There is a recurring theme in the history of thought — hubris is the central sin and humility is the central virtue.
Ancient mythology sees this spring up continuously. Ancient Greek mythology presents us with prideful individuals who fell from a high place because they pretended to be gods thinking too highly of themselves. Our own Adam and Eve story tells us of their fall, wanting to be gods when they were only human.
Socrates was the wisest man in Athens, but it wasn’t on account of how much he knew. He knew very little, but he was the only one aware of how little he knew. Philosophy begins with a note of humility.
Socrates encountered poets claiming to bring about beauty, who couldn’t even tell him what beauty is. He encountered politicians wanting to bring about goodness for their land, and couldn’t even tell him what goodness is. He encountered scientists and engineers, who did know many things Socrates didn’t, but this led to their arrogance in other matters, causing them to claim to know many more things that they did not.
Religion, if it is good religion, is the same. It is for this reason that when the immoral tax collector prayed next to the Pharisee, the Pharisee thanked God for the Pharisee’s own virtue, while the tax collector pleaded for forgiveness, only to have Christ pronounce the tax collector virtuous and the Pharisee wicked. We fall from goodness by pride and return by humility.
Science works in this way. The scientific method is little more than an attempt to disprove the scientist’s own thoughts. To practice science properly is to never let go of the notion that your lifelong work could very well be wrong — the most intellectual form of the Sword of Damocles I’ve heard of.
I wish to submit that the central sin in politics is pride, and the central virtue is humility. Telling people that you know what’s best for their lives is bad politics. Good politics is assuming as little authority as possible, mainly out of fear that you could have it wrong.
I had the excitement of running as a candidate in the Canadian election recently. I shared the platform with individuals who knew nothing about our tax code but promised to make significant changes to it. This was a recipe for disaster.
I stood next to and debated people adamant that we transition our economy away from fossil fuels. Economic shifts within an industry, for example, the shift from VHS to DVD to streaming, requires an immense knowledge of microeconomics. The politicians can’t properly identify whether or not carbon is an elastic or inelastic good, and yet they wish to wax on, ineloquently, about how carbon taxes will diminish carbon usage.
These people envision themselves the saviors of the impoverished, with economically destructive, poverty-creating, policies. Their economic nescience coupled with their arrogance is problematic. Arrogant people aren’t a problem. Ignorant people aren’t a problem. Arrogant ignorant people are a major problem who harm the very things they wish to help.
Foolish people, believing themselves to be wise, have always been destructive. Much more so in politics. Humility, the notion that we don’t know all the proper solutions, is the best place to start.