Monday, April 4, 2011

The Arrogance of Empire

After thinking about this for several years, I have concluded brutally humiliating people is the worst problem in the world. It is, however, the reverse side of the coin. On the other side is hubris—arrogance, moral blindness, wanton violence.

Hubris always leads to humiliating people. And I do mean always. Then it's 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. It's also 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, which is now an empire, is following the path of every empire in history: attempting to impose its world-view on other countries, under the guise of "civilizing" them. As both Aesop and Jesus noticed, all tyrants call themselves benefactors.

Attempting to impose your views on people, by 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 excessive pride, has been considered the worst problem in the world—and it is, because hubris comes first, humiliating people comes second. But I cannot separate one from the other. As I said, they are the obverse and reverse sides of the same coin.

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 regain their pride and dignity by killing us. That is, they are going to humiliate us the way we humiliated them—by violence, destruction and murder.

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? Just astonishing.

I do know this flaw has something to do with power: "Power is the horse that evil rides." Lord Acton wrote, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." I think a better saying is, "Power intoxicates, and immunity corrupts."

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 trampling over everybody.

1 comment:

Kent McManigal said...

I wrote a column last week that follows a similar thought: People can't be forced to be free