Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 615, April 17, 2011

"The state is a dead man walking"

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Koros to Hubris to Ate to Nemesis
by Bob Wallace

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"The fear of humiliation appears to be one of the most powerful motivators in individual and collective human behavior."
-- Donald Klein

There is nothing more pitiless and perceptive than mythology. It's not taught in schools or the churches or by parents. Too bad.

The ancient Greeks outlined this sequence: Koros to Hubris to Ate to Nemesis. They argued about what exactly each word meant. Scholars still argue today.

I've heard Koros described as a kind of greed. I've heard it described as what happens to a person of unsound mind when they gain great wealth and power (meaning, more than anything else, political power).

Examples (which are another name for stories) work best. I consider George Bush, who started two unnecessary wars, to be of unsound mind. An ex-alcoholic who was never treated for it (which makes him a dry drunk), who is apparently brain-damaged by that alcoholism, with rumors of heavy cocaine use, who never had a legitimate private-sector job in his life, who was (is?) on psychiatric medication... and he made it to President.

To use our last three Presidents (Obama, Bush and Clinton), they are perfect examples of what Friedrich Hayek meant when he wrote his famous article, "Why the Worst Get on Top." It's also why the Founding Fathers were opposed to the leftist delusion of "democracy" -- again, the worst get on top.

A man or woman, a weakling of unsound character, who gains great wealth and political power, then next suffers from Hubris. Hubris is arrogance, moral blindness, wanton violence, which creates in the sufferer the ability to cruelly and brutally humiliate someone without any qualms. They almost always rationalize what they do as a good thing, which is why there exists the observation (which both Jesus and Aesop noticed) that all tyrants call themselves benefactors.

I am reminded of the sociologist C. Wright Mills when he wrote about what he called "crackpot realists" -- fools who are convinced they know what they are doing but don't, and instead destroy in their attempts to save. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld (and currently Van Jones) are fine specimens of that.

Seeing wrong as right is Ate -- madness. When a politician starts unnecessary wars, in which they become even richer (again, the greed of Koros), and in which tens of thousands of innocent people are killed and many more impoverished, and the instigators claim they had the "time of their lives" (as both Bush and Clinton said), that is Ate.

Bush was far more arrogant than Clinton or Obama (he was, after all, referred to as Smirk). The more arrogance one shows, the more it is covering up feelings of humiliation. As the psychiatrist James Gilligan wrote, "The most dangerous men in the world are the ones who are afraid they are wimps."

And now we come to Nemesis. Nemesis is the goddess of fate and retribution. You can use many other names: revenge, vengeance, retaliation, payback... perhaps even justice. (As an aside, the Greeks called justice Dike, and it too was the result of Hubris.)

In a nutshell, when you brutally and cruelly humiliate people, and don't even know you're doing it, and instead see it as something good and necessary, you're going to be pretty damned surprised when the people you are oppressing and exploiting and killing rise up and kill you back. You'll be outraged and consider it ingratitude; they'll consider it justice.

When unsound people (meaning about 98% of all politicians) get political power, they always seek to expand it. This is why the State throughout history has always expanded its power, always at the expense of people and society.

There have been quite a few people throughout history who have been able to handle political power. Unfortunately, Clinton, Bush and now Obama don't belong to that admirable group. Those who consciously seek political power almost never can handle it. As Lord Acton wrote, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." I prefer the saying, "Power intoxicates, and immunity corrupts." I also like the saying, "Power is the horse that evil rides."

Or as Dostoevsky put it in The House of the Dead, "Tyranny... finally develops into a disease. The habit can... coarsen the very best man to the level of a beast. Blood and power intoxicate... the return to human dignity, to repentance, to regeneration, becomes almost impossible."


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