Ancient Greeks considered hubris (foolish pride or dangerous overconfidence) a character flaw that could provoke the wrath of the gods. Is hubris still with us in the 21st century and are the gods of the present moment still jealous of our prideful behavior? Seen any strutting dingbats around lately? If so, tend to your crops, the locusts are coming.
American overconfidence is the result of the inability to discern reality from so-called “American greatness.” Even our current president  recognizes the importance of being able to see things as they really are. “Anyone who cannot name our enemy is not fit to lead this country, anyone who cannot condemn the hatred, oppression and violence of radical Islam lacks the moral clarity to serve as our president.” But is “radical Islam” really the enemy?
Certainly, the key phrase in the president’s remarks quoted above is “moral clarity.” One way to define moral clarity is the ability to distinguish between good and evil and the courage to take action based on those distinctions. Unfortunately, Americans have proven themselves inept at being able to tell the difference between moral clarity and rational judgment.
“’Moral clarity’ was literally forged in war. The phrase first became popular in the early 1950s, soon after the onset of the Cold War, then slightly during the 1960s and 1970s. It would revive during the 1980s—as Ronald Reagan preached unrelenting struggle against the ‘evil empire’ of the Soviet Union—and reach unprecedented heights in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.”
Many of us might feel that a braggart has an inferiority complex. Hence, parading his moral superiority has our American Icarus flying too close to the sun and his wings fanning mostly hot air are bound to lose their lift.
Our political leader’s use of “moral clarity” often sounds like a preface to projection on the other. We can even find examples of such self-righteousness in American fictional characters. The maniacal Captain Ahab in Melville’s Moby Dick pursued the white whale as the evil enemy. “With such lessons in mind, it’s hard to read the recent Foreign Affairs essay by Mike Pompeo [current U. S. Secretary of State]—in which he presses for regime change in Iran and worshipfully references ‘the power of moral clarity’—without suppressing a certain shiver.”
Let’s take this examination of hubris and the American ego a little deeper.
Insight # 86: The only simple task to be accomplished is to let go of the identification with the ego as one’s real self. –David Hawkins
- “Ego,” in this blog and also in the print version The ABC’s of Simple Reality: The Encyclopedia of Self-Transformation, Vol I (2018), by Roy Charles Henry, pages 146-154.
- Guan, Frank. “Sharp Relief.” The New York Times Magazine. January 6, 2019, pages 12-13.