More on Hubris

03 Dec 18 23:06 EST

My left hook just went viral.

This site dwells in obscurity and just as well because if some of the people I know found it, things could go south. It’s rather cathartic to write and think about the problems I face but it could come as a consequence. That might be paranoia but I’m not taking any chances. Don’t read this.

I’ve written about hubris before but within a very narrow frame of reference - unfortunately I see it all over the place. Maybe it’s not really there. Who knows? Maybe I’m projecting my own hubris onto others. Who knows? Maybe it’s there but doesn’t have the weight that I think it carries. Who knows? I am willing to entertain those thoughts and at least be honest with myself.

First off, let’s talk about what hubris really is. The modern definition (according to the Googletubes) is excessive pride or self-confidence, with other seemingly acceptable definitions being assertions that one can do something or knows something when one doesn’t and my favorite advanced arrogance. It must have been important because the Greeks had a word for it and used it as a device of art and religion but also of law. It’s thought that prostitution was considered a form of hubris by the ancient Greeks. Christians refer to hubris as the sense of false pride that puts one into a position to defy God (2 Cor 10:12, James 3:1, Phil 2:3). C.S. Lewis wrote that pride was the “utmost evil”. All this assuming you’re willing to accept my “close-enough” synonym of pride to hubris. Hubris may be a manifestation of pride - I’m willing to accept that.

The hubris I see usually comes via the digital world, from politicians, business leaders, academics, and from that unknown jerk in line next to you at the grocery store flirting with the cute checkout girl by espousing his questionable culinary skills. No, frat boy, sous vide is not something you “make just like at the Olive Garden”. That coming from the politicians, academics, et. Al. is just noise at this point. Dealing with people you know, or at least have some dotted line to, is problematic and that typically happens in the digital world.

There’s even a subset of the digital world that I’ll call close-proximity. These are people in which you may know who they are and maybe even have met, but don’t know any intimate details. Examples of this include friends of friends of Facebook friends pushing their political views. The guy on Twitter that saw you present at a local meetup heckling you well after the fact. Coworkers in other business units, in other states making assumptions over Slack. Github comments judging design decisions without understanding the whole system. I could go on.

Full disclosure: I’ve been guilty of all of this. Not in the same ways but guilty nonetheless. I’ve made assumptions, uttered things under my breath about someone’s cognitive capability, told others about the stupid things so-and-so has done. I have felt guilty about it, and I should. Sometimes I catch myself doing it, or about to do it, and really hate myself. Like the guy that has quit cigarettes 2,982 times and hates himself for it.

When I see others doing it, it really bothers me. That in and of itself may be a form of hubris, but I think it’s because it’s revealing the worst things about myself to my face.

I recently had this exchange at work over Slack.

Me: [makes admittedly generalized statement about needing X, but with very good reason]

Person 1: [paraphrase] X is unnecessary almost all of the time

Person 2, a high ranking exec: [paraphrase] sometimes people have a hammer and are looking for a nail

Persons 1 and 2 know no details surrounding the history of the system in which X would be used, know no technical details surrounding that system in general, know no risks inherent to that system. The cherry on top is that now my name is attached to what is seen as a bad decision. Really, forcibly attached by two folks who did not ask questions or for clarity in which X would be of benefit. And this is not to say that I didn’t attempt to make a case, because I did.

Assumptions made, opinions casted.

I’ve never met Persons 1 or 2 in real life. Person 1 isn’t even in my business unit. Person 2 could alter my career trajectory on a whim.

The worst of all is that I know I’ve done this in the past as well. And it’s been a struggle to overcome. Like I said, I still do it but I’m much more aware of it. There’s something strange about humans and their insistence on doing this.

Why must pride and hubris be exhibited in such a way? And why does this seem to manifest the most and in the harshest most arrogant way possible in the digital world? Not that my exchange above is considerably harsh - it isn’t really at all - but hubris is on full display there. I’m still working on figuring this out. I don’t have the answers.