November 18, 2005

I am intrigued by efforts to categorize. For example in Neal Stephenson's book Cryptonomicum a computer programmer quips that there are two kinds of people in the world-- beards and suits. He of course was a beard. I'm a beard too, although I have been known to don a sports coat for special occassions.

Here is Eric Hoffer's effort to categorize potential converts to mass movements (his examples include fascism, communism, nationalism, armies and early christianity) from his book The True Believer:

4. The Role of the Undesirables in Human Affairs
5. The Poor
The New Poor
The Abjectly Poor
The Free Poor
The Creative Poor
The Unified Poor
6. Misfits
7. The Inordinately Selfish
8. The Ambitious Facing Unlimited Opportunities
9. Minorities
10. The Bored
11. The Sinners

I guess if you are an undesireable creative poor misfit bored sinner facing unlimited opportunites, as I once was, you'd pretty much agree to anything.

From Wikipedia's synopsis of Hoffer's work, 'mass movements appeal to the frustrated; people who are dissatisfied with their current state, but are capable of a strong belief in the future and to people who want to escape a flawed self by creating an imaginary self and joining a compact collective whole to escape themselves.'

Our Scoutmaster gave me a copy of True Believer when I was about 14 and it raised some troubling questions. Perhaps his point, as a product of the Vietnam era, was that each individual had to stand on his or her own moral feet. (But he would also tell us we had to stick together, that the group was stronger than the individual.) But is that the whole picture? Some mass movements can be good at helping people to pick themselves up. At the time I didn't get the point that Hoffer distinguishes between useful and destructive mass movements. Thanks to Tim, for recommending Cryptonomicum, a great book, and for reminding me about True Believer.

I read about one guy who didn't like all these categories-- he thought that the only category that mattered was 'human being'. He refused to be a citizen of any country or have any identity papers, and was able to travel around the world giving talks about the evils of nationalism. Apparently he could generate enough publicity so the immigration services looked the other way.


At November 18, 2005 11:13 AM , Blogger Dak-Ind said...

wow, these days i cant even go to canada without the border patrol matching my drivers liscence to my liscence plates. if i tried to be the guy who went nation to nation without papers i would be sleeping inside a cyclone fence at gitmo! and me just a white girl.

At November 18, 2005 5:57 PM , Blogger Matt_J said...

I guess this was back in the 70s, those days of innocence and idealism.

At November 21, 2005 5:50 PM , Anonymous Tim said...

I am glad you liked cryptonomicon. That is a funny list from True Beliver. Sometimes thinkers get themselves into trouble trying to categorize everything.. something about forcing things into categories that they don't exactly fit into can limit your thinking.

At November 22, 2005 9:27 AM , Blogger Matt_J said...

I am at home with the flu, giving time to read and mope. That Shaftoe guy rocks. I'm only a third of the way through it-- interesting how the plot lines converge, and the tension between the opposing poles of entropy/chaos and information. Where is it all going?


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