Wednesday, July 14, 2004


Hubris: it should be the name of all that green slime that contains tadpoles and in the spring covers ponds and ditches. Instead, hubris means overbearing pride or presumption; arrogance. The Greeks saw hubris in deeds where humans pitted themselves against gods and goddesses, and the term does contain the secondary message that the possessors of hubris are going to have their comeuppance soon after. A good example of this is the tale of Arachne. She started her life as a young woman excellent in weaving, but ended her life as a spider because her skills were held in higher esteem than those of the goddess of weaving.

Hubris is also the name of the goddess of insolence, lack of restraint and instinct. Not the person you like to share the occasional cup of nectar with. As might be expected, she spends most of her time with humans, so I have not made her acquaintance. But I think that the neocons have, and so has our president and his administration.

At least an anonymous CIA official, the author of the new book entitled Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, seems to think so. He is anonymous because of CIA rules, and his real name is widely publicized, but I'm going to adhere to the pretense that we don't know who he is. And who knows, maybe his anonymity will keep him from the sin of hubris.

"Anonymous" argues that the Bush administration has made a mess of the war on terrorism, but this should not make liberals especially pleased as he also believes in a 'military campaign that includes "killing in large numbers" and "a Sherman-like razing of infrastructure" as part of "relentless, brutal and blood-soaked defensive military action until we have annihilated the Islamists that threaten us".' His grudge with the administration is therefore not in their reluctance to spill blood but in the way they have interpreted the intelligence CIA and other organizations have gathered:

Indeed,["Anonymous"] blasts most elite experts whatever their political or philosophical persuasion, for "a process of interpreting the world so it makes sense to us, a process yielding a world in which few events seem alien because we Americanize their components." Ultimately, "ignorance of their own and world history, failure to appreciate the power of faith, and disdain for the views and analyses of idiosyncratic Americans and non-Westerners" begets a particularly perilous imperialism.

This is then the hubris that gives the book its name: the American tradition of not paying attention to the rest of the world, and, as is the customary thing with hubris, the current American administation is now going to get its comeuppance for acting like gods and goddesses, though this time the revenge will not come directly from the hands of Zeus or Artemis or even me. No, the revenge is largely self-created here, and it is still possible to avoid it, but only if one also gives up on the hubris that caused the crisis in the first place. To get rid of the hubris, we need to get rid of the current administration, I think. There have been many occasions for repentance and truth-telling and even for some old-fashioned humility, and none of the members of this administration have taken the bait. Their hubris is too strong, too much an essential part of their basic dogma.

Thus, I agree with "Anonymous" in his accusation of excessive American hubris, but I don't agree with his recommendations directing us to even more blood-spilling. Not at least yet. There is still time for diplomacy and cunning negotiations, and John Kerry might still be able to achieve a more peaceful outcome. Might. But time is running out very quickly, and Nemesis, the goddess of revenge is hovering at the edges of our horizon, waiting for the signal to swoop and do the bidding of Hubris.

Wouldn't it be lovely if we lived in a world where 'hubris' really refers to tadpole slime?