“The Americans are poor haters in international affairs because of their innate feeling of superiority over all foreigners. Should Americans begin to hate foreigners wholeheartedly, it will be an indication that they have lost confidence in their own way of life.” — Eric Hoffer, The True Believer
Be sure to read Steve Benen’s take on Beckapalooza and the tea party movement and the emptiness of its rhetoric.
This is about a fight for American “liberties.”
That sounds great, too. Who’s against American “liberties”? But I’m still looking for some details. Might this include law-abiding American Muslims exercising their liberties and converting a closed-down clothing store into a community center? No, we’re told, not those kinds of liberties.
This is about giving Americans who work hard and play by the rules more opportunities.
I’m all for that, too. But would these opportunities include the chance for hard-working Americans to bring their kids to the doctor if they get sick, even if the family can’t afford insurance? No, we’re told, not those kinds of opportunities.
It goes on. The point is that (a) the teabaggers don’t actually have a cause, just a lot of resentments; and (2) their slogans and symbols are displays of tribal dominance only. Most teabaggers have no idea what the slogans and symbols mean.
To get a clue about what’s going on with the teabaggers, look to Eric Hoffer and his analysis of mass behavior. Like another wise man, Erich Fromm, Hoffer recognized that people march blindly into mass movements because the group provides something the individual feels is lacking in himself.
In slightly different ways, both Fromm and Hoffer noted that the fanatic was someone trying to escape himself by merging with a group. Within the group the helpless can feel powerful; the confused can find certitude; the guilty can find absolution. Theatrical events such as yesterday’s Beck-a-palooza provide temporary relief from the fears and disappointments gnawing at their psyches.
So, ultimately, a successful mass movement doesn’t need a purpose other than to be a mass movement. It may be that a mass movement so utterly content-free and so obviously contrived as the “tea party” is exceptional, but show me a population of frustrated, disappointed, and resentful people, and there’s a mass movement waiting to happen. All it takes is a “leader” who can tap into those frustrations, disappointments, and resentments.
As Hoffer says, the propagandist does not instill new opinions but “articulates and justifies opinions already present in the minds of its recipients. The gifted propagandist brings to a boil ideas and passions already simmering in the minds of his hearers. He echoes their innermost feelings. Where opinion is not coerced, people can be made to believe only in what they already ‘know.'”
So, it doesn’t matter that the tea party has no discernible cause other than its own existence. It’s got everything else a mass movement needs to thrive and grow, especially hate. Hoffer went on and on about the power of hate as a unifying agent.
You don’t have to be Freud to realize how mostly white, mostly middle class, mostly middle-aged and older people can feel that today’s America is not the country they knew when they were much younger, and not like that one bit. Even white privilege, while still around, ain’t what it used to be. To powerful interests manipulating public opinion to their particular advantage, this demographic group is low-hanging fruit.
And with the help of adulation junkies like Palin and Beck who know exactly what to say to bring those ideas and passions to a boil — and have no scruples about saying it even when it’s nonsense — the mob is primed for the master’s command.