Hubris
March 26, 2008, 01:34 AM
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In Republican Rome, a conquering general returning home would be greeted with a triumphal procession, much like a 20th Century tickertape parade down Broadway. Reputedly, a slave would stand behind the hero and whisper in his ear deflating words about how the general was only mortal and shouldn't let this go to his head.

A papal coronation continues in the same vein. Wikipedia reports:

Traditionally, Papal coronations are thrice interrupted by a monk (some say barefoot) holding a pole to which is affixed a burning piece of flax. After it finishes burning, the monk announces, "Pater sancte, sic transit gloria mundi." This is meant to remind the Pope that, despite the grandeur of the ceremony and the long history of the office, he is a mortal man.
We need similar ceremonies here in America. For about a quarter of a century, America had been on a winning streak and we, the luckiest people in the history of the world, came to believe that our good fortune was our birthright; indeed, that it wasn't luck at all, it was our moral due, so ordinary rules of prudence didn't apply to us.

We see examples of hubris everywhere: Bush and Iraq, Americans treating their homes like lottery tickets, financial institutions thinking they can permanently outsmart the risk-reward tradeoff, Spitzer and his whores, Obama and his minister, the list goes on and on. We can get away with anything.

For a long-term perspective, there's alway Kipling's Gods of the Copybook Headings.