"History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind." ~ Edward Gibbon
Hubris Followed by Nemesis
Column by Bob Wallace.
Exclusive to STR
The worst problem in the world – the one that causes more violence than anything else – is the revenge created by feelings of humiliation.
Thousands of years ago both the Greeks and the Hebrews noticed that pattern. The Greeks called it Hubris, the god of arrogance, lack of restraint, insolence and wanton violence, followed by Nemesis, the goddess of fate and revenge. The Hebrews wrote, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." Later, grandiose pride became the worst of the Seven Deadly Sins, because it is the basis of all the rest.
Hubris originally meant to brutally humiliate and denigrate someone in public (it still means that), and the Greeks banned it from the theater as obscene. It was fated to be followed by revenge.
In other words, brutally humiliate someone because of your arrogance and moral blindness, and those you humiliate will kill you. It’s an attempt to replace feelings of humiliation with feelings of pride, by humiliating those they see as their oppressors.
Even today, the U.S. government repeats the pattern. After 19 fanatics flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the American public was told by the U.S. government that these mass murderers hated us for our goodness. They hate us for our virtues? No. It was the attempts of the U.S. government to rule the world, to have troops in 144 countries, to attack, shame and humiliate countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Panama, and Serbia, when none of them had attacked us. Some three thousand Americans were unwittingly sacrificed to the gods of Hubris and Nemesis.
Osama bin Laden called 9-11 “a copy” of what the U.S. had been doing to the Middle East for 80 years, humiliating and abusing the countries there, overthrowing their governments, installing repressive regimes and allowing them to crush their people. 9-11 was pure, simple revenge – not, as the terminally confused, arrogant and morally blind George Bush thought, because they were the Evil Ones attacking us for our goodness.
The psychiatrist James Gilligan, who spent almost 40 years interviewing murderers and those who brutally battered people, when he asked them why they did it (and he interviewed thousands), heard, every time, “Because he disrespected me [or my wife, parents, children, friends, girlfriend].”
One day he realized what he was hearing was the story of Cain and Abel: “Unto Abel the Lord had respect….unto Cain He had not respect.” Cain, humiliated, sought his revenge on the innocent Abel, in a misguided attempt to salvage his pride and self-respect.
The feeling of humiliation followed by revenge is a staple of many novels. Take the influential The Count of Monte Cristo, or Moby Dick. Or Stephen King’s Carrie. Or John D. McDonald’s The Green Ripper. Or “Amadeus.” Or “Othello.” Or The Iliad. Or the first war recorded in the Bible.
This problem of feelings of humiliation followed by the desire for revenge is part of human nature. It’s not going to change. The best we can do is minimize the problem, by not humiliating people, by treating them respectfully.
For one thing, when it comes to the U.S. government, it’d help if it minded its own business and not that of other countries.