I remember when I was in high school (1967 to 1971) my father’s great enthusiasm for the books of Eric Hoffer, the longshoreman philosopher and author of The True Believer. Dad’s copy is next to my keyboard now and I see it is dated “April 4, 1970,” so he bought it when he was about a year younger than I am now when I was a junior in high school. Thanks to Dad’s delight in Hoffer’s books, I spent an independent study class in my senior year delving into them.
(My father is Hubert P. Yockey, one of the pioneers in the field of information theory and molecular biology, and I will take up in another post the influence Hoffer’s books have had on his scientific publications.)
I hunted up Dad’s copy of The True Believer recently for a post I was researching that explains how Dr. Laura flipped from being an Orthodox Jew to an evangelical Christian. On pp. 16-17, Hoffer examines the characteristics that make someone receptive to a mass movement, which makes it possible to convert a true believer from one movement to an opposing one, but almost impossible to to establish one in any middle ground. (For the record, I was never an extreme liberal and I am not an extreme conservative. I just can’t seem to toe the line anywhere I go.) I’ll finish that thought in my upcoming post on Dr. Laura.
But Firefox is crashing on me frequently these days, so I have been flipping through The True Believer while I am waiting for it to start up. In the process, I discovered Obama’s Kryptonite. Not the green, deadly one — the more benign gold Kryptonite that would simply strip him of his superpowers forever. (Boo-yah!)
Obama’s Kryptonite is ridicule. Especially when mixed with shame.
Fortunately, Obama has supplied conservatives with plenty of material.
And we’d better get busy with the ridiculing, mocking, derision, scorn, belittling, shaming, parodying, satirizing and lampooning toot sweet like our lives, homes, families, nation and the world depend on it. (Because they do.)
Hoffer explains on p. 138 how the media are able to create the grounds for a fanatical mass movement like Obama’s:
It is easy to see how the faultfinding man of words, by persistent ridicule and denunciation, shakes prevailing beliefs and loyalties, and familiarizes the masses with the idea of change. What is not so obvious is the process by which the discrediting of existing beliefs and institutions makes possible the rise of a new fanatical faith. For it is a remarkable fact that the militant man of words who “sounds the established order to its source to mark its want of authority and justice” often prepares the ground not for a society of freethinking individuals but for a corporate society that cherishes utmost unity and blind faith.
However, while ridicule is Obama’s Kryponite, since he is now the prevailing order, Hoffer explains why it does not affect the masses he has inflamed with “hope” for “change” (pp. 138-140):
When we debunk a fanatical faith or prejudice, we do not strike at the root of fanaticism. … The freedom the masses crave is not freedom of self-expression and self-realization, but freedom from the intolerable burden of an autonomous existence. They want freedom from “the fearful burden of free choice.” freedom from the arduous responsibility of realizing their ineffectual selves and shouldering the blame for the blemished product. They do not want freedom of conscience, but faith — blind, authoritarian faith. They sweep away the old order not to create a society of free and independent men, but to establish uniformity, individual anonymity and a new structure of perfect unity. It is not the wickedness of the the old regime they rise against but its weakness; not its oppression, but its failure to hammer them together into one solid, mighty whole.
What this means for fiscal conservatism is that some re-positioning and re-branding of its product is urgently in order to win back the majority of Americans because right now it is selling what Americans either don’t want, don’t believe they can achieve, or are bitter because they have failed to achieve, which is the freedom to rise on the basis of one’s own initiative and keep a fair share of the fruits of one’s labor to spend as one pleases.
Somehow, thanks to the constant ridicule of the mainstream media, and their shameless falsehoods and bias — the one that irks me the most is the “Bush-tax-cuts-for-the-rich” chant, when those tax cuts also dropped the tax rate for the poorest taxpayers by 50 percent — we hit a tipping point where a majority of Americans stopped believing in themselves and America, which left them receptive to Obama and his brand of socialism.
For fiscal conservatives to succeed in thwarting Obama in turning America in a socialist economy and totalitarian state (only a month ago I was afraid to say that and now I find I’m behind the curve instead of in front of it), therefore will require a two-pronged approach:
- Wall-to-wall exposure of Obama to his Kryptonite: we must ridicule, mock, shame, belittle, parody, satirize and lampoon him in every way until he is the global and historic laughingstock that he deserves to be.
- Get Americans to believe in themselves and America again. As Eric Hoffer points out (p. 141), even the “intellectual midwives of a mass movement” do not belong to it because “no matter how much they preach and glorify the united effort, they remain essentially individualists. They believe in the possibility of individual happiness and the validity of individual opinion and initiative.
Hoffer also cautions what happens to a society that fails to inspire people to believe in themselves and their ability to succeed individually:
But once a movement gets rolling, power falls into the hands of those wh0 have neither faith in, nor respect for, the individual. And the reason they prevail is not so much that their disregard of the individual gives them a capacity for ruthlessness, but that their attitude is in full accord with the ruling passion of the masses [to lose their hated individuality in the uniformity of the mass movement].
Update: Ed Kaitz has a piece at American Thinker that applies Hoffer’s insights on mass movements to his years teaching remedial education classes at the college level that were predominantly attended by African-Americans and foreign students. Here’s the crucial sentence: “Citizens of all colors are about to witness on a national scale what has been quietly fermenting for decades within the Ivory Tower: a crystallization of ethnic identity so rigid that dialogue becomes virtually impossible.” Kaitz explains that thanks to “selfish elite race hustlers” American blacks have lost their individuality to their racial identity, and along with it, their belief in their ability to succeed as individuals.
Conservatism is losing ground right now because it is fundamentally an appeal to individuals and promotes the conditions in which individuals may thrive. That’s a “no sale” proposition when people would rather lose themselves in a mass movement. Conservatives need to ponder how to make people confident in their individuality again because when they are, the demand for conservatism will follow.
Updated, 1/29/2010, Fri.: Thank you, Instapundit, and welcome, Instapundit readers! Such is my genius-brilliance that I wrote this post LAST YEAR. In fact, I wrote it on February 17, 2009! That was in the dark days just after Obama’s inauguration — in fact, it was the very day that Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus package into law. THAT’S how dark that day was! So that is why I referred to “conservatism losing ground.” Last February it certainly was. Thankfully, Obama has completely turned that around. I am just one of the very first new fiscal conservatives he has made.
One of the most important things to understand about Obama is that he is a sociopath, in the clinical sense. People have caught on to his narcissism, but they do not understand his sociopathy. In a nutshell, he lives to control people, assert power and make people jump. All of the promises he makes are intended to get people to hand over their power and money to him voluntarily. However, the only promises he intends to keep are the ones that will result in him getting more power and ability to make people jump.
By now Obama has supreme faith in his ability to get away with breaking his promises by shaming the people who wanted them kept, blaming others or putting off into the indefinite future the day he must keep his side of the bargain (gay people! that means you!). The disconnect between this supreme faith and the fact that for the first time in Obama’s life people are holding him to his promises and ready to punish him for breaking them is the reason some people are starting to speculate that he is insane. I don’t think he is crazy. I think he is destroying America as a capitalistic, meritocratic and democratic republic ON PURPOSE because he loves and craves power (this is his sociopathy) and he is shamed by the achievements of genuinely talented people (this is his narcissism).
I explained this to Victor Davis Hanson on June 13, 2009, when I wrote, “Dr. Hanson, I can tell you why Obama just makes stuff up.” That post is an efficient way to get at my other foundational posts on Obama, which include this one and “Understanding Obama” from February 10, 2009, and “The chilling explanation of why Obama is cool,” from February 12, 2009.
The more you understand Obama’s sociopathy, the better prepared you will be when he uses the Alinsky tactic of telling you what you want to hear in order to gain your support and cooperation. You are being conned and cheated. I hope that understanding Obama will help you know not to fall for his cons.