The kidnapping of the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, by barring his plane from entering European air space, and the revelation of universal spying by the organs of intelligence and control of the Northamerican government, (NSA), cause us to reflect on a cultural topic of grave consequences: arrogance. The above mentioned facts show the level of arrogance reached by the Europeans, under pressure from the United States. Arrogance is a central theme of Greek reflections, whence we come. In modern times it has been extensively studied by Luigi Zoja, an Italian thinker with a background in economics, sociology and analytical psychology, whose book, Historia da Arrogância, (Axis Mundi, São Paulo, 2000) was published in Brazil.
This dense book traces the history of arrogance in world cultures, especially in Western culture. The Greek thinkers, (philosophers and dramatists) noted that rationality, as liberated from mythology, was inhabited by a demon that would lead to unbounded knowledge and desire, in an endless process. That energy tends to destroy all limits and ends up as arrogance, the true sin that the gods punished harshly. The excess in any field was called hubris, and Nemesis was the divine principle that punished arrogance.
The imperative of old Greece was meden agan: «nothing to excess». Thucydides would have Pericles, the genial politician from Athens, say: «we love beauty but with frugality, we use wealth for active projects, without useless ostentation; poverty shames no one, but it is shameful not to do everything possible to overcome it». The Greeks looked for the just measure in everything.
Oriental ethics, Buddhist and Hindu, preach the imposition of límits on desire. The Tao Te King already said: «there is no greater disgrace than not knowing how to be content» (cap.46); and «it would have been better to stop before the glass overflowed» (cap.9).
The hubris-excess-arrogance is the major vice of power, be it personal, of a group, or of an empire. Today that arrogance is embodied in the Northamerican empire, that subjugates all, and in the ideal of unlimited growth, that underlies our culture and political economics.
Excess-arrogance has presently reached its peak in two fronts: in unlimited vigilance, that consists of the capacity of an imperial power to control everyone, by sophisticated cybernetic technology, violating the rights of sovereignty of a country and the unalienable right to personal privacy. It is a sign of weakness and fear, that an empire can no longer convince by its arguments, or attract by its ideals. So it uses direct violence, lies, disrespecting rights and statutes internationally consecrated. According to the great cultural historians, Toynbee and Burckhard, these are the unequivocal signs of the unrestrained decadence of empires. But they cause unimaginable destruction as they decline.
The second front of the hubris-excess resides in the dream of unlimited growth through the merciless exploitation of natural goods and services. The West created and exported to the whole world this type of growth, measured by the quantity of material goods (GNP). It breaks with the logic of nature, that always self regulates, maintaining the interdependence of all with all. Thus a tree does not grow endlessly to the sky, and in the same way, the human being knows its physical and psychological limits. But this development causes humans to impose their arrogant process on nature: thus consuming until they sicken, while simultaneously seeking total health and biological immortality. As the limits of the Earth are being felt, because it is a small and sick planet, humans employ new technologies to force the Earth to produce even more. She defends herself through global warming, with its extreme events.
Soja correctly says: «growth without end is nothing more than an ingenuous metaphor for immortality» (p.11). Samuel P. Huntington, in his controversial book, Clash of Civilizations, (El choque de civilizaciones, Paidos 1998) affirmed that Western arrogance constitutes «the most dangerous force for instability and possible global conflict in a world of multiple civilizations» (p.397). The surpassing of all limits is aggravated by the lack of sensible and cordial reason. Through it, we emotionally read the data, listen to the messages of nature. and perceive the humane of human history, dramatic and hope-filled.
The acceptance of limits makes us humble and connects us to all beings. The Northamerican empire, through the very logic of dominating arrogance, distances itself from everyone, creating distrust, rather than friendship and admiration.
I end with a story by Leo Tolstoi, in the style of João Cabral de Mello Neto: How much land does a man need? A man made a pact with the devil: he would receive all the land he could walk on foot. He began to walk, day and night, without stopping, from valley to valley, from mountain to mountain, until he fell dead from exhaustion. Tolstoi comments: had he known his limits, he would have known that he only needed a few meters; he would not need more than that, to be buried.
To be admired, the United States would not need more than its own territory and its own people. They would not need to distrust everyone, or always to be prying into the lives of all the world
Free translation from the Spanish by
Servicios Koinonia, http://www.servicioskoinonia.org.
Done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU.