As the credibility of the Obama administration continues to crumble, pundits ask, “What went wrong?” But things didn’t just go wrong. Things already were wrong – and not only in Washington.
The ancient Greeks defined hubris as arrogance so great that it evokes the anger of the gods. We no longer believe in pagan gods − except Marx, of course. But we still are afflicted by hubris.
● We have technological hubris, the mistaken belief that there are technological solutions for human problems. Thus if cars unexpectedly accelerate, we blame the car, but we ignore the driver − who mistook the accelerator for the brake. If we are not sure what to do, often it is best to step on the brake, not the accelerator. This applies especially to politics.
● We have numerical hubris, the mistaken belief that everything can be quantified. This may be true in science, but it is very far from true in human relations. When asked whether elderly persons should receive a pacemaker, President Obama replied, “If we’ve got experts…advising doctors across the board that the pacemaker may ultimately save money…” When a person attempts to put a dollar value on human life, he reveals a great deal about his own value system.
● We have organizational hubris, the mistaken belief that if we design an organization, it will work regardless of the people who fill the slots. We plan a vast reorganization of health care, with everything centrally controlled. But who will manage the system? The geniuses who led our largest banks into insolvency? The geniuses who led the world’s largest auto maker into bankruptcy? The geniuses in the government who did not foresee or prevent these disasters? With managers like this, the reorganization of our health care will turn out to be only half-vast.
● We have educational hubris, the mistaken belief that graduates of prestigious universities are superior to people who have less formal education, but who may have more life experience − and more wisdom as well. An example is Lenin, who posed as the champion of the poor, but who privately referred to peasants as “cattle.” President Obama believes that merely because he graduated from Harvard Law School, he somehow is qualified to decide who gets pain pills instead of hip surgery, and who gets his best wishes instead of a cardiac pacemaker. Cattle, indeed – milked till they run dry, then slaughtered.
● We have ideological hubris, the mistaken belief that our ideas are correct regardless of the evidence. Are there record cold temperatures? Has there been no global warming since 1997? Are temperatures of the Earth – as well as Mars and Pluto – closely correlated with energy output by the sun? No matter. Continue to proclaim that human-caused global warming is a “crisis” that demands drastic government action. The president proposes an energy plan that would cause electricity rates to “skyrocket” (his words). And New York Times columnist Paul Krugman claims that those who deny human-caused global warming are “traitors to the planet.” We execute traitors − is this what Krugman is implying?
● We have political hubris, the mistaken belief that we are “good,” while our opponents are not just mistaken but actually evil. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls those who object to government-run health care “un-American” and implies they are Nazis. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid calls protestors “evil-mongers.” Senator Barbara Boxer calls the protests “a diversion by people who want to hurt President Obama.” Former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean charges that Republicans want to “kill the bill and kill the president…” But words have consequences. Protestors against ObamaCare were intimidated, locked out and even beaten. What did those who called protestors such vile names think was going to happen?
● We have historical hubris, the mistaken belief that we are wiser than Jesus, Moses, Buddha, and Confucius. We see ourselves as deeper thinkers than the founders of the great religions, and smarter than the great philosophers. Unlike all the wise people who came before us, we believe that children don’t need a father and a mother. We believe that they do as well with a single parent, or with two fathers or two mothers. We quote “studies” that were approved, funded, and published by people who share that agenda.
We use “God” only as a curse word. We believe that we are the most intelligent people who ever did the Earth the favor of living on it. What is the source of such hubris?
Some people are narcissists. They believe that their ideas are superior, and those who hold contrary ideas are not just mistaken, but morally and intellectually defective. They ask, “How could any intelligent person possibly disagree with my brilliant insights?”
Some people are elitists. They believe that they belong to a superior class, and that other people are inferior. They believe that their status entitles them to make decisions for “lower-class” people, who are incapable of running their own lives. In past times − and even now in parts of the world − the “upper class” is determined by birth.
But in America, “upper class” is often defined by education − but not relevant education. The “elite” have degrees from Ivy League universities, whether or not their field of study has anything to do with the subject at hand. Barack Obama’s bachelor’s degree from Columbia and his law degree from Harvard somehow entitle him to make decisions that affect the health care of 316 million Americans.
In addition, the “elite” are defined by membership in the political class. Persons may be elevated to “upper-class” status by membership in Congress, or by association with such people − but only if they hold politically correct, liberal views.
George W. Bush served two terms as governor of Texas and two terms as president. He has a bachelor’s degree from Yale and an M.B.A. from Harvard, but he was never a member of the “elite.” His Texas twang and his moderately conservative views consigned him to the unwashed, ignorant masses that the “elite” hold in contempt, and that Lenin referred to − and treated − as “cattle.”
The problem with being members of an elevated “elite” is that at their high altitude, they lose sight of individual human beings − they see only groups. From their lofty perch, they lose touch with ordinary mortals. They communicate only with fellow members of the “elite.” They rarely eat lunch, much less dinner, with outsiders. They get their news from ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, CNN, and National Public Radio. They read the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and most papers in between.
The “elite” thus hear only liberal opinions, which reinforce their own. So when they meet someone who disagrees, they are shocked and angered − and often resort to vile name-calling. They are so unused to debating that they have almost forgotten how. Conservatives, on the contrary, are exposed to all these liberal media, so they can’t avoid hearing contrary views − and thereby sharpening their own arguments.
Being a member of the “elite” has many advantages, but keeping in touch with ordinary people is not among them. In the end, being a member of the “elite” becomes self-defeating. From my point of view, this is a very good thing. We no longer believe that extreme arrogance angers the gods, but it surely does irritate the voters.
Hubris is dangerous not only because of what it leads us to do, but also because of what it prevents us from doing:
● Maybe, if the government weren’t trying to control everyone and everything, it could control itself.
● Maybe, if the government weren’t busy harassing conservative groups, it would have more time to look for terrorist groups.
● Maybe, if the government weren’t trying to monitor everyone’s messages, it would have paid attention to the messages from Ambassador Chris Stevens, when he repeatedly asked for more security at our consulate in Benghazi.
● Maybe, if the government weren’t trying to monitor everyone’s Internet activity, it would have noticed when the Boston Marathon bombers repeatedly visited terrorist websites and ordered pressure cookers.
Just a thought.
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