Thursday, June 25, 2009

Learners Inherit the Earth

In times of change learners inherit the earth
while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped
to work in a world that no longer exists.

Eric Hoffer

Over the course of my life I've met many learned and intelligent people in a wide variety of fields. Out of all these very few were truly wise. (1) With that in mind, I'm posting this Wikipedia excerpt on Eric Hoffer and learning in honor of Pagan Values Month.

One abiding Pagan value is learning. It's a good value but only if one extends it beyond mere book learning and only if we are committed to learning and questioning what it is we think we know over the course of our lifetime. Pagans, as a group, have always valued learning. At the same time, we have also been willing to question received wisdom. Learners sit right in the center of that paradox, laughing and sharing the joke.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time

- T.S. Eliot

Many of us are now facing the challenge of re-training. Others are challenged by life itself to look deep inside and learn more about ourselves. We have been asked to confront the lessons we received from our family of origin, our path and our culture in order to better understand our personal choices. We are asked, as I have noted before, to bravely face our Shadow Sides and to become actors in this life, not re-actors.

Between the conception
and the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Lies the Shadow

- T.S. Eliot

Eric Hoffer's writing on learning, work, self esteem and values are deeply relevant to earthwise foks as we question our own wisdom, tolerance and emotional intelligence, both as individuals and within our groups. (2) His ideas are particularly useful to those of us who seek to find meaning in our daily livess.

Hoffer was among the first to recognize the central importance of self-esteem to psychological well-being. While most recent writers focus on the benefits of a positive self-esteem, Hoffer focused on the consequences of a lack of self-esteem. Concerned about the rise of totalitarian governments, especially those of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, he tried to find the roots of these "madhouses" in human psychology. He postulated that fanaticism and self-righteousness are rooted in self-hatred, self-doubt, and insecurity. As he describes in The True Believer, he believed a passionate obsession with the outside world or with the private lives of other people is merely a craven attempt to compensate for a lack of meaning in one's own life.

The mass movements discussed in The True Believer include religious mass movements as well as political, including extensive discussions of Islam and Christianity. They also include seemingly benign mass movements which are neither political nor religious. A core principle in the book is Hoffer's insight that mass movements are interchangeable; he notes fanatical Nazis later becoming fanatical Communists, fanatical Communists later becoming fanatical anti-Communists, and Saul, persecutor of Christians, becoming Paul, a fanatical Christian himself. For the true believer the substance of the mass movement isn't so important as that he or she is part of that movement. Hoffer furthermore suggests that it is possible to head off the rise of an undesirable mass movement by substituting a benign mass movement, which will give those prone to joining movements an outlet for their insecurities.

Hoffer's work was original, staking out new ground largely ignored by dominant academic trends of his time. In particular, Hoffer's work was completely non-Freudian, at a time when almost all American psychology was confined to the Freudian paradigm. Many argue Hoffer's lack of a formal University education contributed to his independent thought, with his book remaining an insightful classic today.

Inchworm, inchworm
Measuring the marigolds
You and your arithmetic
You'll probably go far

Inchworm, inchworm
Measuring the marigolds
Why don't you stop and see
How beautiful they are

- lyrics, Mark Rew

Here's to the Learners among us.


Related Articles:

The Bard and the Poser

Neo-Pagans and Self Actualization

Scared Snakes & Lizard Brain OR What Helps You Hope?

Recommended Reading:

Raising Self-Relient Children in a Self Indulgent World by H. Stephen Glenn


(1) By that I mean, very few were that mix of intelligence, perceptiveness, diligence, understanding, ethics, shrewdness, courage, experience, self awareness, intuition, learning, ethics, sense of humor, pragmatism, perspective and compassion that I associate with wisdom and fewer still had found a balance between the needs of body, mind and spirit. For the record, I include my self in the list of those striving for but not yet attaining wisdom.

(2) Here, for example, is food for thought from Hoffer on the subject of transition and extended adolescence in American culture:

Hoffer's insights into the consequences of a lack of self-esteem also informed his later writings...In Hoffer's view, rapid change is not a positive thing for a society, and too rapid change can cause a regression in maturity for those who were brought up in a very different society than what that society has become. He noted that in the 1960s America had many young adults still living in extended adolescence.

...He sees these puberty rites as essential for self-esteem, and notes that mass movements and juvenile mindsets tend to go together to the point that anyone, no matter what age, who joins a mass movement immediately begins to exhibit juvenile behavior. He further notes that the reason working class Americans did not by and large join in the 1960s protest movements and subcultures was they had entry into meaningful labor as an effective rite of passage out of adolescence, while both the very poor on welfare and the affluent are, in his words "prevented from having a share in the world's work and of proving their manhood by doing a man's work and getting a man's pay" (sic) and thus remained in a state of extended adolescence, lacking in necessary self-esteem, and prone to joining mass movements as a form of compensation. Hoffer suggested that this need for meaningful work as a rite of passage into adulthood could be fulfilled with a 2-year civilian national service program (not unlike the earlier programs during the Depression such as the Civilian Conservation Corps), in which all young adults would do two years of work in fields such as construction or natural resources work. He writes: "The routinization of the passage from boyhood to manhood would contribute to the solution of many of our pressing problems. I cannot think of any other undertaking that would dovetail so many of our present difficulties into opportunities for growth."


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link to your article about Shadow Sides. THis has been on my mind a lot--it seems I may be selling myself short but too busy to do anything about it! Bet you can't guess which 2 shadow archetypes I fit into! *wink*

Greenconsciousness said...

thanks for this post - i am going to the shadow links right now having walked with it all day