Before The Cock Crows Twice

Quilly walked into my home office late last evening (2 April 2010) to find me, well, morose. Not surprisingly, she wondered what was going on. After all, didn’t I just commit this spritely little punfest to the blogosphere? What (this reflects the type of person she is) did she do wrong?

The answer reflects on something fundamental in my own person. For whatever that may be worth. For I was contemplating what I had, and have, done wrong.

Earlier that evening, I and my colleagues on a work project received a message from the person who is negotiating a contract for our group. Those negotiations have dragged on for months. They are, at last, nearing completion – but in announcing that near-completion, the negotiator took the opportunity to unload on us for our ignorant and arrogant behaviors during this interval. Behaviors that adversely affected the willingness of the negotiator to fight for our preferred version of the contract.

And he was exactly right to do so. I am ashamed.

In case you haven’t heard, people in Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba’s profession can be exceptionally gifted in the areas of their expertise. And exceptionally incompetent in areas outside of it. Including the entire domain of life generally headed “human interactions”.

The trouble is, I think, people who show competence in some domain of life actually come to believe in that competence, and project that belief at full volume. In fact, these days, much of what passes for education in these Untied States actively pushes a person to assert claims of competence whenever remotely possible, all in the name of “self-esteem”. Many churches do the same.

Sorry. I think this is all wrong.

‘Pride’ is counted among the deadly sins in Christianity and Judaism, and, for all I know, in Islam, Buddhism, Shinto, and the Lower Slobbovian Mukluk Credos. It is, I reckon, so counted for a very good reason.

Perhaps you have cured cancer, or engineered a moon landing, or solved the energy crisis, or won somebody’s World Series. Many, perhaps all, of these things do a heap of good for people.

BUT – the minute you act as if you’ve actually done any of these things, you undo, at a stroke, all the good you’ve accomplished. Leaving, in its place, grumbling resentments. Or worse.

From such resentments arise barricades. Guillotines. Guantanamos.

9-11s.

Yes. That means, in my way of thinking, that 9-11, all that led up to it, and all that has followed from it, is the fault of every American. Any of you who have been following my writings over the past few years will recognize that I have been saying this consistently – though I’ve not been moved to spell out the reasons why before, at least not in this way.

Every prideful, arrogant, uppity gesture by Americans, in any situation whatever, justifies the World Trade Center / Pentagon bombings in the eyes of those who have been, and continue to be, on the receiving end of those gestures. Because every such gesture attacks the fundamental humanity of those to whom they are directed. Indeed, each one constitutes a rejection, a denial. Before the cock crows twice …

You might ask Tiger Woods which is playing the greater role in his present life and future prospects right now: the record of his unprecedented accomplishments on the golf course, or the record of his dismissive treatment of family, friends, and the press.

When I hear the various pundits, proselytizers, and profiteers telling people how good they are, I cringe. Because, to borrow a phrase from Frank Herbert’s Dune, it offends my sense of rightness.

I do not feel “good”. Quite the opposite. How I feel is that, at the foundation of my being, through and through from top to bottom …

I suck.

It takes all my energy, each and every day, to conduct myself in a manner that does not suck, knowing full well that the moment I let down my guard – hell, at some moments despite not letting down my guard – I will do something utterly sucky.

And that something will undo, at a stroke, any and all good I might have been able to accomplish. I will have to start all over again, from zero.

I have no justification for pride. None. Ever. Anything I do well could have been done better yet (that we are not teaching this essential fact to our young people, a fact on which any business that wishes to survive in the current economic climate will insist, is, I think, a crime against humanity). And a misplaced word can trash everything.

Evangelical experiences offer a relief from this cycle, by encouraging you to hand off guilt, and even responsibility, over your sucky moments to some more or less tangible higher authority.

They terrify me.

Precisely because they do work – for awhile. The Nuremberg Rallies of the 1930s were evangelical experiences. Historians can tell you, at great length, what happened to the persons who promoted them, and to the nation that absorbed them. The one who surrenders the captaincy of the rowboat of his own faults could wind up an ecstatic cabin boy on an ocean liner that is careening onto a reef.

I think that truly successful people are successful because they are aware, not of the good of which they’re capable, but of the bad. People who have, despite that awareness, the strength to carry on regardless, to accept the periodic returns to ground zero and, whenever necessary, rebuild. People who have, because of that awareness, the wisdom to conduct themselves, in the good times, with humility and without self-promotion or self-aggrandizement.

A nation of people who conduct themselves in such a manner would probably have fewer chest-bumping exhibitions at basketball games. And less need for rings of security personnel at courtside during those games.

A nation of people who conduct themselves in such a manner would probably have many fewer billionaires. And many fewer citizens with no reliable access to health care.

A nation of people who conduct themselves in such a manner might still have a World Trade Center.

23 thoughts on “Before The Cock Crows Twice

  1. hunh?
    I feel exactly the opposite.
    There is absolutely no excuse for 9/11 to have happened. The people who did it are wicked and were wicked in their lives before this. The world has come to a point whereby we can;t do things like this anymore.
    People need to be free to make decisions for themselves so they can grow.
    The wicked who did the 9/11 don;t want women to go to school and keep them as breeding cows. How is this good? How can anyone say they justify killing people in the US?
    They kill souls everyday. Their own people.
    I think we are all imperfect and we strive to get better so everything in this world gets better.
    You are not a good Mom or Dad but you try harder to be one.
    You are not a good artist but you work to become one
    You are not a good governemnt but you strive to raise people to vote for, who will be
    You are a drug addict alcoholic prostitute but you try to get better.
    Every day is a learning experience and you learn till you die.
    But some try harder to learn so they are better and there is no denying it.
    The thing about life is that you are never a failure at anything until you stop trying.
    If there is nothing to believe in or hope for or try to achieve then there is nothing to live for. You exist for the sake of existing and make allowances for your misfortunes and this is giving up.This is the only time you can say you suck. Effort never sucks.
    I love to see success. I love watching ice skaters perform and show people what they worked for. Watch the Paralympics and tell me if this isn’t success and something to be proud of.
    I love ballerinas for the same thing
    When some one works hard and achieves something as a result, this is something to be proud of. When they use law to cheat people by the stroke of a pen, this is a bad thing and nothing to be proud of. Cheating is cheating is cheating even if you do it well. LOL
    Oh well. 🙂

    • Who are we to assume what is right for another culture? When we start doing things like that we go back to the days in which we kill off whole cultures because they don’t meet our criteria for “civilization”. When the women of that culture stand up for themselves and say no more then it is time to offer support, but until then, we should stay out of it.
      I think that when we become so arrogant in our thoughts and deeds that we cannot see the truth of a situation that is when we err on the side of misjudgment. Amoeba is absolutely correct in his supposition that when we start only seeing the good and not the bad that we do that we miss a fundamental lesson as well as unlearn a few of the lessons that have been taught throughout history.
      Though I disagree that pride is a bad thing. Too much pride can be but, having some pride is what makes people strive for that next hurdle. It makes us all stand up and take action and responsibility, not only for ourselves but the situation as well.
      As far as your comment “They kill souls everyday. Their own people.” Do we not also do the same thing? The one difference that I can see though is that we have a bigger tendency to kill ourselves as well as one another.
      but hey, it’s only my opinion!

    • I agree, milady, that there’s no excuse for 9-11 to have happened. After all, those who committed this crime claim(ed) to adhere to Islam, which has similar strictures against overweening pride. But I argue that there’s equally no excuse for us to keep offering provocations. A French lady once became associated with a crack about French peasantry averting starvation by gorging on dessert. It’s worth meditating on the amount of time this fine lady got to keep her head on her shoulders.

      Or how long the kings of Israel, in Isaiah’s time, or Judah in Jeremiah’s, got to keep theirs. Their failures were as much about ignoring their people, to the point that their armies were too weakened by disaffection to keep out the invading Assyrians and NeoBabylonians, as about ignoring Jahweh. The two amount to the same thing anyway.

      The best line I ever heard about failure was the aphorism about baseball. “If, as a batter, you consistently fail 70% of the time, you’ll wind up in the Hall of Fame.” Sooner of later, each of us will fail, each of us will discover our flaws, our limits. Let it be sooner, and teach the lesson, “What will you do about it?”

  2. It is quite unpopular to express this idea but I believe you are right.

    We have been called “arrogant Americans” by many people for our “holier than thou, I’m better than you” attitudes around the world for many years.

    We are quick to help other nations and peoples but while doing it we make them feel inferior and ignorant.

    • Nessa, I gave up on “popular” decades ago. Giving up on “right” took longer, but that’s happened too, begging your pardon. Now, all I can do is tell people what I see, and people will do with that as they choose.

      The British were calling its American colonists “bumptious” starting, oh, about 30 seconds after the Mayflower sailed from Plymouth. In the 1950s, the most common adjective used to describe Americans was “Ugly”. By 2003, the citizens of even the friendliest nations to the US were so frickin’ sick and tired of American attitudes that they were posting signs and wearing T-shirts demanding that We keep Our cracks to ourselves – preferably, back on our own shores.

      Edward Gibbon (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) consistently pointed to the self-centeredness of Roman citizens as a prime reason for the fall of Rome. I wonder how many of us know anything at all about Rome …?

  3. I’m having a hard time swallowing that all of us (Americans) should feel the responsibility of a group of terrorists. Perhaps I’m being obtuse and am missing the whole point of your thoughts, but to be grouped this way is insulting.

    • Jeff, if you were sitting at a rich man’s gates and every day he drove past and took something more that belonged to you, sooner or later, wouldn’t you toss a rock at his car?

        • Jeff, have you ever sat through a session of OUR government? I have. You wish to know why it’s in the state it’s in?

          1. We the People refuse to elect competent people – because competent people would tell us the truth, and We consistently reject those people in favor of those who pander to Our fantasies.

          2. Once elected, the people of Our government are incapable of acting rationally, because

          a. We the People bombard them with programs that We will have, if Our representatives have any hope of competing at the next election;

          b. We the People will refuse to sign off on any program to pay for those new programs (and most of the old ones), and Our represetatives will go along with this if they are to have any hope of competing at the next election.

          It’s no wonder that Our Elected Representatives become cynical, disillusioned, corrupt. We the People will have it no other way.

  4. I think that ‘they’ are the arrogant, holier than thou’ ones who think they have the right or holy order to destroy America. What Americans have done in, to, and for this world has not beee what could legitimately cause such hatred for us. The terrorists are crazy. Brainwashed crazy. And getting worse.

    What should America do to appease them? Destroy everything we have ever done until be are in the stone ages again?

    No. We are a good people, basically and we owe no one else anything. They can just take us or leave us alone.

    • Nessa — I agree. Americans are hated the world around. There has to be a reason beyond “they’re all crazy.”

      America has done much good in the world — in the past — but now the helping has gone by the wayside and become interference, We have no right to change other people’s cultures to make them look like ours.

    • Wray, terrorism is an extreme response. It is proper to ask the question, “what kinds of provocations elicit extreme responses?” We have (in theory) history to tell us what sorts of situations, in the past, have engendered terrorism. We have (in theory) logical minds that will allow us to use the data from history to identify, and either avoid or confront, circumstances likely to beget terrorism.

      Samuel Adams was a terrorist, bred by the extreme circumstances of British economic gouging of the American colonies.

      The first suicide bombers in the Middle East were, some say (the point is argued), Jewish, part of the post-WWII effort to wrest, against very large odds, what is now Israel from Arab control.

      Konrad Lorenz, in his book On Aggression (ca. 1950), wrote of “militant enthusiasm”, a feature of social animal species (including us) that unites social groupings against a perceived threat. He wrote about this “militant enthusiasm” in large part to say “Look. We do this. We’ve described it now, so you have no excuse for not knowing about it. Learn this, so that what happened to us (Lorenz was Austrian, and served as a field surgeon in the Wehrmacht) does not happen to you.”

  5. First, Amoeba, I’m proud you’re a friend. It does take faith to be impious publicly and I appreciate your writing this.

    Not so much a disagreement as a different attitude: I think being morose over your suckiness is as much a product of pride as being arrogant about accomplishments. I also suck. I expect to suck. I expect my neighbors, my countryfolk and our enemies to suck. I’m as sucky as anyone, but I’m not (usually) morose about it because I’m not surprised at it. Plus, I write in the passive voice too much.

    Wray, I hope “‘they’ are the arrogant… ones” was written with intentional irony.

    • Doug, many thanks, and I’m grateful to have you as a friend.

      You’re also not the first one to point out the perverse pride of wallowing in one’s failures. It’s as much a form of “entitlement” as the one practiced by Bill Clinton and Tiger Woods. My own soul prefers to face that risk over that of arrogant steamrollering of people. Other people will likely fare better viewing the world with different glasses. None of us, however, gets to do “our own thing” heedlessly, for our actions have consequences, and those consequences are likely to bite us on Murphy time – when we’re least wary of them, and they’re most likely to do major damage.

  6. Do I see myself as good? Sometimes. But when others say that I am, I am instantly shamed and filled with the need to point out that I am NOT good.

    Having just visited NYC, I can see that the WTC towers were an easy target for hatred of prideful consumption — a much easier target than Times Square, which is certainly a beacon of conspicuous and prideful consumption, along with much that is characterized as American to the world at large.
    However, I do not see that as justification for the hijacking of planes and murder of thousands. Those people chose to hate and to carry out acts of hatred against fellow citizens of this earth.

    Yes, you referred to more than just September 11, 2001, but since that was a hot-button, I addressed it specifically, especially since the same group responsible for that horrendous massacre was also responsible for other terrorism events leading up to that day.

    Doesn’t all of the trouble boil down to a person seeing himself or herself as better than another?

    Did the hijackers believe they were better than the people working in those towers? Do Americans (in general) think their way is best?

    While there are things we have no control over (where you are born, for instance), we are each responsible for our attitudes and actions. When a person, or group of people, intervenes in someone else’s business, it affects more than just those 2 people or peoples. Whether it is a matter of pride, misunderstanding, compassion, greed, love, or hatred, everyone is affected.
    That didn’t stop Jesus from healing the sick and lame, talking with and eating with social pariahs, shaming the self-righteous, and showing respect to women.

    • Karen — you said, When a person, or group of people, intervenes in someone else’s business, it affects more than just those 2 people or peoples. And that is PRECISELY the issue. The US is all over the globe insisting that things be done OUR way. America used to help, but for the last 30 years at least, they have been viewed by most of the world as a bully.

      Bullies are usually taken down by extreme measures.

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