My internet habit seems to have decimated my ability (never very marked) to finish books. I begin them; put them down; pick them up; read a few pages; put them down...
Among the many lying half-read around the house is Tom Bethell's biography of Eric Hoffer, The Longshoreman Philosopher. Hoffer is a mysterious character who emerged from complete obscurity to become a major intellectual influence in Cold War America, beginning with his 1951 best-selling book on the nature of mass movements, The True Believer.
I picked it up again (I mean the biography) this morning while I drank my coffee. These lines so arrested my attention that I put the book down again—to think, and write a post about it. They come from a journal entry about his life on the waterfront, dated June 18, 1961:
This is the first time in three weeks that I'll make a decent check—about $95 take-home pay. As baggage man I hustled without any eagerness or greed but also without any dignity. This lack of "dignity" has been with me most of my life. The reason is probably that I have no real concern about what people think of me. After all I am up in years, and a writer, and so I should be dignified. The total lack of any sense of belonging is undoubtedly a factor.
I'm going to be thinking lots more about the relation between personal dignity and a sense of belonging, and how it's connected to Wojtyla's remark about Americans, after his visited it as a Cardinal in the '60s or '70s. He was taken about by the strong sense of "rootlessness" among Americans, in contrast with his experience in Europe.