"For displaying a stunning disregard for the dangerous consequences of her words and actions in her blind pursuit of wealth and power; for taking pride in being the cause of any controversy she incites, even if it sets back by decades important social progress, plants the seeds of a bloody civil war, or puts in jeopardy important international diplomatic advances."
Hubris: Exaggerated pride or self-confidence - Merriam Webster
The human mind has an extraordinary capacity for self-delusion, and that is our greatest curse and our greatest strength. In a universe composed of billions of galaxies and trillion of stars, we fiercely believe that the creator of this vast and fathomless cosmos favors - and is obsessed with the fate of - our microscopically insignificant planet above all others. But then, without that massive ego and sense of self-worth, we would never have had the audacity to believe that it is our destiny - and indeed our divine mandate - to explore the universe itself and pry open the secrets of creation; or, if you ask Steve Jobs, to invent the iPhone.
Yet every year, several human beings rise above the vast swarm of humanity that constitutes our mildly delusional race to display such a massive sense of self-worth, that, in response to Time's Person of the Year Award, which recognizes individuals who have had an extraordinary - and presumably positive - impact on the human race, we thought it was equally important to develop a Hubris of the Year Award.
This award identifies (or from the winner's perspective, "honors") that unique individual whose massive ego easily dwarfs that of their contemporaries. If they had lived an anonymous life, these individuals would have been a holy terror only to their small circle of acquaintances, but thrust upon the world stage, they pose a genuine threat to the stability of our society and, under just the right conditions, maybe even the survival of the human race itself.
For the year 2010, The Hubris of the Year Award goes to Sarah Palin.
The old expressions, "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" and "infinite power corrupts infinitely" have never been truer than with former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Since bursting upon the world stage at the Republican National Convention in 2008, she has single-mindedly pursued wealth and power with the ultimate belief in her entitlement to it all.
There's nothing intrinsically wrong with this. Many successful and wealthy people display these traits. What makes her dangerous is that, in her blind pursuit, she displays a stunning disregard for the dangerous consequences of her words and actions; and rather takes pride in being the cause of any controversy she incites, even if it sets back by decades important social progress, plants the seeds of a bloody civil war, or puts in jeopardy important international diplomatic advances.
Among Palin's most egregious acts that helped earn her the Hubris of the Year Award:
Last year, Palin's assertion that President Obama's health care reform plan would create government-sponsored "death panels" that could kill her down-syndrome baby helped fan the flames of opposition to the complex bill. She actually knew nothing about the bill - it is doubtful she had ever even read a single passage from it; yet, even while a barrage of experts came forward to systematically disprove the claim, she continued to proudly stand by her comment.
The point is not whether the bill was a good one or not - but that she maliciously promoted a blatant lie for the simple fact that she enjoyed the attention she got. She did not care to find out if the firestorm of controversy she caused was a positive or negative thing to the people the bill would supposedly impact.
Warming Up To It
Last December, on the eve of critical international dialogues in Copenhagen about the impact of humans on global warming, Palin announced that a hacked researcher's email revealed, in essence, that global warming was a lie. Even while it was immediately proven that the email was taken out of context and many respected names in the scientific community decried the blatant distortion of the truth, Palin refused to soften her rhetoric.
"By any measure, (the controversy) had a tremendous impact...on all the international discussions that followed..." said University of Minnesota researcher John Abraham, who also noted that it greatly harmed the public's trust in climate scientists.
Again, it is doubtful Palin had ever actually looked into the facts about global warming, and probably knew no more about the issue than the "conspiracy theory" claim about the hacked email. Even so, she reveled in the attention she received, regardless of the incalculable harm she caused to sensible public discussions on the issue.
The Gun Club
As a Vice Presidential candidate, Palin repeatedly sought to divide the American people - stirring up suspicion and paranoia among her supporters toward people with different ideologies and social standings. She suggested, for example, that people from the small towns were "the real Americans," vs. those from the big city, who were not. She cultivated an anti-intellectual mind-set that portrayed as unfit for the office of government anyone with an education or prior experience, raising the specter of a totalitarian regime that designates intellectuals and professionals as enemies of the states.
Today, in her private life, she continues to evoke images of violence and even the use of guns as a way of dealing with political or ideological opponents and people she does not like. In early 2010, for example, her Facebook page carried gun sights to designate Democrats to be targeted by conservatives in the election. She urged "lovers of America" not to retreat, but "reload." This kind of irresponsible messaging plays to the more extreme elements of her support base who could literally consider taking up the gun as a means of "taking back America."
A Bridge Too Far
Quitting as governor of Alaska last year, Sarah Palin seemed content to give up power for the pursuit of wealth - a $7 million book deal was waiting for her as a private citizen. But on her quiet walk to the bank with her money, she discovered that she had sparked to life a rabid fan base whose unconditional loyalty could enhance her personal, financial, and professional status.
Successfully pandering to that fan base, she is now, increasingly, portrayed as a viable presidential candidate. Yet, rather than feeling the humility of such a possibility and being humbled by the enormous weight of responsibility the job entails, she has become emboldened and more ambitious, more crafty and strategic in her words and action. We've had other equally calculating and unqualified people in the White House before, but what makes her dangerous is that she does not seek the highest power in the land to change the world for the better, but to wield the power and to even scores.