May 30, 2006

Corroding Suspicion

Eric Hoffer in his brilliant work, The True Believer, succinctly described the role of Suspicion as a unifying agent when building a Mass Movement.

We have seen that the acrid secretion of the frustrated mind, though composed chiefly of fear and ill will, acts yet as a marvelous slime to cement the embittered and disaffected into one compact whole. Suspicion too is an ingredient of this acrid slime, and it too can act as a unifying agent.

The awareness of their individual blemishes and shortcomings inclines the frustrated to detect ill will and meanness in their fellow men. Self-contempt, however vague, sharpens our eyes for the imperfections of others. We usually strive to reveal in others the blemishes we hide in ourselves. Thus when the frustrated congregate in a mass movement, the air is heavy-laden with suspicion. There is prying and spying, tense watching and a tense awareness of being watched. The surprising thing is that this pathological mistrust within the ranks leads not to dissension but to strict conformity. Knowing themselves continually watched, the faithful strive to escape suspicion by adhering zealously to prescribed behavior and opinion. Strict orthodoxy is as much the result of mutual suspicion as of ardent faith.

Mass movements make extensive use of suspicion in their machinery of domination. The rank-and-file within the Nazi party were made to feel that they were continually under observation and were kept in a permanent state of uneasy conscience and fear. Fear of one's neighbors, one's friends and even one's relatives ssems to be the rule within all mass movements. Now and then innocent people are deliberately accused and sacrificed in order to keep suspicion alive. Suspicion is given a sharp edge by associating all opposition within the ranks with the enemy threatening the movement from without. This enemy -- the indispensable devil of every mass movement -- is omnipresent. He plots both outside and inside the ranks of the faithful. It is his voice that speaks through the mouth of the dissenter, and the deviationists are his stooges. If anything goes wrong within the movement, it is his doing. It is the sacred duty of the true believer to be suspicious. He must be constantly on the lookout for saboteurs, spies and traitors. (page 124-125)

Today we have a government that thinks nothing of spying on everyone. That thinks people who demand accountability are traitors. And we have a country where people are encouraged to be suspicious of everyone and to report all suspicious activity to the authorities. Unfortunately, as Hoffer shows, the reaction for many is not to demand the government follow the laws and to stop making our country a paranoid state, but to conform and make sure others do so too. Thus is a police state created.

Posted by Mary at May 30, 2006 06:58 AM | Philosophy | Technorati links |