Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Of Prometheus, Frankenstein, and Chris Christie

The full title of Mary Shelley's famous horror novel is Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus. This is quite appropriate, considering that in Greek mythology Prometheus's hubris in daring to teaching the secret of fire to mankind angers the gods who subsequently punishes him by chaining him to a rock and having an eagle tear his liver out. Similarly, in Shelley's work, the monster which Frankenstein created with arrogant hopes that he'd be worshiped by it ends up being a bane to the scientist by murdering his loved ones. Yet this sort of hubris is not limited to literature but can be seen in the latest political news.

An example of hubris is the Dunning-Kruger effect makes us unable to realize what we don't know. This obviously leads to hubris in many cases as people have confidence when one isn't warranted. An obvious case of this occurred in the past week as the so-called "Bridgegate" scandal broke in the state of New Jersey. Despite various prior denials, definite evidence had emerged that high-level aides and appointees of Governor Chris Christie had been involved in intentionally shutting down the George Washington Bridge between Fort Lee, New Jersey and New York City because the mayor of the former had refused to endorse Christie in last year's gubernatorial election. As a result traffic jams occurred for several days while it was even alleged that an elderly woman had died due to the ambulance being delayed in reaching her.

While it is correct to give Governor Christie the benefit of the doubt as to whether he himself personally ordered the bridge shutdown, the news is nonetheless troubling. For the question arises, how could the good Governor have remained unaware for so long about an action that was done by his deputy chief of staff and press secretary with officials in the Port Authority personally appointed by him? In addition why would his political staff risk themselves by doing such a politically and professionally dangerous actions without Christie's command?

In addition, it is clear from previous statements by the Governor that he was under the spell of the Dunning-Kruger Effect considering he did not know that he did not know what his staff was planning. Yet this is but one example of the New Jerseyan's hubris. Another such example was clearly displayed last autumn when he scheduled a separate special election to fill a Senate seat vacanted by Frank Lautenberg's death. Because the popular Newark mayor Cory Booker had gained the Democratic nomination, the Governor feared his reelection campaign would be threatened and as a result held a separate election in October for the Senate seat which cost several million additional dollars. It should be noted this came from a governor who has slashed spending for education in the past. 

Thus has we have seen, hubris is not merely the province of fictional characters but of modern politicians. It is to be hoped that these examples will help all readers of the blog to be more critical in their thoughts and to consider not just what they don't know but what it is they might not know they don't know.