The State, Hubris and Obscenity

Column by Bob Wallce.

Exclusive to STR

Richard Weaver once pointed out that the original sense of the word “obscenity” meant something that “should be enacted off-stage, because it is unfit for public exhibition.”
He wrote, “they included intense suffering and humiliation, which the Greeks, with habitual perspicacity and humanity, banned from the theater.”
The Greek definition of obscenity also fits in with their definition of Hubris. For all practical purposes, they are the same thing.
Hubris is the goddess of “arrogance, moral blindness, insolence, wanton violence.”  It’s followed by Nemesis, the goddess of fate and retribution.
The original meaning of Hubris was to humiliate or shame someone.  The worst way to do it was in public. It was considered so offensive it was deemed obscene, which is why it was banned from the stage. True obscenity, then, is degrading, humiliating or shaming someone in public.
Shaming, humiliating and degrading someone, especially in public, is followed by revenge--which, in a word, is Nemesis.
The psychiatrist James Gilligan, who spent some 35 years interviewing inmates imprisoned for murder and brutal assaults, when he asked them why they committed their crimes, always heard the same answer: “He dissed me” or the prisoner’s wife, girlfriend, children, parents, friends.
One day he realized what he was hearing over and over was the story of Cain and Abel: feelings of humiliation followed by revenge. The shortest and most accurate definition of revenge I’ve heard is the attempt to replace shame with pride.
The Greeks not only considered Hubris the worst crime; they considered it the only crime, since it is the basis of all other crimes. At one time Christianity understood this: scholars placed Pride (another name for Hubris) ahead of all other sins and made it the only true crime, the mother and father of all others.
When it comes to those who run the State--corporations, “government” and banks--they can never seem to figure out that shaming, humiliating, abusing and exploiting other countries leads to blowback against the United States. That was what 9-11 was--revenge against the U.S. because of its 60 years of supporting oppressive regimes in the Middle East.  It wasn’t, as the terminally confused George Bush believed, because they were the Evil Ones attacking us for our goodness.
When it comes to history, there is only one story, always repeated: the attempt of the State to expand its power until it absorbs everything--and the people who have captured the State mostly do it because of their lust for money, but always operate under the guise of humanitarianism.  This expansion invariably means people suffering and being humiliated in public. Then, always, comes revenge.
In other words, the expansion of government always results in the expansion of obscenity--shaming, humiliating, abusing and exploiting people, both abroad and at home. Unfortunately, the “modern” minds of many do not understand common-sense concepts noticed thousands of years ago, in more cultures than one.
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Bob Wallace's picture
Columns on STR: 89


Mark Davis's picture

Wonderful insight and excellent point Bob. It makes me wonder why the Eastern peoples/philosophies that stress the importance of being humble seem to end up with the most tyrannical states and despots? Are humble people easier to exploit? I really don't know. Thanks for the inspiring article.

Paul's picture

Note the Eastern need to "save face". Same thing, really. And FDR got us into war by cutting off the oil supplies of the Japanese, which was a slap in the face, shaming them. At least, one could make that argument...