Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Goddess of Murder and Revenge

I pay more attention to myths than anything else. I don't pay attention to 99% of the Ph.D.s from Harvard and Yale and Princeton, all of which will someday disappear, the sooner the better. Those are the kinds of the "Best and Brightest" who got us into Vietnam and now Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of the most perceptive of old myths is the Greek one of Hubris followed by Nemesis. The full sequence is Koros to Hubris to Ate to Nemesis.

Koros means the surfeit which attends a base man who has too much, say money and power (this means base people are far more prone to hubris than normal people). Think of Robert Mugabe. For that matter, think of most politicians, almost all of whom (no matter how charming) are morally corrupt and have money, sex, drug and alcohol problems. Add political power to all those other problems and it's us who pays for it, not them. It's amazing that people—Mass Man, meaning Mass Morons—keep falling for the lies and mendacity of politicians.

After Koros comes Hubris—the God of Arrogance and Insolence. These days the word used is "grandiosity," a disorder in which the afflicted think they're far, far smarter and far, far better than everyone else. Thinking they've been chosen by God, or, if they go crazy enough, believing they are a god. History is full of leaders like this, all of whom are convinced they are justified in their behavior, and none of whom have any guilt.

After Hubris comes Ate, which is a kind of madness or folly. It happens when the hubristic get challenged, when they're told they are emperors with no clothes. It's when they go crazy and in their moral blindness start slaughtering people.

Next stop? Nemesis. Nemesis is generally translated as "destruction," but it really means "vengeance." Indeed, Nemesis is the Goddess of Vengeance.

Vengeance, or revenge, comes from *other people, *directed towards the hubristic. It happens when they are oppressed and humiliated and mocked to the point they rise up, overthrow and kill their oppressors, then hang them by their heels from lamp-posts.

What the Greeks noticed is the same thing the Hebrews noticed, when they wrote that "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."

The Hebrews also noticed the importance of shame, which is just another word for humiliation or ridicule or mockery. The shorthand these days is "being dissed."

In the story of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve are naked and without shame, since they have no self-consciousness. Notice the first thing they feel is shame, not guilt. This means shame comes before guilt, which is not mentioned at all in the story.

For a long time I've thought Adam and Eve were about three years old... lacking self-consciousness, running around naked, blaming their problems on other people. For little children, does shame come before guilt? Perhaps. That's been my experience.

Guilt is when you feel as if you are oppressing others; shame is when you feel they are oppressing you. Shame is what leads to murder, not guilt. The murder is supposed to erase the shame; revenge is supposed to make the murderer 'whole' again.

Both the Greeks and Hebrews noticed how shame leads to murder. That's what Hubris followed by Nemesis means.

Shame leading to murder is also illustrated by the story of Cain and Abel, who are Adam and Eve's children. The first recorded murder in history, that of Cain killing Abel, is caused by humiliation. God literally disses Cain by rejecting his sacrifice, and Cain, humiliated, blames it on Abel and gets revenge by murdering him.

The social scientist James Gilligan, who spent 35 years interviewing prisoners, said he always heard the same story why they murdered or brutally assaulted people. What he heard, every time, was "He dissed me" or their children, wife, parents, friends. Gilligan one day realized what he was hearing, over and over, was the story of Cain and Abel.

Humiliation leads to revenge and murder. Cain and Abel. Hubris followed by Nemesis. Pride goes before destruction. The stories are the same.

How do these stories apply today? The United States has been humiliating and insulting the Islamic world for about 70 years, supporting Israel no matter what it did, and overthowing the governments of Islamic countries and installing its own puppets (think the late Shah of Iran or even Saddam Hussein, who the U.S. helped install and supported for many years).

Osama bin Laden said the attacks on 9-11 were "a copy" of what the U.S. had been doing to the Islamic world. The attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon were revenge—vengeance—caused by several decades of humiliation and disrespect. Cain and Abel. Hubris followed by Nemesis.

Is it any wonder so much of the world despises the government of the U.S.. the way it has spent over a century bombing, invading, conquering and oppressing so many countries? Humiliating and degrading them? Treating them with contempt and disdain?

George Washington had it right in his Farewell Address. Trade with other countries, but otherwise stay out of their business. Early American coins even had "Mind Your Business" engraved on them. We lost those wisdoms a long time ago.

Will any government ever listen to the wisdom of these old stories? Or course not. Hubris is also blindness. And so this fallen world of ours, chock-full of sleep-walking people, will continue on this cycle of humiliation and murderous revenge as long as the human race is around.

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