Sunday, November 29, 2015

Hubris - Self-Centered Delusions

Whether on an individual level, a familial level, a national or international level, we have all seen examples of self-centeredness, especially self-centered hubris (an almost redundant statement), leading to unsatisfactoriness, suffering and harm.

Hopefully, when these situations arise in our life, our skill and wisdom make possible and support appropriate responses - we do not act out of or cease acting out of self-centeredness and hubris but instead act with the compassionate wisdom which is our ongoing practice.

Hubris and self-centeredness, and the resulting harm, are evident in recent American political campaigns by Democrat and Republican candidates, in the weilding of power by political leaders and office holders, as well as in some of the ongoing international conflicts such as those in the Middle East, Ukraine and Southeast Asia.

"Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century" by Alistair Horne, (the title describes the contents quite well) is a fascinating account of  some of the most pivotal battles of the 20th century, and the actions of the leaders who won and lost the battles.

It is a detailed exploration of how the outcomes of these recent wars have been affected by hubristic calculation and miscalculations by military and political leaders. The hubristic behavior, more than the superiority of resources and initial positions, often had terrible consequences for millions of people, for nations and regimes. What can we learn from this? How has similar hubris affected the domestic political life and policies of the US? How has it affected other nations? How has similar hubris affected our lives, our families, work and behavior?What is our practice with this?

Below is the concluding paragraph of an insightful review:

"The book concludes with a brief epilogue in which Mr. Horne notes that hubris is a social epidemic and not merely an illness infecting warlords or tyrants: “part of the human condition—deep seated, lingering, pervasive and potentially lethal.” The ancient Greeks, he reminds us, understood as we may not the “terrible penalties that befall those who release from Pandora’s Box the dormant bacillus of hubris.”

Here is a review which is critical of the book, though not of the theme: