Eric Hoffer’s Perspective

The island’s relationship with its inhabitants illustrates the real-life association between dogma, whether religious or political, and the “true believer.” This term originates from the non-fiction work, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, an analysis of fanaticism, written by Eric Hoffer in 1951. Hoffer claims that “All mass movements generate in their adherents a readiness to die and a proclivity for united action; all of them demand blind faith and single-hearted allegiance.” John Locke and Ben Linus possess all of these characteristics including a willingness to give up their own lives. In fact, throughout the seasons we’ve seen many characters eager to sacrifice themselves, if not for the island, then at least for the “greater good.” Most have a “proclivity for united action” as we see in their tendency to form exclusive groups and to demonize the Other (including, but not strictly defined by, “the Others”).

Hoffer argues that the kind of person most likely to become an extremist, whether religious or political, feels so inadequate as an individual that he will take the first opportunity that comes along to give up his freedom for a larger cause. The characters of Lost repeatedly say things like, “I did it for the island,” “the island will tell me what to do,” “my/your purpose is to be on this island,” and “it was for the island’s sake.” In fact, the characters who recently returned to the island (Season 5) gave up their individual lives back home, their personal freedom, in order to be part of something larger, something in which they have a blind faith. Why? They are “true believers,” each willing to replace individuality with a “holy cause.”

Lost dramatizes the same destructive powers of fanaticism and blind discipleship that we see in real life, whether it is unethical behavior for the sake of a political party, or a suicide bombing in the name of God. As Ben tells Mikhail in episode 3.22, “Through the Looking Glass,” “everything I did, I did for the Island.”

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