Hoffer, Eric. “The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.” Harper Collins e-books, May 2011.
Review: When I began reading this book I was just trying to understand the how and why of human nature but when I got to the chapter on dying and killing many of the quotations that follow just stimulated my mind and feelings. It seemed just in these short quotations that a lot about conflict and violence and human natural behaviors are what they are. It gave thoughts toward many aspects of conflict, violence and self-defense that simply supported all of what I have come to understand about these long, difficult and complex disciplines.
Dying and killing seem easy when they are part of a ritual, ceremonial, dramatic performance or game.
There is a need for some kind of make believe in order to face death unflinchingly.
To our real, naked selves there is not a thing on earth or in heaven worth dying for.
It is only when we see ourselves as actors in a staged (and therefore unreal) performance that death loses its frightfulness and finality and becomes an act of make-believe and a theatrical gesture.
It is one of the main tasks of a real leader to mask the grim reality of dying and killing by evoking in his followers the illusion that they are participating in a grandiose spectical, a solemn or light-hearted dramatic performance.
The indispensability of play-acting in the grim business of dying and killing is particularly evident int he case of militaries. Their uniforms, flags, emblems, parades, music, and elaborate etiquette and ritual are designed to separate the soldier from his flesh-and-blood self and mask the overwhelming reality of life and death.
In battle orders the military leaders invariable remind their soldiers that the eyes of the world are on them, that their ancestors are watching them and that posterity shall hear of them. The great general knows ow to conjure an audience out of the sands of the desert and the waves of the ocean.
Glory is largely a theatrical concept. There is no striving for glory without a vivid awareness of an audience - the knowledge that our mighty deeds will come to the ears of our contemporaries of “of those who are to be.” We are ready to sacrifice our true, transitory self for the imaginary eternal self we are building up, by our heroic deeds, in the opinion and imagination of others.
There is no doubt that in staging its processions, parades, rituals and ceremonials, a mass movement touches a responsive cord in every heart. Even the sober-minded are carried away by the sight of an impressive mass spectacle. There is an exhilaration and getting out of one’s skin in both participants and spectators. The desire to escape or camouflage their unsatisfactory selves develops in the frustrated a facility for pretending - for making a show - and also a readiness to identify themselves wholly with an imposing mass spectacle.
- Eric Hoffer, The True Believer
Being a (Inactive) Marine I never really understood many of the things we were required to learn, train and apply as Marines. Even later when I read the books “On Killing” and “On Combat” it didn’t really sink in. I guess this is why accumulative learning, understanding and experiences are so darn critical when it comes to conflict and violence.
It also confirms that humans, generally, avoid instinctively those things that would result in grave bodily harm and death. This falls under survival instincts and how we fit in nature’s animal kingdom. Very interesting!