#amthinking: Contemplations on the Sin of Hubris

hubrisI have been considering the concept of “hubris” lately. It is a somewhat rare word, one we don’t hear too often, but it is one we may be hearing more of in the coming years. It is also a word with a unique, multilayered meaning that no other word quite embodies.

Hubris is an extreme form of pride and is generally considered a sin in the world’s religions. The great Christian writer, C. S. Lewis discussed extreme pride in his book,  Mere Christianity. He states that pride is the “anti-God” state, the position in which the ego and the self are directly opposed to God: “Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

This is why hubris is such a fine quality for a literary super-villain, but a poor quality for a world leader. Yet many world leaders are gifted with a large capacity for it.

Quote from Wikipedia: Hubris (/ˈhjuːbrɪs/, also hybris, from ancient Greek ὕβρις) describes a personality quality of extreme or foolish pride or dangerous over-confidence. In its ancient Greek context, it typically describes behavior that defies the norms of behavior or challenges the gods, and which in turn brings about the downfall, or nemesis, of the perpetrator of hubris.

The way I see it: Hubris often indicates an unrealistic perception of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities. It is characterized by a lack of self-restraint, excessive vanity, and is a trait with moral and/or ethical implications. In some cases, it is so extreme that a lack of empathy and victim blaming frequently go hand-in-hand with hubris. Other people are less important, perhaps even disposable.

People possessed of hubris hear and see only that which supports their fantasy. They are deaf and blind to anything that runs counter to their unreality.

In Literature:

Paradise Lost: John Milton

FrankensteinMary Shelley

Things Fall ApartChinua Achebe

frankenstein (1)A defense mechanism against poor self-esteem, the person exhibits an inflated sense of superiority. Those possessed of hubris often refuse to accept that they are not better than the average person even when faced with proof of their folly.

Quote from Wikipedia: The proverb “pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (from the biblical Book of Proverbs, 16:18) is thought to sum up the modern use of hubris. Hubris is also referred to as “pride that blinds.”

People possessed of hubris frequently make decisions that defy rational thinking. This is not a trait we wish to see in our world leaders, but as I say, it makes fine fodder for developing the character of a literary super-villain.

The ancient Greeks had a view of hubris slightly different from the modern view: Consider the following quote:

Definition of Hubris by Aristotle

Aristotle mentions Hubris in his book “Rhetoric”:

“Hubris consists in doing and saying things that cause shame to the victim…simply for the pleasure of it. Retaliation is not hubris, but revenge. … Young men and the rich are hubristic because they think they are better than other people.”

 


LiteraryDevices Editors. “Hubris” LiteraryDevices.net. 2013. http://literarydevices.net/hubris/ (accessed November 24, 2016).

Hubris. Author: Wikipedia contributors. Publisher: Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “#amthinking: Contemplations on the Sin of Hubris

  1. You might add ‘Ecce Homo’ by good ol’ Nietzsche to your list, in which he states ‘I am no man, I am dynamite’, apart from a shedload of other self-aggrandising stuff. It might be said that this wasn’t hubris, but the pronounced truth of a great philosopher, of course….

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