Sunday, July 8, 2012
The Arrogance of Empire
I have concluded that brutally humiliating people is the worst problem in the world, and has been throughout history. It is caused by hubris (what the Bible calls Pride) – meaning arrogance, moral blindness, wanton violence. Originally hubris meant to humiliate people in public, and the ancient Greeks considered it so obscene they banned it from the theater.
For that matter, as Richard Weaver pointed out, the word “obscene” originally meant something that “should be enacted off-stage, because it is unfit for public exhibition.” So then, logically, hubris is an obscenity.
Hubris inevitably leads to humiliating people (actually, hubris is humiliating people. If you don’t humiliate them, then it’s not hubris!). Then, just as inevitably, hubris is followed by revenge. This observation is not new with me; it’s why the ancient Greeks said the Hubris is fated to be followed by Nemesis – vengeance. Or why the Bible says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
In other words, if you humiliate people they will get revenge on you.
Humiliation followed by vengeance is a staple of fiction. It’s the story of Cain and Abel, the Iliad, the Odyssey, Moby-Dick, The Count of Monte Cristo, Stephen King’s Carrie, John D. McDonald’s The Green Ripper, and Alfred Bester’s The Stars my Destination. It’s one of the oldest stories in the world: revenge on your oppressors.
The United States, now an empire, is following the path of every empire in history: attempting to impose its ideology on other countries under the guise of “civilizing” them. As Plato, Aesop and Jesus noticed, all tyrants call themselves benefactors.
The ideologues and blind nationalist worshippers of the State (who delude themselves they are patriots) never understand that murdering people does not make the survivors your friends. There are feuds in some areas of the world that go back several hundred years (“His great-great-great-grandfather killed mine, so I killed him”).
Attempting to impose your views on people by murderous force is brutally humiliating them, even though it’s done unwittingly and for “good” purposes. It’s ignoring the wisdom of that old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
“Shame rather than guilt appears to arise when a person finds himself condemned to an identity he wishes to repudiate but cannot,” wrote the psychiatrist R.D. Laing.
Traditionally, hubris, or overweening pride, has theologically been considered the most destructive human flaw ever – and it is, because hubris comes first, humiliating people comes second, then vengeance comes third. I call this “the Cycle of Murder and Revenge.”
When people in other countries are condemned to a humiliated identity they wish to repudiate – say, as uncivilized backward wogs who have to be slaughtered and dragged by their corpses into the 21st Century – they are going to replace their shame and humiliation with pride, by killing us the way we killed them. That is, they are going to humiliate us the way we humiliated them – by violence, destruction and murder.
The psychiatrist James Gilligan, who spent 25 talking to murderers, found, “The most powerful way to shame anyone is by means of violence, just as the most powerful way to provoke anyone into committing violence is by shaming him.”
Shaming people is the same thing as humiliating them.
Gilligan also wrote, “the basic psychological motive, or cause, of violent behavior is the wish to ward off or eliminate the feeling of shame and humiliation - a feeling that is painful and can even be intolerable and overwhelming and replace it with its opposite, the feeling of pride.”
Humiliation is bad enough when one person does it to another. Add political power and advanced technology, and you end up with the saying, “Power is the horse than evil rides.”
I do not understand why this tragic flaw exists in human nature, as exemplified by the saying, “I’m going to beat some sense into you.” How can the U.S. “beat” sense into other countries by slaughtering innocent people? It’s the same with the misnamed “War on Drugs”: we can “beat” sense into people by imprisoning them for years? Or “beat” sense into children by abusing them? Astonishing.
I do know this flaw has something to do with power over others. Lord Acton wrote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I think a better saying is, “Power intoxicates, and immunity corrupts.”
Being intoxicated means your mind is not clear and you operate under delusions. You’re confused and see wrong as right.
Since power corrupts and intoxicates the bigger and more powerful the State gets, the worse it is for everyone. Hubris plus the State, and you’re looking at the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse walking to and fro and up and down the world.
Dostoevsky had this to say about power in his The House of the Dead, "Tyranny...finally develops into a disease. The habit can...coarsen the very best man to the level of a beast. Blood and power intoxicate...the return to human dignity, to repentance, to regeneration, becomes almost impossible."
What Dostoevsky’s observation means is that the American Empire cannot reform itself. It will run out of money and men, and finally when the American people have had enough, they’ll do something about the problem.