I break out into this declaration not because of a lurking tendency to megalomania, but, on the contrary, as a man who has no very notable illusions about himself. I follow the instincts of vain-glory and humility natural to all mankind. For it can hardly be denied that it is not their own deserts that men are most proud of, but rather of their prodigious luck, of their marvellous fortune: of that in their lives for which thanks and sacrifices must be offered on the altars of the inscrutable gods.
— Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness 1
Hubris has always been an essential crutch humanity has relied on in a hostile and indifferent world, a compensation and outgrowth of the fundamental attribution error which places each of us at the meaningful center of our own individual, disconnected universes. In the past, however, before the Committee on Right Thinking for Western Culture decreed that God was dead, many of us at least paid obeisance to the notion that there are powers and forces in the world greater than ourselves, and that our triumphs and defeats might be laid—at least in part—at the feet of some person or thing beyond our understanding or control.
Now, of course, we suffer no such restraint, and our metaphysics has regressed to a selectively primitive state. We attribute our successes to our own skills, perserverance, and attitude alone, and our failures to the malevolent workings of enemies or a malign fate. I suppose this is natural and unavoidable, but it seems to me that something has been lost.
For I have to say I am unimpressed—and unconvinced—by a god who only has bad luck in his gift. Even if we only call it Chance.
1 Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness. New York: Penguin Books, 1995, p. 10.
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