March 25, 2008

Hubris

In Republican Rome, a conquering general returning home would be greeted with a triumphal procession, much like a 20th Century tickertape parade down Broadway. Reputedly, a slave would stand behind the hero and whisper in his ear deflating words about how the general was only mortal and shouldn't let this go to his head.

A papal coronation continues in the same vein. Wikipedia reports:
Traditionally, Papal coronations are thrice interrupted by a monk (some say barefoot) holding a pole to which is affixed a burning piece of flax. After it finishes burning, the monk announces, "Pater sancte, sic transit gloria mundi." This is meant to remind the Pope that, despite the grandeur of the ceremony and the long history of the office, he is a mortal man.

We need similar ceremonies here in America. For about a quarter of a century, America had been on a winning streak and we, the luckiest people in the history of the world, came to believe that our good fortune was our birthright; indeed, that it wasn't luck at all, it was our moral due, so ordinary rules of prudence didn't apply to us.

We see examples of hubris everywhere: Bush and Iraq, Americans treating their homes like lottery tickets, financial institutions thinking they can permanently outsmart the risk-reward tradeoff, Spitzer and his whores, Obama and his minister, the list goes on and on. We can get away with anything.

For a long-term perspective, there's alway Kipling's Gods of the Copybook Headings.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

11 comments:

anony-mouse said...

Presidents are required to have Vice-Presidents that they can't even fire. Isn't that indirectly the same thing as being told that they are mortal?

Anonymous said...

Steve you could argue that the problem is not hubris but laziness and avoidance of hard work.

People used to work hard for their money, instead they want as you point out property lottery tickets. Same for Obama -- he refused to take the hard road of Sistah Souljah-ing his Rev God Damn America, knowing it would cost.

And it's not just America -- all wealthy suburban Western countries wish to put off expensive, bloody, costly, nasty things that have to be done as long as possible. It's why obesity is a world-wide issue. It's why Europe spends nothing on defense free-riding on America while Russia and North Africa make credible demands on them, to say nothing of Iran. It's why Israel takes half-measures and the minimum possible and has let it's military deteriorate to the point where Hezbollah can beat them when dug in.

And it's why Presidents from Nixon onwards responded to Islamic terrorism with half-measures, appeasement, laziness, soothing PC and Multiculti words, nothing like the hard measures designed to address the problem: Islamists did not fear us.

From the 1972 murders of Amb. Noel and co. in the Sudan by Arafat, to Tehran 1979-80, Beirut 1983, hostages galore in the 1980's, WTC 1993, Khobar Towers 1996, African Embassies 1998, Cole 2000, the response was ... Lazy.

The default mode of people with money and leisure is lazy. People don't like to work too hard. Iraq was a Lazy war. Hardly anyone was mobilized. No new taxes or sacrifices to pay for it. No expansion of the military and sacrifice of other programs. Very few resources committed. No real effort to combat AQI with counter-mobilization by tribes until very late.

Hubris is not the problem. Imperial Japan, Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia, Mao's China, all had hubris.

Instead the West is simply ... Lazy. Too rich and comfortable and well off to get off the couch. Even if it could cost it the fragile nature of it's wealth.

Anonymous said...

No it's not hubris. It's laziness.

It affects everyone in the West. Suburban, comfortable, lazy Westerners just don't want to make the effort to prevent small problems from ballooning into big ones.

Example: homeowners don't want to work hard to make money by adding another job. Instead looking to cash in on the housing bubble. Lazy not hubris.

Israel won't make hard choices to inflict a realistic defeat on Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas and so gain a breathing space and some "deal" and instead fights half-wars of PC-Multiculti that end up in defeat (Lebanon-Hezbollah beat them) or just takes it (Hamas and the constant rocketing). Too lazy to have a national call up and deal a blow that brings enemies to the table for at least a breather.

Europe won't arm itself and faces threats from Russia, North Africa, and the whole Muslim world over Danish Cartoons or something the Pope says or does (more threats about the baptizing of the Muslim convert). Lazy.

America has been Lazy in responding to Islamist terrorist threats against it since the 1970's. We let the murder of our diplomats in the Sudan in 1972 by Arafat go. Too Lazy. Same with Iran 1979-80. Beirut 1983. WTC 1993. Khobar Towers 1996. Mogadishu 1993. African embassies 1998. Cole 2000. Laziness has it's price: 9/11. Islamists don't fear us. They still don't.

And the lazier you get, the more you have to pay in the end. Cheap deals and bargains always cost more. Not Hubris Steve.

Laziness.

Hal K said...

The trade deficit is another big problem. If it wanted to this country could set policies that would get the trade deficit under control. I would not blame the laziness of Americans in general for this particular problem. The elites should know better, and they aren't doing anything about it.

Sleep said...

For a while during the Middle Ages, they took away the throne partway through the ceremony and replaced it with a toilet (apparently called "sella stercoraria"). Just to remind everyone that hey, the Pope poops too!

Martin said...

"Iraq was a Lazy war. Hardly anyone was mobilized. No new taxes or sacrifices to pay for it. No expansion of the military and sacrifice of other programs."

Nobody, including presumably YOU. You are wrong. Laziness is indeed a problem, but hubris is a bigger one. This country has become shameless, and it will be our undoing.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

Very gracious of you to let Michael Ledeen post here.

Anyway Mike--may I call you Mike?--what makes you think all those "bloody, costly nasty things that have to be done as long as possible" will eliminate this awful Islamic threat you see preparing to swim the oceans and creep up our very front steps? And how do you expect to pay for those things? All those things have been done by empires to try and subdue barbarians for millenia, and all empires end up the same way: broke, socialist, and populated by their enemies.

I've got a better idea: stop thinking we can be an empire (hubris, you know) and return to being a commercial republic. Better yet, abolish the national government and return to a federation of sovereign states. That way, you raise a society of hard, provincial people who know very well how to deal with unassimilable ethnic minorities and have little patience for centralized government with its alien values and confiscatory taxation. Somehow I bet you'd find that alarming.

rast said...

Israel won't make hard choices to inflict a realistic defeat on ... Europe won't arm itself and faces threats from Russia, North Africa, and the whole Muslim world ... America has been Lazy in responding to Islamist terrorist threats

Hi, Evil Neocon!

Killing more arab civillians won't make Israel secure (unless they use a few hundred nukes).

Russia is not a millitary threat to the EU; even if we ignore everything else, France and Britain have lots of nukes. Africa and the Middle East are not a millitary threat to the EU, but a demographic one, and only because of the EU's suicidal immigration policy.

Islamic terrorism against America is mostly a response to our foolish middle east policies, and have been enabled almost entirely by our suicidially moronic immigration policies.

steve wood said...

Better yet, abolish the national government and return to a federation of sovereign states. That way, you raise a society of hard, provincial people who know very well how to deal with unassimilable ethnic minorities and have little patience for centralized government with its alien values and confiscatory taxation. Somehow I bet you'd find that alarming.

It's not alarming, but it doesn't sound like a place where many modern Americans would want to live, given that they have been leaving "hard, provincial" places for the soft, sophisticated hubris of urban society for a long time now. In fact, it doesn't sound like a place where many Americans ever HAVE lived. What does "return to a federation of sovereign states" mean? What period of history are we returning to - 1776-1781? Says Wikipedia:

"The thirteen states were formally thirteen independent countries until ratification of the Articles [of Confederation], proposed in 1777, was completed in 1781; whereupon the "United States of America" legally came into existence."

Since then, as far as I know, we've had a national government. Since at least 1898, we have had an empire of one kind of another, with or without hubris. In fact, what was the westward expansion but imperialism, especially the part where we, you know, INVADED Mexico and CONQUERED a sizeable chunk of their territory for ourselves.

Lamenting our history is fine, but it is delusional to imagine some halcyon time in the past when America was purely a "commercial republic" with small dreams and limited ambition. That's some other country (Canada, maybe?)... it's not the USA.

Martin said...

"steve wood said...

Lamenting our history is fine, but it is delusional to imagine some halcyon time in the past when America was purely a "commercial republic" with small dreams and limited ambition. That's some other country (Canada, maybe?)... it's not the USA."

Mr. Wood,

In case you hadn't noticed, the USA is not the USA anymore - not in any way like it used to be. This country is becoming practically unrecognizable to me (and I was only born in the 60's). This is the problem which many here are so exercised about.

I think what the poster, to whom you were responding, proposed was that America should try to become something akin to Switzerland. I agree with him that this would be desirable. Sadly, I must also agree with you that it is very unlikely. It is not however impossible, that some portion or portions of the country could adopt such a model, if (actually, I believe when) America dissolves.

Anonymous said...

steve wood,

We're both getting a bit off topic but I'll submit this for your consideration. The US, like the Soviet Union, is an unsustainable entity. You cannot just print money. You cannot invade the world and invite the world. To think you can is, well, hubristic. Contrary to people whose understanding of history begins in 1941, this has all been tried before. One way or another, the US is going to return--or rather, be returned--to its humbler origins.