Build Yourself A City, by Paul Rosenberg

Give sanity a chance. From Paul Rosenberg at

Although mostly forgotten these days, one of the more important philosophers of the 20th century was a man named Eric Hoffer. But Hoffer was no academic with degrees and formal approvals; rather, he was a longshoreman, one of the hundreds of men who unloaded ships at the San Francisco docks.

I recommend Hoffer’s books to you, but today I want to focus on a story he told as he was interviewed by Eric Sevareid, one of the more respected interviewers of that time. The interview took place in 1967, and in it, Hoffer recited a poem he had seen written on a wall at Pier 35 of the San Francisco docks. Here it is:

Build yourself a city, found yourself a state.

Grab the swamp and drain it,

cut the log and plane it,

make the hills and valleys fields.

And on the manmade plain,

breath your last complain,

slay your shame,

forget your name.

Do not strive for pity, build yourself a city.

The context for this was, as I understood it, the civil rights movement of that time. If so, Hoffer was being quite courageous, particularly by repeating “do not strive for pity.” But the thought was not wrong, and he was certainly not alone in it: The one-time mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington (a black man) used to say, “If they shut the door in your face, break it down!”

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