I suppose it is the arrogance that offends me most. Not the stupidity. An individual can be correct and be arrogant and thus offensive. I am usually willing to forgive stupidity because such foolishness comes to me so easily. But stupidity, at least on a case by case basis, can be cured. Arrogance, not so much. It is the arrogant who kill other people on the road as often as themselves, who ruin other peoples lives with politics without care, and who assume knowledge they do not have to crush the creativity of others. And that’s just for starters. The more I think about it, the more instances of arrogance reveal themselves as the crux of most of the bad situations in life.
Having been arrogant myself on many occasions that I’m aware of, and certainly many more that I’m still blind to, I have an inkling about what is involved. Most often there is pride. The defense of oneself is often automatic and not wanting to be wrong is frequently tied to a sense of responsibility for being right. Usually there is some sense of righteousness. This can be the pride again, but often carried to the extreme of believing others to be necessarily wrong. There is definitely some aspect of schizophrenia. Driving two tons of metal down a road at seventy miles an hour amidst dozens of others doing the same, without an understanding of the basic laws of physics, is a perfect example of this self-separation from reality. Frequently it involves possessiveness. Emotional attachment or avarice can make holding on to something too costly. There is always some element of ignorance. If you were smarter to begin with you wouldn’t be arrogant about it. Almost always it involves some inherent weakness. This refers back to being protective. Sometimes this is not even about ourselves, but about those we love.
You have to take a look at the individual being arrogant, if you can stand it. You can pretty quickly size up the situation. This individual has likely spilled their coffee on their pants in a public place, just as you have. If not, it would only be due to their having avoided the pleasure of the cup of coffee. Ascetics are almost always arrogant to an extreme. It comes with the territory—renouncing worldly pleasure is frequently the mission of those who have had too little to begin with. I can remember when I was younger telling people I did not like ice cream, as a means of avoiding the expense. It was awhile before I realized that the real cost was to myself and that the money saved was worthless by comparison.
Which brings me to the actual cause for this rant. Politicians. As a group, they are the worst examples of arrogance and typically do the most harm, pound for pound. It is politicians, especially, that shadow our age. They believe in government and that their governance should encompass all. They believe they are smarter than their constituents. If not, they are frauds as well. They think they can solve problems they have almost no clue about. They accumulate wealth and power as a means to an end without care for the consequence. They excuse themselves for their faults by a ready relativism—If they don’t do it, someone else would. Why not them? Yet, it is actually rare to find a politician who has shown themselves capable of doing anything except for the manipulation of others—which is probably related to the frequency of politicians being lawyers. They pride themselves on that. You can actually see this manipulation in their eyes as they give a speech to their followers.
It is easy to tag the blatant arrogance of a Mao, or a Stalin, or a Hitler. What is too often overlooked is the insidiousness of the mundane politician—the one we ourselves elected to office. We vote, and then leave them to their own devices. We walk away. And they know this. They depend upon it. Yet their passage of a particular law can kills thousands, or allow more thousands to die. In a career they can kill millions. Take drug laws, for an instance: dictating what drugs we may take and what drugs are outlawed. Or tax laws: impoverishing millions, inhibiting the creative pursuit of millions, empowering the worse impulses of millions. Or simply enabling evil through the misconstruing of the law. Or taking bribes to support vested interests. In a career of well-oiled incumbency an average politician can do incalculable harm to generations, all the while congratulating themselves on their good governance. And again, we have encouraged this by our votes. And what is the sheer arrogance of that—to have voted for someone we know is evil, or not to have voted at all, when there was an alternative?
There is some comparison to be made then between politicians and military officers—that is especially true of those who have never served in combat. The wielding of such power over other men’s lives is almost always corrupting. Whether it is French generals sending young men into battle against machine guns and gas at the Somme, or Pickett charging his soldiers into the center of the maelstrom at Gettysburg, how can they be forgiven for their arrogance? You want there to be a God simply for the sake of a just retribution. And the generals too often give themselves to the politicians as a means of advancement.
Consider, if you will, the arrogance of the scientist who plays with gene editing—thus altering the life of another human being from the very womb. And what passes for the modern journalist can easily fall into this conversation as well. To write about things one knows nothing about is a hubris beyond measure. To make a living from the pain of others, and to report lies when the truth is evident but inconvenient, is immoral. And the politician always depends on such reporters as a means to their own ends. This is not the same arrogance, for another instance, as doctors who pretend to care but only practice, because even the incompetent doctor, guided by accepted procedure, does in fact attempt a cure. Nor is the politician’s evil of the same caliber as the businessman who makes his profit without concern for how his product was made or whence it is used. At least most business is done at the command and wish of the buyer. You and I. But it is the conceit of the politician—the rulers of our age, whose vanity has no mirror, and whose smugness goes unchecked—who will deign to determine what people should have and have not. It is their arrogance that has spoiled the progress of humanity over and again, as much as any plague. They are the haughty but banal horsemen of our apocalypse.