    1. Brian,

      Disagree? All or in part?

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