Steve Patterson: Hubris, the snake has bit us Steve Patterson, Hubris
Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash
July 17th, 2020     Opinion



“One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously, compounds its partial and universal values most convincingly, and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay which leads to death has already begun.” Reinhold Niebuhr


There it was lurking in plain sight. It had been overlooked for generations by many and actually celebrated by a few. We all knew it was there. We all heard its hissing sounds. Most of us had been taught it was deadly, but damn if we didn’t love the defiant sound of it. Some of us suspected it was venomous, but we remained silent about its danger. Throughout most of our history we flirted with it, but ultimately rejected its alluring, lustful appeals. Some of us feared it would one day strike. Yet, we acted as though it was not there. We were too conceited, too self-assured, too invincible to believe it was there. But, it was there!

If it had been a snake it would have bit us! But, wait a minute, it was a snake — a cunning temptress that seduced us with visions of God-like superiority. It slithered around in dark, damp places all reptile-like until we were hypnotized into believing it was not dangerous. Then, stealthily, it struck. Then it struck again and again and again!

This reptilian creature is named HUBRIS! Exaggerated pride, unwarranted pride are its more common nicknames. When it strikes, it hits its mark. Its bite is deadly. It has struck the body and soul of America. It is striking again and again at the heart of American Exceptionalism.

How hubris invaded our country

Why, you ask? Because we invited it into our Republic and let it breed and multiply in every corner of our hallowed institutions. After decades of resisting, we let our guard down, and it slyly slithered into our body politic and prepared its attack. Our elected leadership is boastful, arrogant, pompous, patronizing, and actually in love with Hubris. Indeed, in love with themselves! They sing the siren song of racial, ethnic, and religious superiority with lyrics that disavow truth, honor, duty and human dignity. They have exaggerated pride in themselves and all that they do. Anyone who disagrees with them, challenges them, or sees through their clever deceitful boasting is attacked as a somehow lesser being. They are false prophets that despise humility and see it as a form of weakness rather than strength. We have listened to the seductive hisses and bewitching lies of these false prophets. We have believed these false prophets. We have followed these false prophets, and they have led us into the belly of the beast called HUBRIS!

The Old Testament book of Proverbs in the Holy Scriptures teaches in unambiguous words, “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty Spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18) Perhaps God Almighty will raise up a saint like Saint Patrick of Ireland, who legend has it drove all the serpents off the Emerald Isle forever and drowned them in the sea. The serpent Hubris should likewise be driven from our midst and banned forever from America’s blessed shores!!

The promise of America Hubris Rubens fall of Icarus

Rubens’ Icarus illustrates the excessive pride and arrogance that defines hubris, considered a great sin by the Greeks.

America is truly an exceptional nation. Indeed, it is the greatest Republic in the history of the world. Unique ideas made America exceptional. Freedom, liberty, justice, and equality under law – are the ideas that were paramount to the founding of our exceptional nation. Creating a government on those ideas is perhaps the rarest phenomena in the political history of the world. America is the richest, most blessed, most powerful, most influential country ever. We were created by our founding fathers with the idea of establishing a “shining city on the hill,” a country where liberty and justice could be guaranteed to all. The founders’ visions were truly exceptional, and history will likely record them as the greatest political geniuses in world history.

Yet, we are not the only country in the world. We are not the only country with exceptional ideas. We are not invincible. We did not win two world wars and the Cold War alone. We have not conquered viruses and diseases alone. We alone have not made great strides in improving living standards around this world we all share! We are not the only ones to have created beautiful works of art, literature, music, and film.

What happened to speaking softly and carrying a big stick?

Some things, actually most things, in spite of our own extraordinary greatness, cannot be done alone. We cannot address the problems of hunger, bigotry, poverty, climate change, tyrannical oppression, world peace, and the plethora of issues facing humanity alone! We are a nation of frail, flawed people just like all the rest of the world, and regardless of what our serpentine false prophet leadership boast, we do not possess God-like superiority!

Surely, we dare not ascribe to ourselves, and certainly not to the charlatan leader that presently occupies the White House, nor to his congressional enablers, that which has already been ascribed to God and God alone?

In the past, we led by the power of our example, not the example of our power. America has always been a humble and a powerful nation. Powerful not only in a military and an economic sense, but also because we took the high ground and had the moral authority that was respected the world over. We led as President Theodore Roosevelt instructed, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” We had not been seduced by these false prophets back then, and the serpent HUBRIS had not yet consumed us.

Recent events in our country have unmasked American exceptionalism and revealed its myth in the eyes of the world. The COVID 19 pandemic, age old racial scabs in American society, the lynching of black folks at the hands of hot-headed brutal police, an economy tip-toeing toward another Great Depression and the unleashing of America’s military on peaceful American citizen protesters in blatant violation of our Constitution all point to a society that is in decline, and infected by Hubris’s deadly bite. The steep slope of decline will most assuredly continue unless we make fundamental attitudinal changes. HUBRIS has hit its mark, and we need an antidote pretty damned quick.

Hubris brings far-reaching penalties

No nation on earth has suffered as much death from COVID 19 as America. These United States have the highest death rate in the world, including underdeveloped third world countries (or as, the chief false prophet Donald J. Trump says with much hubris, “shit hole” countries)!

With only 4.25 percent of the world’s population and over 141,000 dead, we have the tragic distinction of having a whopping 24% of the pandemic death toll at this writing! Yet, the Hubris of our President tells us. “I’ve got it under control, it’s like a gentle breeze and nothing more than the common flu.” False prophet, indeed!

We are also the only advanced nation (aka non-“shit hole” countries) where the death rates, until very recently, continued to rise. Most scientific modeling predicts we will experience between two and three thousand deaths per day for the foreseeable future. At least until somebody in the world finds a safe vaccine, and to date Great Britain seems to be leading the way towards that discovery!

No other nation on the planet loosened social distancing and “stay in place” orders while death rates were on the rise like we did! HUBRIS strikes again. Aesop fable Hubris

Aesop’s Tortoise & the Hare fable tells the undesirable and unexpected results of hubris simply enough for even a child to understand.

We now know the Trump Administration was told by public health professionals that urgent, immediate action was needed to halt the spread of COVID 19 in early January. We also know that according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, “There was a lot of pushback,” from the Hubris-bitten Trump administration. The president finally issued public health guidelines for the first time on March 16th.

HUBRIS strikes again!

The world’s leading Epidemiologist estimates that 90 percent of American deaths due to COVID 19 could have been prevented had social distancing recommendations been in place only two weeks earlier! Anyone want to argue that Hubris is not deadly?

Fortunately, when Hubris bites, the symptoms of its venom are obvious and easily recognizable. The first manifestation of the poisoning is a loss of touch with reality. (i.e.,” I’m going to build a wall and Mexico will pay for it.” Or “North Korea will be our friend.”) Another unmistakable symptom that all victims exhibit is an overestimation of one’s own abilities, competence and accomplishments, (i.e., “I’m a stable genius,” or “My IQ is one of the highest – and you all know it; please don’t feel so stupid or insecure; it’s not your fault ; sorry losers and haters, but my IQ is one of the highest”). Finally, and a certain symptom, is childish attacks on peers (see Donald Trump quotes on: George Bush, Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz, John McCain, Gen. Colin Powell, Jeff Sessions, Gen. Jim Mattis, Nancy Pelosi, Marco Rubio, etc, etc, etc.). Hubris strikes again, again, again and again!

Hubris literally brought us to our knees for 8 minutes and 46 seconds as we watched it place its knee on a crying, helpless George Floyd in Minneapolis. The entire episode that has outraged the world is simply one of the ugliest displays of Hubris imaginable. Hubris is a bigot. Hubris is a sin. Hubris has no conscience. Hubris knows no boundaries. Hubris’ bite is deadly. Hubris kills.

What is the cure for hubris?

So what is the antidote for the venom of Hubris? What is the prescription for treating a nation, a society, an individual that has been bitten by this poisonous reptile?

The antidote was given to humanity well over 2000 years ago. It predates the instructions by history’s greatest physician, but parallels his instructions for rescuing prideful, hubristic humanity. The instructions on the prescription are precise and demanding. They read as follows:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)


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