Thursday, December 08, 2011

`Immune to Certain Social Conventions'

By the time a writer is given a newspaper column, in most cases that means his work is no longer readable. Exceptions are few. The first columnist whose work I awaited with eagerness was Eric Hoffer. His “Reflections” was syndicated in U.S. newspapers, including The Cleveland Press, from January 1968 to April 1970 – my high school years. I read the columns, clipped them and pasted them in a scrapbook. From them I moved on to Hoffer’s books, in particular The True Believer, and I suspect Hoffer, a longshoreman by trade, was among the reasons I became a newspaper reporter.

The work of another columnist, Thomas Sowell, never attracted me until I read his piece eight years ago on Hoffer, who I sensed had been virtually eclipsed from cultural memory. Sowell distilled Hoffer’s vision and used his insights to presciently diagnose the ebbing “Occupy” fad:

“People who are fulfilled in their own lives and careers are not the ones attracted to mass movements: `A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding,’ Hoffer said. `When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business.’”

Now Kevin D. Williamson has written a fine essay/review devoted to Sowell at Commentary:

“One of the great and brilliant things about Thomas Sowell is that he, like most nerds, appears to be simply immune to certain social conventions. This is a critical thing about him—because the social conventions of modern intellectual life demand that certain things go studiously unnoticed, that certain subjects not be breached, or breached only in narrow ways approved by the proper authorities.”

The same might be said of Hoffer.

1 comment:

William A. Sigler said...

I’m sure Eric Hoffer would have lots of thoughtful things to say about occupy and its lack of an end game, but honestly, anyone who feels that these people aren’t doing this because of the impact on their own personal lives obviously hasn’t been paying attention. Sowell doesn’t help with his own article on the subject, "Democracy or Mob Rule", which is so profoundly ignorant of the basic who, what, and why of the movement it’s like he’s living on another planet.

I have some compassion, because it’s hard to look at the truth, to acknowledge the degree of corruption upon which our lives are built. It’s so much easier to jump to snap judgments based on a snippet of someone else’s opinion to make it OK to not become informed, because then you can feel better, and not have to have an opinion that could be wrong, and not have to feel powerless or ashamed. I understand the sentiment, believe me, but once you’ve looked as I have at the unsustainable amount of debt in the system now, and how it got that way, you either go survivalist and point your gun at any neighbor, or try to negotiate a different deal, based on our shared human values. My wager is with the latter.