Why follow the leader? — another excerpt from the book “The True Believer”

Feel like transcribing a little bit this afternoon. Been a long and stupid weekend. So, picking back up in Eric Hoffer’s book The True Believer (1951) on page 108, section 92:

The total surrender of a distinct self is a prerequisite for the attainment of both unity and self-sacrifice; and there is probably no more direct way of realizing this surrender than by inculcating and extolling the habit of blind obedience. When Stalin forces scientists, writers and artists to crawl on their bellies and deny their individual intelligence, sense of beauty and moral sense, he is not indulging a sadistic impulse but is solemnizing, in a most impressive way, the supreme virtue of blind obedience. All mass movements rank obedience with the highest virtues and put it on a level with faith: “union of minds requires not only a perfect accord in the one Faith, but complete submission and obedience of will to the Church and the Roman Pontiff as to God Himself.” Obedience is not only the first law of God, but also the first tenet of a revolutionary party and of fervent nationalism. “Not to reason why” is considered by all mass movements the mark of a strong and generous spirit.

The disorder, bloodshed and destruction which mark the trail of a rising mass movement lead us to think of the followers of the movement as being by nature rowdy and lawless. Actually, mass ferocity is not always the sum of individual lawlessness. Personal truculence militates against united action. It moves the individual to strike out for himself. It produces the pioneer, adventurer and bandit. The true believer, no matter how rowdy and violent his acts, is basically an obedient and submissive person. The Christian converts who staged razzias against the University of Alexandria and lynched professors suspected of unorthodoxy were submissive members of a compact church. The Communist rioter is a servile member of a party. Both the Japanese and Nazi rowdies were the most disciplined people the world has seen. In this country, the American employer often finds in the racial fanatic of our South—so given to mass violence—a respectful and docile factory hand. The army, too, finds him particularly amenable to discipline.

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People whose lives are barren and insecure seem to show a greater willingness to obey than people who are self-sufficient and self-confident. To the frustrated, freedom from responsibility is more attractive than freedom from restraint. They are eager to barter their independence for relief from the burdens of willing, deciding and being responsible for individual failure. They willingly abdicate the directing of their lives to those who want to plan, command and shoulder all responsibility. Moreover, submission by all to a supreme leader is an approach to their ideal of equality.

In time of crisis, during floods, earthquakes, epidemics, depressions and wars, separate individual effort is of no avail, and people of every condition are ready to obey and follow a leader. To obey is then the only firm point in a chaotic day-by-day existence.

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The frustrated are also likely to be the most steadfast followers. It is remarkable, that, in a cooperative effort, the least self-reliant are the least likely to be discouraged by defeat. For they join others in a common undertaking not so much to ensure the success of a cherished project as to avoid an individual shouldering of blame in case of failure. When the common undertaking fails, they are still spared the one thing they fear most, namely, the showing up of their individual shortcomings. Their faith remains unimpaired and they are eager to follow in a new attempt.

The frustrated follow a leader less because of their faith that he is leading them to a promised land than because of their immediate feeling that he is leading them away from their unwanted selves. Surrender to a leader is not a means to an end but a fulfillment. Whither they are led is of secondary importance.

[Bold emphasis mine]

Stopping there on page 110. That piece jumped out at me when I read it the other day, so I wanted to share it with others.

Hatred as a Unifying Agent — an excerpt from the book “The True Believer”

Another excerpt from Eric Hoffer’s book The True Believer (1951), picking back up on page 85, chapter 14:

Unifying Agents

HATRED

65

Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all unifying agents. It pulls and whirls the individual away from his own self, makes him oblivious of his weal and fortune, frees him of jealousness and self-seeking. He becomes an anonymous particle quivering with a craving to fuse and coalesce with his like into one flaming mass. Heine suggests that what Christian love cannot do is effected by a common hatred.

Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil. Usually the strength of a mass movement is proportionate to the vividness and tangibility of its devil. When Hitler was asked whether he thought the Jew must be destroyed, he answered: “No. . . . We should have then to invent him. It is essential to have a tangible enemy, not merely an abstract one.” F. A. Voigt tells of a Japanese mission that arrived in Berlin in 1932 to study the National Socialist movement. Voigt asked a member of the mission what he thought of the movement. He replied: “It is magnificent. I wish we could have something like it in Japan, only we can’t, because we haven’t got any Jews.” It is perhaps true that the insight and shrewdness of the men who know how to set a mass movement in motion, or how to keep one going, manifest themselves as much in knowing how to pick a worthy enemy as in knowing what doctrine to embrace and what program to adopt. The theoreticians of the Kremlin hardly waited for the guns of the Second World War to cool before they picked the democratic West, and particularly America, as the chosen enemy. It is doubtful whether any gesture of goodwill of any concession from our side will reduce the volume and venom of vilification against us emanating from the Kremlin.

One of Chiang Kai-shek’s most serious shortcomings was his failure to find an appropriate devil once the Japanese enemy vanished from the scene at the end of the war. The ambitious but simple-minded General was perhaps too self-conceited to realize that it was not he but the Japanese devil who generated the enthusiasm, the unity and the readiness for self-sacrifice of the Chinese masses.

66

Common hatred unites the most heterogeneous elements. To share a common hatred, with an enemy even, is to infect him with a feeling of kinship, and thus sap his powers of resistance. Hitler used anti-Semitism not only to unify his Germans but also to sap the res0luteness of Jew-hating Poland, Rumania, Hungary, and finally even France. He made a similar use of anti-communism.

67

It seems that, like the ideal deity, the ideal devil is one. We have it from Hitler—the foremost authority on devils—that the genius of a great leader consists in concentrating all hatred on a single foe, making “even adversaries far removed from one another seem to belong to a single category.” When Hitler picked the Jew as devil, he pooled practically the whole world outside Germany with Jews or those who worked for them. “Behind England stands Israel, and behind France, and behind the United States.” Stalin, too, adheres to the monotheistic principle when picking a devil. Formerly his devil was a fascist; now he is an American plutocrat.

Again, like an ideal deity, the ideal devil is omnipotent and omnipresent. When Hitler was asked whether he was not attributing rather too much importance to Jews, he exclaimed: “No, no, no! . . . It is impossible to exaggerate the formidable quality of the Jew as an enemy.” Every difficulty and failure within the movement is the work of the devil, and every success is a triumph over his evil plotting.

Finally, it seems, the ideal devil is a foreigner. To qualify as a devil, a domestic enemy must be given foreign ancestry. Hitler found it easy to brand the German Jews as foreigners. The Russian revolutionary agitators emphasized the foreign origin (Varangian, Tartar, Western) of the Russian aristocracy. In the French Revolution, the aristocrats were seen as “descendants of barbarous Germans, while French commoners were descendants of civilized Gauls and Romans.” In the Puritan Revolution the royalists “were labeled ‘Normans,’ descendants of a group of foreign invaders.”

Pausing for just a moment here, in today’s heated battle of the sexes we can also see how each sex is being framed as if foreign through the use of Evolutionary Biology and Evolutionary Psychology teachings that in the hands of some are being misused to drive a wedge between the sexes by playing up our distinctions and differences. The argument tends to be that women and men are hard-wired to be very different, and while this certainly tends to be true on some levels, the push here is to gloss over similarities and also to ignore cultural influences that arguably have tremendous impact on how we live, what roles we adopt, and how we view ourselves and one another. In short, the evo-psych-fused-in-with-evo-bio argument can be used by nefarious individuals to narrow the inquiry so severely that it produces a false dichotomy that serves the purpose of promoting polarization between the sexes.

Carrying on, picking back up on page 88:

68

We do not usually look for allies when we love. Indeed, we often look on those who love with us as rivals and trespassers. But we always look for allies when we hate.

It is understandable that we should look for others to side with us when we have a just grievance and crave to retaliate against those who wronged us. The puzzling thing is that when our hatred does not spring from a visible grievance and not seem justified, the desire for allies becomes more pressing. It is chiefly the unreasonable hatreds that drive us to merge with those who hate as we do, and it is this kind of hatred that serves as one of the most effective cementing agents.

Whence come these unreasonable hatreds, and why their unifying effect? They are an expression of a desperate effort to suppress an awareness of our inadequacy, worthlessness, guilt and other shortcomings of the self. Self-contempt is here transmuted into hatred of others—and there is a most determined and persistent effort to mask this switch. Obviously, the most effective way of doing this is to find others, as many as possible, who hate as we do. Here more than anywhere else we need general consent, and much of our proselytizing consists perhaps in infecting others not with our brand of faith but with our particular brand of unreasonable hatred.

Even in the case of a just grievance, our hatred comes less from a wrong done to us than from the consciousness of our helplessness, inadequacy and cowardice—in other words from self-contempt. When we feel superior to our tormentors, we are likely to despise them, even pity them, but not hate them. That the relation between grievance and hatred is not simple and direct is also seen from the fact that the released hatred is not always directed against those who wronged us. Often, when we are wronged by one person, we turn our hatred on a wholly unrelated person or group. Russians, bullied by Stalin’s secret police, are easily inflamed against “capitalist warmongers”; Germans, aggrieved by the Versailles treaty, avenged themselves by exterminating Jews; Zulus, oppressed by Boers, butcher Hindus; white trash, exploited by Dixiecrats, lynch Negroes.

Self-contempt produces in man “the most unjust and criminal passions imaginable, for he conceives a mortal hatred against that truth which blames him and convinces him of his faults.”

69

That hatred springs more from self-contempt than from a legitimate grievance is seen in the intimate connection between hatred and a guilty conscience.

There is perhaps no surer way of infecting ourselves with virulent hatred toward a person than by doing him a grave injustice. That others have a just grievance against us is a more potent reason for hating them than that we have a just grievance against them. We do not make people humble and meek when we show them their guilt and cause them to be ashamed of themselves. We are more likely to stir their arrogance and rouse in them a reckless aggressiveness. Self-righteousness is a loud din raised to drown the voice of guilt within us.

There is a guilty conscience behind every brazen word and act and behind every manifestation of self-righteousness.

70

To wrong those we hate is to add fuel to our hatred. Conversely, to treat an enemy with magnanimity is to blunt our hatred for him.

71

The most effective way to silence our guilty conscience is to convince ourselves and others that those we have sinned against are indeed depraved creatures, deserving every punishment, even extermination. We cannot pity those we have wronged, nor can we be indifferent toward them. We must hate and persecute them or else leave the door open to self-contempt.

72

A sublime religion inevitably generates a strong feeling of guilt. There is an unavoidable contrast between loftiness of profession and imperfection of practice. And, as one would expect, the feeling of guilt promotes hate and brazenness. Thus it seems that the more sublime the faith the more virulent the hatred it breeds.

73

It is easier to hate an enemy with much good in him than one who is all bad. We cannot hate those we despise. The Japanese had an advantage over us in that they admired us more than we admired them. They could hate us more fervently than we could hate them. The Americans are poor haters in international affairs because of their innate feeling of superiority over all foreigners. An American’s hatred for a fellow American (for Hoover or Roosevelt) is far more virulent than any antipathy he can work up against foreigners. […] Should Americans begin to hate foreigners wholeheartedly, it will be an indication that they have lost confidence in their own way of life.

The undercurrent of admiration in hatred manifests itself in the inclination to imitate those we hate. Thus every mass movement shapes itself after its specific devil. Christianity at its height realized the image of the anti-christ. The Jacobins practiced all the evils of the tyranny they had risen against. Soviet Russia is realizing the purest and most colossal example of monopolistic capitalism. Hitler took the Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion for his guide and textbook; he followed them “down to the veriest detail.”

It is startling to see how the oppressed almost invariably shape themselves in the image of their hated oppressors. That the evil men do lives after them is partly due to the fact that those who have reason to hate the evil most shape themselves after it and thus perpetuate it. It is obvious, therefore, that the influence of the fanatic is bound to be out of all proportion to his abilities. Both by converting and antagonizing, he shapes the world in his own image. Fanatic Christianity puts its imprint upon the ancient world both by gaining adherents and by evoking in its pagan opponents a strange fervor and a new ruthlessness. Hitler imposed himself upon the world both by promoting Nazism and by forcing the democracies to become zealous, intolerant, and ruthless. Communist Russia shapes both its adherents and its opponents in its own image.

Thus, though hatred is a convenient instrument for mobilizing a community for defense, it does not, in the long run, come cheap. We pay for it by losing all or many of the values we have set out to defend.

Hitler, who sensed the undercurrent of admiration in hatred, drew a remarkable conclusion. It is of the utmost importance, he said, that the National Socialist should seek and deserve the violent hatred of his enemies. Such hatred would be proof of the superiority of the National Socialist faith. “The best yardstick for the value of his [the National Socialist’s] attitude, for the sincerity of his conviction, and the force of his will is the hostility he receives from the . . . enemy.”

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It seems that when we are oppressed by the knowledge of our worthlessness we do not see ourselves as lower than some and higher than others, but as lower than the lowest of mankind. We hate then the whole world, and we would pour our wrath upon the whole of creation.

There is a deep reassurance for the frustrated in witnessing the downfall of the fortunate and the disgrace of the righteous. They see in a general downfall an approach to the brotherhood of all. Chaos, like the grave, is a haven of equality. Their burning conviction that there must be a new life and a new order is fueled by the realization that the old will have to be razed to the ground before the new can be built. Their clamor for a millennium is shot through with a hatred for all that exists, and a craving for the end of the world.

75

Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance. A mass movement offers them unlimited opportunities for both.

76

Whether it is true or not as Pascal says that “all men by nature hate each other,” and that love and charity are only “a feint and a false image, for at bottom they are but hate,” one cannot escape the impression that hatred is an all-pervading ingredient in the compounds and combinations of our inner life. All our enthusiasms, devotions, passions and hopes, when they decompose, release hatred. On the other hand it is possible to synthesize an enthusiasm, a devotion and a hope by activating hatred. Said Martin Luther: “When my heart is cold and I cannot pray as I should I scourge myself with the thought of the impeity and ingratitude of my enemies, the Pope and his accomplices and vermin, and Zwingli, so that my heart swells with righteous indignation and hatred and I can say with warmth and vehemence: ‘Holy be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done!’ And the hotter I grow the more ardent do my prayers become.”

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Unity and self-sacrifice, of themselves, even when fostered by the most noble means, produce a facility for hating. Even when men league themselves mightily together to promote tolerance and peace on earth, they are likely to be violently intolerant toward those not of a like mind.

The estrangement from the self, without which there can be neither selflessness nor a full assimilation of the individual into a compact whole, produces, as already mentioned, a proclivity for passionate attitudes, including passionate hatred. There are also other factors which favor the growth of hatred in an atmosphere of unity and selflessness. The act of self-denial seems to confer on us the right to be harsh and merciless toward others. The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is that the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer us apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit this earth and the kingdom of heaven, too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen shall perish.

There is also this: when we renounce the self and become part of a compact whole, we not only renounce personal advantage but are also rid of personal responsibility. There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgment. When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom—freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse. Herein undoubtedly lies part of the attractiveness of a mass movement. We find there the “right to dishonour,” which according to Dostoyevsky has an irresistible fascination. […]

Thus hatred is not only a means of unification but also its product. Renan says that we have never, since the world began, heard of a merciful nation. Nor, one may add, have we heard of a merciful church or a merciful revolutionary party. The hatred and cruelty which have their source in selfishness are ineffectual things compared with the venom and ruthlessness born of selflessness.

When we see the bloodshed, terror and destruction born of such generous enthusiasms as the love of God, love of Christ, love of a nation, compassion for the oppressed and so on, we usually blame this shameful perversion on a cynical, power-hungry leadership. Actually, it is the unification set in motion by these enthusiasms, rather than the manipulations of a scheming leadership, that transmutes noble impulses into a reality of hatred and violence. The deindividualization which is a prerequisite for thorough integration and selfless dedication is also, to a considerable extent, a process of dehumanization. The torture chamber is a corporate institution.

[Bold emphases mine]

Stopping there for today, on page 94.

The Interchangeability of Mass Movements & The Role of the Undesirables in Human Affairs — an excerpt from Eric Hoffer’s book “The True Believer”

Tonight I’ll be transcribing a bit from chapters 3 & 4 of the book The True Believer (1951) by Eric Hoffer, beginning on page 25:

The Interchangeability of Mass Movements

14

When people are ripe for a mass movement, they are usually ripe for any effective movement, and not solely for one with a particular doctrine or program. In Hitlerian Germany it was often a tossup whether a restless youth would join the Communists or the Nazis. In the overcrowded pale of Czarist Russia the simmering Jewish population was ripe both for revolution and Zionism. In the same family, one member would join the revolutionaries and the other the Zionists. Dr. Chaim Weizmann quotes a saying of his mother in those days: “Whatever happens, I shall be well off. If Shemuel [the revolutionary son] is right, we shall all be happy in Russia; and if Chaim [the Zionist] is right, then I shall go to live in Palestine.”

This receptivity to all movements does not always cease even after the potential true believer has become the ardent convert of a specific movement. Where mass movements are in violent competition with each other, there are not infrequent instances of converts—even the most zealous—shifting their allegiance from one to the other. A Saul turning into Paul is neither a rarity nor a miracle. In our day, each proselytizing mass movement seems to regard the zealous adherents of its antagonists as its own potential converts. Hitler looked on the German Communists as potential National Socialists: “The petit bourgeois Social-Democrat and the trade-union boss will never make a National Socialist, but the Communist always will.” Captain Röhm boasted that he could turn the reddest Communist into a glowing nationalist in four weeks. On the other hand, Karl Radek looked on the Nazi Brown Shirts (S.A.) as a reserve for future Communist recruits.

Since all mass movements draw their adherents from the same types of humanity and appeal to the same types of mind, it follows: (a) all mass movements are competitive, and the gain of one in adherents is the loss of all the others; (b) all mass movements are interchangeable. One mass movement readily transforms itself into another. A religious movement may develop into a social revolution or a nationalist movement; a social revolution, into militant nationalism or a religious movement; a nationalist movement into a social revolution or a religious movement.

15

It is rare for a mass movement to be wholly of one character. Usually it displays some facets of other types of movement, and sometimes it is two or three movements in one. The exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt was a slave revolt, a religious movement and a nationalist movement. The militant nationalism of the Japanese is essentially religious. The French Revolution was a new religion. It had “its dogma, the sacred principles of the Revolution—Liberté at sainte égalité. It has its form of worship, an adaptation of Catholic ceremonial, which was elaborated in connection with civic fêtes. It had its saints, the heroes and martyrs of liberty.” At the same time, the French Revolution was also a nationalist movement. The legislative assembly decreed in 1792 that altars should be raised everywhere bearing the inscription: “the citizen is born, lives and dies for la Patrie.”

The religious movements of the Reformation had a revolutionary aspect which expressed itself in peasant uprisings, and were also nationalist movements. Said Luther: “In the eyes of the Italians we Germans are merely low Teutonic swine. They exploit us like charlatans and suck the country to the marrow. Wake up Germany!”

The religious character of the Bolshevik and Nazi revolutions is generally recognized. The hammer and sickle and the swastika are in a class with the cross. The ceremonial of their parades is as the ceremonial of a religious procession. They have articles of faith, saints, martyrs and holy sepulchers. The Bolshevik and Nazi revolutions are also full-blown nationalist movements. The Nazi revolution had been so from the beginning, while the nationalism of the Bolsheviks was a late development.

Zionism is a nationalist movement and a social revolution. To the orthodox Jew it is also a religious movement. Irish nationalism has a deep religious tinge. The present mass movements in Asia are both nationalist and revolutionary.

16

The problem of stopping a mass movement is often a matter of substituting one movement for another. A social revolution can be stopped by promoting a religious or nationalist movement. Thus in countries where Catholicism has recaptured its mass movement spirit, it counteracts the spread of communism. In Japan it was nationalism that canalized all movements of social protest. In our South, the movement of racial solidarity acts as a preventive of social upheaval. A similar situation may be observed among the French in Canada and the Boers in South Africa.’

This method of stopping one movement by substituting another for it is not always without danger, and it does not usually come cheap. It is well for those who hung the present and want to preserve it as it is not to play with mass movements. For it always fares ill with the present when a genuine mass movement is on the march. In pre-war Italy and Germany practical businessmen acted in an entirely “logical” manner when they encouraged a Fascist and a Nazi movement in order to stop communism. But in doing so, these practical and logical people promoted their own liquidation.

There are other safer substitutes for a mass movement. In general, any arrangement which either discourages atomistic individualism or facilitates self-forgetting or offers chances for action and new beginnings tends to counteract the rise and spread of mass movements. […]

17

Emigration offers some of the things the frustrated hope to find when they join a mass movement, namely, change and a chance for a new beginning. The same types who swell the ranks of a rising mass movement are also likely to avail themselves of a chance to emigrate. Thus migration can serve as a substitute for a mass movement. It is plausible, for instance, that had the United States and the British Empire welcomed mass migration from Europe after the First World War, there might have been neither a Fascist nor a Nazi revolution. In this country, free and easy migration over a vast continent contributed to our social stability.

However, because of the quality of their human material, mass migrations are fertile ground for the rise of genuine mass movements. It is sometimes difficult to tell where a mass migration ends and a mass movement begins—and which came first. […] The migrations of the barbarians in the declining days of the Roman Empire were more than mere shifts of population. The indications are that the barbarians were relatively few in number, but, once they invaded a country, they were joined by the oppressed and dissatisfied in all walks of life: “it was a social revolution started and masked by a superficial foreign conquest.”

Every mass movement is in a sense a migration—a movement toward a promised land; and, when feasible and expedient, an actual migration takes place. This happened in the case of the Puritans, Anabaptists, Mormons, Dukhobors and Zionists. Migration, in the mass, strengthens the spirit and unity of a movement; and whether in the form of foreign conquest, crusade, pilgrimage or settlement of new land it is practiced by most active mass movements.

Part Two

The Potential Converts

[Chapter] 4

_________________________

The Role of the Undesirables in Human Affairs

18

There is a tendency to judge a race, a nation or any distinct group by its least worthy members. Though manifestly unfair, this tendency has some justification. For the character and destiny of a group are often determined by its inferior elements.

The inert mass of a nation, for instance, is in its middle section. The decent, average people who do the nation’s work in cities and on the land are worked upon and shaped by minorities at both ends—the best and the worst.

The superior individual, whether in politics, literature, science, commerce or industry, plays a large role in shaping a nation, but so do individuals at the other extreme—the failures, misfits, outcasts, criminals, and all those who have lost their footing, or never had one, in the ranks of respectable humanity. The game of history is usually played by the best and the worst over the heads of the majority in the middle.

The reason that the inferior elements of a nation can exert a marked influence on its course is that they are wholly without reverence toward the present. They see their lives and the present as spoiled beyond remedy and they are ready to waste and wreck both: hence their recklessness and their will to chaos and anarchy. They also crave to dissolve their spoiled, meaningless selves in some soul-stirring spectacular communal undertaking—hence their proclivity for united action. Thus they are among the early recruits of revolutions, mass migrations and of religious, racial and chauvinist movements, and they imprint their mark upon these upheavals and movements which shape a nation’s character and history.

The discarded and rejected are often the raw material of a nation’s future. The stone the builders reject becomes the cornerstone of a new world. A nation without dregs and malcontents is orderly, decent, peaceful and pleasant, but perhaps without the seed of things to come. It was not the irony of history that the undesired in the countries in Europe should have crossed an ocean to build a new world on this continent. Only they could do it.

19

Though the disaffected are found in all walks of life, they are most frequent in the following categories: (a) the poor, (b) misfits, (c) outcasts, (d) minorities, (e) adolescent youth, (f) the ambitious (whether facing insurmountable obstacles or unlimited opportunities), (g) those in the grip of some vice or obsession, (h) the impotent, (i) the inordinately selfish, (j) the bored, (k) the sinners.

I’ll stop there tonight on page 30 with hopes of picking back up on copying portions of this book in the not-so-distant future.