The fanatic is perpetually incomplete and insecure. He cannot generate self-assurance out of his individual resources—out of his rejected self—but finds it only by clinging passionately to whatever support he happens to embrace. This passionate attachment is the essence of his blind devotion and religiosity, and he sees in it the source of all virtue and strength. Though his single-minded dedication is a holding on for dear life, he easily sees himself as the supporter and defender of the holy cause to which he clings. And he is ready to sacrifice his life to demonstrate to himself and others that such indeed is his role. He sacrifices his life to prove his worth.
It goes without saying that the fanatic is convinced that the cause he holds on to is monolithic and eternal—a rock of ages. Still, his sense of security is derived from his passionate attachment and not from the excellence of his cause. The fanatic is not really a stickler to principle. He embraces a cause not primarily because of its justness and holiness but because of his desperate need for something to hold on to. Often, indeed, it is his need for passionate attachment which turns every cause he embraces into a holy cause.
The fanatic cannot be weaned away from his cause by an appeal to his reason or moral sense. He fears compromise and cannot be persuaded to qualify the certitude and righteousness of his holy cause. But he finds no difficulty in swinging suddenly and wildly from one holy cause to another. He cannot be convinced but only converted. His passionate attachment is more vital than the quality of the cause to which he is attached.
Eric Hoffer — The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (pp. 85-86)
I have never read a book that opened my eyes more clearly than The True Believer. Eric Hoffer was a simple self-educated longshoreman from San Francisco who wrestled with realities our world faced throughout his lifetime; like, how someone could allow themselves to be an Auschwitz prison guard or make a decision to drop a nuclear bomb on millions of people. Who could possibly commit such atrocities that we read about in our history books? We look back on most wars and shutter at those involved with the despicable acts that were committed. We naively assume that “others” were the ones who acted inhumanely but we would choose differently if we were in their shoes.
Hoffer does a wonderful job of showing how an ordinary person can be led to do atrocious acts without even the slightest moral dilemma. If you believe we have outgrown our fanatical ways, guess again. Try having a conversation with someone about politics and disagree with one of their points. Better yet, simply argue why you think the opposing candidate is superior to their candidate then sit back and watch the fireworks fly.
We all have fanatics in our lives who we learn to navigate around. We avoid certain topics because we know we’ll hear an hour lecture about the cause they have given themselves to. When a fanatic really gets rolling, they spew propaganda and regurgitate catchy rehearsed phrases. There is no real life shared between the two of you. You could as easily be a wall or a robot once they get started. It makes no difference to them.
Actually, that’s the first and most important sign of a fanatic; they don’t see you as a person with your own hopes and dreams and beliefs.
I recently heard Jordan Peterson describing Carl Jung’s work on the shadow. He suggested unless we can come to the place where we see ourselves as one of the Auschwitz prison guards, then we will never see ourselves clearly and acknowledge the monster that is within each one of us.
Think about all the different fanatics that are vying for your time and attention as you go through the day today. You’ll be surprised by what you actually see.
Have a blessed day.
Peace and Love,
PS. Here’s a short two minute video by Jordan Peterson I mentioned above. Peace.