Hoffer

“We have rudiments of reverence for the human body, but we consider as nothing the rape of the human mind.” —Eric Hoffer

That my friends is very true. Especially when it comes to to what some of us choose to do for a living or for fun for that matter (like watching the boob tube for hours on end).

Eric Hoffer, the author of this quote, was an American social writer and philosopher who published ten books, a newspaper column and truly lived his life. Born in the Bronx on July 25, 1902, the son of Knut and Elsa Hoffer, immigrants from Alsace, by five he could read in both German and English.

When he was age five, his mother fell down a flight of stairs with Eric in her arms. Hoffer went blind for unknown medical reasons two years later, but later in life he said he thought it might have been due to trauma.

“I lost my sight at the age of seven. Two years before, my mother and I fell down a flight of stairs. She did not recover and died in that second year after the fall. I lost my sight and for a time my memory”.

After his mother’s death he was raised by a live-in relative or servant, a German woman named Martha. His eyesight inexplicably returned when he was 15. Fearing he would again go blind, he seized upon the opportunity to read as much as he could. His eyesight remained, but Hoffer never abandoned his habit of voracious reading.

Hoffer was a young man when his father, a cabinetmaker, died.  Sensing that warm Los Angeles was the best place for a poor man, Hoffer took a bus there in 1920 and spent the next 10 years on Los Angeles’ skid row, reading, writing, and working odd jobs.

In 1931, he attempted suicide by means of drinking oxalic acid, but the attempt failed…he could not bring himself to swallow the poison. This experience inspired a new determination to live more adventurously. He left skid row and became a migrant worker. Following the harvests along the length of California, he collected library cards for each town near the fields where he worked and, living by preference, “between the books and the brothels.”

He ended up in the mountains, where he had gone in search of gold. He remained snowed in for the entire winter. While trapped, he read the “Essays” by Michel de Montaigne. Montaigne’s book left its mark on Hoffer and influence his life and future writings.

Hoffer lived in San Francisco by 1941 and became a longshoreman on the docks of The Embarcadero. It was there he felt at home and finally settled down. He continued reading voraciously and soon began to write while earning a living loading and unloading ships. He continued this work until he retired at age 65. Hoffer considered his best work to be “The True Believer“, a landmark explanation of fanaticism and mass movements.

In retirement Hoffer continued his robust life of the mind, thinking and writing alone, in an apartment near San Francisco’s waterfront, until his death at 80 years old.

Make sure whatever it is you do for a living, you are truly living.

-Cara

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