The True Believer

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Thoughts on the nature of mass movements

Hi, welcome to Bookey. Today, we will unlock the book - The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. Speaking of mass movements, what do you associate them with? The Nazi movement led by Adolf Hitler during the Second World War? Or the movie Braveheart, in which William Wallace led the Scottish people to fight for freedom against the noble class? In this book, Eric Hoffer revealed the typical characteristics of mass movements during the “active phase”, what kind of person is prone to be a true believer of a mass movement, what force drives the true believer to be ready to sacrifice his life for mass movements, and why some mass movement leaders have their names live on through history, while others are remembered infamously? First of all, let’s see how the true believer is born through the following story.

We all know that cats are no big fan of chili peppers, and an average person won’t often think about stirring up a movement or revolution. One day, someone raised the question: “How can we make cats eat chili peppers?” The question baffled many people. The first person said: “Catch the cat and put the pepper into its mouth by force.” The questioner shook his head and said: “Everything should be done voluntarily.” Then, a second person proposed: “Starve the cat for a couple of days and mix the pepper into its food. Since the cat will be so hungry by then, it will swallow the food, along with the pepper.” But the questioner replied: “We shouldn’t trick others.” In the end, everyone wanted to know the solution. The questioner told them the answer: apply the pepper to the cat’s butt, which will cause a stinging sensation, so that the cat will feel like licking where it hurts. The more it licks, the more excited it gets. When the little cat’s butt stings due to the stimulus of the pepper, it will feel like licking the spot. Likewise, when a person is discontented with the status quo, he or she will have a desire for change. These kind of people are most likely to devote themselves to mass movements, because mass movements cater to their discontentment with the status quo and desire for change. By creating a noble and sacred mission, mass movements allow them to give up their current normal lives and overthrow the ruling class through devotion and self-sacrifice.

It sounds a bit unbelievable, but throughout history, we can see that the people with a desire for change are most likely to become the true believers of mass movements. Therefore, when we don’t understand why the true believer is so fanatical, we can change our viewpoint to think about the pepper on their butts and the incitement.

The author of this book, Eric Hoffer, became an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley in nineteen sixty-four. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan, and his works were granted the American National Book Award several times. Born in 1902 to an ordinary immigrant family in the US, Hoffer went through twists and turns and began working as a longshoreman when he grew up. His life experiences exposed him to lots of poor people with neither prospect nor future. Hoffer found that few books were written about the underclass at the time when many mass movements were happening, one after another. Through long-term observation and analysis of these people, he pinpointed the common characteristics of mass movements. He included his findings in this book, and was thus referred to as the “longshoreman philosopher”. For those listening to this Bookey, it will open a window to the nature of mass movements.

Next, we will unlock this book in three parts:

Part One: Who will become a true believer of mass movements?

Part Two: How do mass movements make the true believer so fanatical?

Part Three: What are the characteristics of leaders during the different stages of mass movements

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