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Fri, March 22

Column: Understanding why they do it

When confronted with questions and uncertainty about the human condition, and specifically, why an individual would commit such a heinous act against innocent people — such as the latest murders of worshipers in a Texas church or the shootings in Las Vegas — I often turn to reread books written by Eric Hoffer, a former longshoreman, philosopher and college professor. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983. Here are a few of his thoughts from his book, “The Passionate State of Mind.”

“A fateful process is set in motion when the individual is released to the freedom of his own impotence and left to justify his existence by his own efforts. The autonomous individual, striving to realize himself and prove his worth, has created all that is great in literature, art, music, science and technology.

“The autonomous individual, also, when he can neither realize himself nor justify his existence by his own efforts, is a breeding call of frustration, and the seed of the convulsions which shake our world to its foundations.

“The individual on his own is stable only so long as he is possessed of self-esteem. The maintenance of self-esteem is a continuous task which taxes all of the individual’s powers and inner resources. We have to prove our worth and justify our existence anew each day. When, for whatever reason, self-esteem is unattainable, the autonomous individual becomes a highly explosive entity. He turns away from an unpromising self and plunges into the pursuit of pride — the explosive substitute for self-esteem. All social disturbances and upheavals have their roots in crises of individual self-esteem, and the great endeavor in which the masses most readily unite is basically a search for pride.

“It is by its promise of a sense of power that evil often attracts the weak.

“It has often been said that power corrupts. But it is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many.

“Hatred, malice, rudeness, intolerance, and suspicion are the fruits of weakness. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them, but from the sense of their inadequacy and impotence. They hate not wickedness but weakness.

“We are prone to sacrifice others when we are ready to sacrifice ourselves.”


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