Eric Hoffer: Introduction (03:04)
The philosopher says the system is destroyed by its own successes. He has struggled with poverty and visual impairment, and educated himself by reading. He wrote books by night while working as a longshoreman in San Francisco.
Preoccupation with Change (03:56)
Hoffer discusses the feeling that Western civilization is nearing collapse. Those who agitate for change are hostile to authority. However, successful, rapid and drastic changes have occurred in authoritarian atmospheres—such as Japanese society in the late 19th century.
Challenges of Modernization (03:05)
Hoffer sees twentieth century social and economic changes as difficult and dangerous—even when desirable. He says the 1960s have made the majority meek; children struggle to grow up.
Working on the Waterfront (04:17)
Hoffer says the U.S. allows people to follow their passion. He describes generating new ideas while loading and unloading cargo. The San Francisco bay has become part of his inner landscape.
A Longshoreman's Life (02:51)
Hoffer tells stories of working on the San Francisco docks with Portuguese and Spanish colleagues.
Thoughts on Unions (03:51)
Hoffer discusses how organized labor has benefited working people and cautions against only asking for higher wages. Technological advances should be accompanied by lower prices to benefit both employers and workers. Retired longshoremen cannot afford to live in San Francisco.
Work Ethic (03:17)
Hoffer once resisted union pressure to work more slowly. He took pride in his ingenuity and describes how he developed a system for sorting cartons.
Thoughts on Capitalist Society (04:22)
Hear a Hoffer quote on man's "unfinishedness." He criticizes raising prices, unemployment, and social change, but appreciates the freedom he has in the U.S. He compares efficiency in capitalist and communist systems.
Inspiration in Nature (03:11)
Hear Hoffer’s thoughts on hidden talent among working classes. He composed part of "The True Believer" on a pathway leading to the ocean. He says books composed mentally sound better when read aloud.
Becoming Published (02:55)
Hoffer recalls receiving a telegram from Harper accepting "The True Believer." When "The Ordeal of Change" received a lackluster review, his longshoreman colleagues criticized him for giving them a bad name.
Learning from a French Philosopher (03:46)
Hoffer bought "The Essays of Montaigne" by chance at a second hand store in San Francisco before gold panning in Grass Valley. He became snowbound and memorized the book, appreciating its good sentences and quoting them to hobos.
Thoughts on Labor Faking (04:04)
Hoffer argues that talent requires hard work. Worldwide, younger generations strive to work as little as possible. Despite automation and technological advances, working people are still necessary. He predicts a "revolution" among the few who still work.
Confessions of a Sinner (03:02)
Hoffer lived on Skid Row in the early 1930s. He developed a system of being selected for day labor among hundreds of men at a Los Angeles employment agency.
Finishing God's Work (04:06)
Hoffer does not believe in identity crises. He tells a story of selling oranges door-to-door for a day, and explains why he decided not to go into business.
Thoughts on Chronic Poverty (03:55)
Hoffer argues that the world has lacked great leaders since the mid-twentieth century. He would give farmland to poor and unemployed people to increase their self-reliance. Common people have always pursued freedom.
A Learning Society (04:29)
Hoffer argues that education should prepare people to handle societal changes. He has learned from longshoremen to praise judicially. He says that the common people have become afraid of confrontation, despite living in freedom.
Hoffer argues that self-hatred is at the root of world problems. Societies are free when dissenting minorities can protest. He recalls learning from math and science textbooks found in second hand book shops and relates his discovery of botany.
Thin vs. Thick Books (02:55)
Hoffer once possessed library cards in every city he passed through. He explains his self-taught research methods. He fears his writing will someday become sub-par.
Writing Process (02:32)
Hoffer credits his originality with taking time to ruminate on his ideas, catch insights, and examine any misgivings in detail. He discusses having an "old" mind.
Practical Socioeconomic Advice (02:24)
Books dealing with the human condition provide insight to the present; the post-industrial age will be dominated by psychological factors. Hoffer suggests retired people clean the streets to lower city taxes. He believes he sees America from an objective viewpoint.
Universal Human Condition (03:19)
Individual desires, dreams and preoccupations have remained throughout the millennia. Hoffer discusses unpleasantness in the human soul and reflects on abandoning a love affair.
Preparing for End of Life (02:25)
Hoffer still has dreams of working as a longshoreman, years after retirement. He hopes for a quick and painless death. He recalls asking a neighbor to reduce her noise level.
Thoughts on Faith (02:39)
Hoffer admires God as man's greatest invention, but is not religious. He does not think God must exist, to play a role in his ideas.
Secret to Happiness (02:19)
Writers and artists need something to worship, something to resist, and solitude. Hoffer says his accomplishment has been to write a few good sentences. He argues that usefulness is more important to life quality than abundance or freedom.
Advice for the Future (04:13)
As he ages, Hoffer is less hopeful. He fears for American society and encourages others to moderate their expectations. His guardian had believed he would die before forty; he lived like a tourist. He is now nearly eighty.
Credits: Eric Hoffer: The Crowded Life (01:12)
Credits: Eric Hoffer: The Crowded Life
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