- The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer.
- When Prophecy Fails, by Leon Festinger et al.
My first high school reunion was a blast. I went out of morbid curiosity — I am not, y’all may have noticed, the rah-rah-sis-boom-bah type — but ended up having a great time. The open bar certainly helped, but mostly it was the people. How they’d changed!! The dreamy artistic guy we all suspected was gay was now one of the session players on one of those “Monsters of Heavy Metal”-type shows that tour the county fair circuit every summer. Steve the Metalhead, by contrast — who’d never be caught dead without his Slayer t-shirt — was an investment banker; Crazy Jane the Goth was one of the Stepford Wives; Brad the Jock ran a charming little winery with his husband, etc.
My first college reunion, by contrast, was about as fun as a root canal. All anyone wanted to do was network; the open bar made their networking even more aggressive. Everyone was exactly who he’d been ten years ago, just somehow more so. The Frat Pack were all middle-management meatballs. The computer science guys all made six figures, but still dressed — and acted — like they lived in Mom’s basement. The Education majors all had short hair and six cats.
But that was normal. Back then, high school was a four-year process of differential diagnosis — by trying on all those different identities, learning which ones didn’t fit, you started figuring out who you really are. Crazy Jane the Goth always wanted to be a Suburban Supermom, but to get there she had to go through a bewildering variety of poses — had high school ended our junior year, Crazy Jane the Goth would’ve been Preppie Jane the Cheerleader. This differential diagnosis process took longer for some folks than others — everyone from my generation remembers the LUG* phenomenon — but by the time you got out of college, you were pretty much yourself.
Which, indeed, was the point of education, especially higher education. Back in the days, they really meant all that “character formation” stuff you saw in the college motto. It was the entire point of the Great Books, for instance. One doesn’t read, say, Marcus Aurelius for his gripping prose style, much less for a discussion of the finer points of Stoic epistemology. You read Marcus because he’s an example. You can’t be what Marcus actually was — that is, a Roman Emperor of the late 2nd century — but you can at least try to be what Marcus tried to be. The very fact that this man — who had all the power, fame, and riches someone of his time and place could ever hope to have — aspired to be something completely different is instructive in itself…
But that was back when “education” and “indoctrination” weren’t synonyms. The point of the modern “educational” establishment is the exact opposite of what it used to be — instead of helping you to form your own character, it’s designed to make sure you never do. If you have no sense of yourself — if you’re not allowed to have an identity of your own — then you’ll blissfully embrace the one they provide you. This is the central insight of The True Believer.
Hoffer says that all mass movements are fundamentally the same. They might look completely different on the surface — their official ideologies may even be radically opposed — but underneath they’re the same, because they all rely on members submerging their own spoiled, incomplete identities into the group’s identity. Even fanatical ideologues understand this, which is why Josef Goebbels — one of the Nazi-est Nazis of them all — bragged that he could turn a Red into a Brown in a few weeks. Communists (Red) and Nazis (Brown) were officially mortal enemies, but the underlying psychology is exactly the same (the KPD leadership wasn’t as quotable, but they worked on the same principle; when they weren’t bashing Nazi heads on the streets, they were working hard to recruit them).
Apply this to any group you like. So long as the identity on offer is total — that is, a complete replacement for your own shaky sense of self, a one-size answer to all possible questions — it’s a mass movement, working on the principles Hoffer outlined. All you need now is an Enemy. Probably the most-quoted line from The True Believer is this:
Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.
I trust the applications of this to The College Experience(TM) are obvious. The Dogmas of the SJW Faith change daily, but the underlying identity remains the same. You are #Woke; they are not. By submerging yourself totally in the group identity, you define yourself against the group’s Other. It doesn’t matter who The Enemy is, or what The Enemy does — he forever remains The Enemy. You can push this well past the point where any rational person would’ve slit his wrists in despair — men can ovulate, women have penises, whatever. So long as believing it makes you #Woke.
Note that I didn’t put the word believing in quotation marks. They really do believe, the True Believers, with all their hearts and souls. Observable reality is no barrier to them, because — as Festinger et al illustrate in When Prophecy Fails — the same emotional fuel that gets them in the movement in the first place keeps them in the movement, no matter what. Festinger’s group studied a UFO cult that predicted the end of the world — sometime before dawn on December 21, 1954, the aliens were going to destroy the earth with a flood, and only they would be saved. When the world didn’t end that morning, the cultists doubled down — because they were so righteous, they explained, the aliens decided to postpone the apocalypse. Compared to the awesome power of rationalization, the hydrogen bomb is no more than a fart in a hurricane.
Once again, I trust the applications of this to The College Experience(TM) are obvious. Arguing with True Believers is actually worse than useless, as Festinger shows. Let them see the failure of prophecy for themselves, as individuals, and they might snap out of it. Argue with them, and they’ll run right back to the loving arms of the cult, because that confirms you as The Enemy.
The trick for any aspiring shitlord, then, is to figure out who on campus actually is a True Believer. Everyone is required to parrot this stuff — I myself could preach a Race/Class/Gender stemwinder with the best of ’em — so listening to what they say is useless. It’ll take some practice, but you can generally spot the fakers. Once again, the crop-haired ladies who look like they’re sucking on a lemon while getting a Sriracha enema are the real deal, but the coed who suddenly dyed her hair and got a nose ring is often reachable. Does she still bother with makeup, at least some of the time? You’ve got a chance.
I don’t know if this works, but if I had to attempt a deprogramming, I’d go with the other easily-available identity on campus: The rah-rah-sis-boom-bah stuff. Tailgate parties work wonders when it comes to breaking down inhibitions, and the actual football game is the closest thing to a Nuremberg Rally you’ll see until President Ocasio-Cortez gets the Two Minutes’ Hates going in earnest. You can really get into being a Flyover State Fightin’ Farmer, and you can’t ask for a more convenient Enemy than those dastardly bastards, the Directional Tech Ferocious Mammals.
Good luck and godspeed, men.
*Lesbian Until Graduation, and the fact that I have to footnote it is a revelation in itself. As hard as it is to fathom now, back in the days people weren’t expected to have their sexuality all figured out by the time they hit elementary school. It was widely understood — even by the raging hormone-wads that American teenagers used to be — that people mature at different rates. “The shy, weedy little poindexter that got shoved in a locker every day as a freshman who was a four-sport letterman as a senior” was so common it was a cliche, as was “the awkward, frizzy-haired, flat-chested, braces-wearing freshman who ended up as the prom queen.”Loading Likes...