Hubris Americana

Trevin Wax offers thought-provoking perspective on President Obama’s inaugural speech. Before you read anything else, let me make clear that he’s not bashing our new President, as some may be quick to accuse him of. He says,

…we as Americans are facing the rise of a new national sin – one that is more subtle and even deadlier than the sins of our past – one that is common to all other empires that have risen and fallen throughout the ages: A smug sense of self-righteous superiority that usurps the rightful throne of God. . . . the truly troubling aspect of the new era we have just inaugurated is the underlying assumption among so many in our country that now, finally, we have truly arrived. A new age has dawned!

The Greeks had a well-known word to refer to that sort of sin. They called it hubris. They believed that those who were guilty of hubris would eventually eat their own words somehow. Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists would place it in the category of karma, although karma more narrowly defined involves reciprocity (“What goes around comes around”). Ancient Israel’s king Solomon put it this way: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before the fall” (Pro 16:18).

All of this reminds me of Fahrenheit 451, a book written by Ray Bradbury in the 1960s. It’s a fictional story set in the future in which reading is illegal. Reading certainly isn’t illegal in our day, but you think we’d have learned our lesson by now after seeing civilization after civilization built up and eventually torn down after giving themselves over to hubris. Read this quote from the protagonist, Guy Montag, and tell me he isn’t being prophetic:

We’ve started and won two atomic wars since 1990! Is it because we’re having so much fun at home we’ve forgotten the world? Is it because we’re so rich and the rest of the world’s so poor and we just don’t care if they are? I’ve heard rumors; the world is starving, but we’re well fed. Is it true, the world works hard and we play? Is that why we’re hated so much? I’ve heard the rumors about hate, too, once in a long while, over the years. Do you know why? I don’t, that’s sure! Maybe the books can get us half out of the cave. They just might stop us from making the same damn insane mistakes! (pp. 73-74)

How relevant! We’ve won wars. We’re the most entertainment-driven culture the world has ever seen. We’re far more rich than the majority of the world, even with the current state of our economy. Turn on the evening news, and you’ll see very little about what’s going on in the rest of the world. Montag speaks the truth. Maybe the books can get us half out of the cave.

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2 Responses to Hubris Americana

  1. josh cho says:

    an interesting time to live here for sure

  2. Josiah says:

    Brian! This post is awesome!

    What’s more, it somewhat helped on this paper I’m writing.

    Thanks.

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