Thursday, October 12

Hubris

A couple of news items caught my eye last week, but I didn’t have a chance to post about them until now. Certainly, they’ve been eclipsed by other stories (like North Korea’s nukes), but that’s perhaps all the more reason to revisit them. Even when they appeared, they were small stories, not garnering much attention, but they are significant in that they highlight a sickness that has infested our government and our nation, and that sickness is something that the ancient Greeks called hubris (ύβρις).

Last Wednesday Bush signed the new homeland-security bill. Among other things, the bill also included provisions pertaining to our neighbors to the north and south: it allows Americans to import a 90-day supply of prescription drugs from Canada (thumbs up), while calling for $1.2 billion in fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border (thumbs down).

One important provision that was attached to the bill called for minimum qualifications for the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Congress was responding to the fact that in the aftermath of FEMA’s slow and poorly coordinated response to Hurricane Katrina, it was revealed that Michael Brown, Bush’s choice to lead FEMA, had no prior experience in emergency management. Congress is requiring “a demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management” and “not less than five years of executive leadership.”

Bush’s response was to issue a signing statement declaring his authority to bypass the provision and ignore the minimum qualifications set forth by Congress. His reason: the law “purports to limit the qualifications of the pool of persons from whom the president may select the appointee in a manner that rules out a large portion of those persons best qualified by experience and knowledge to fill the office.”

What a slap in the face to the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast who lost their homes and loved ones and whose suffering was made worse because of FEMA’s mishandling of the crisis. It’s as though Bush wants to reserve the right to hire someone who is inexperienced and incompetent. I guess he had no choice really. To accept that provision and the prerogative (and responsibility) of Congress to set minimum standards for so important a position would be a tacit concession that “Brownie” had no business serving as FEMA chief.

While Bush is trying to beat the law, Guantanamo guards are busy beating prisoners. In a two-page statement issued to the Inspector General at the Department of Defense by a high-ranking Marine Corps defense lawyer, it was revealed that guards at Guantanamo have been bragging about the beatings they routinely give prisoners. Stories about the abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo have surfaced before, and this recent development adds to the mounting pile of evidence pointing to the mistreatment of Guantanamo detainees.

On one hand we have the President of the United States defending his right to hand pick the head of FEMA without any restrictions imposed by Congress in spite of the fact that his last pick was an abysmal failure that caused enormous suffering among hundreds of thousands of Americans. On the other hand we have soldiers actually bragging about the inhumane manner with which the treat prisoners at Guantanamo. I’m not sure I know which one is worse. Each of these episodes demonstrates hubris and is a disgrace to our president and our nation.

Aristotle defined hubris as

doing or saying things that cause shame to the victim, not in order that anything may happen to you, nor because anything has happened to you, but merely for your own gratification. Hubris is not the requital of past injuries; this is revenge. As for the pleasure in hubris, its cause is this: men think that by ill-treating others they make their own superiority the greater (Rhetoric 1378b).
It’s easy to see how the above definition relates to the maltreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo. One might argue that the hubris lies in not so much the beatings, but the very act of holding men prisoner without any formal mechanism in place for adjudication.

In the case of Bush’s signing statement, the link to hubris is less clear, but it’s there. Bush believes not only that his presidential prerogative is greater than the power of Congress, but also feels that it’s more important than the victims of Katrina and, really, all Americans, whose safety depends on there never again being a Michael Brown in charge of FEMA.

6 Comments:

Blogger joey said...

Hubris is one of my favorite words. Bush is not one of my favorite people. I am amazed at the corruption of power.

5:40 PM  
Blogger Mr. Brian said...

That imbecile's brash ignorance continually makes me angrier and angrier. I wish November would come and go so we can commence with the impeachment.

12:22 AM  
Blogger jacob henry said...

Aman Yala, great breakdown. I'm glad some are paying attention and writing about the dangerous actions of our nation right now. The scary part is that hubris (or as former Chicago Mayor Washington once put it "overweening pride") is that it always seems to cause some sort of "tragedy," in the classic sense.

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After I read this post, I wrote a post for my own blog (www.xanga.com/ironknee) about Bush and these dictatorial "signing statements." Thanks for calling my attention to this. Ironically, this was the first blog post of yours that I've ever read.

9:55 PM  
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Anonymous coupon code fansedge said...

The prison guards routinely and arbitrarily beat and humiliate Palestinian detainees.

5:14 AM  

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