Moira

When Oedipus killed his father and married his mother, the Greeks witnessing the event on the stage as depicted by Sophocles knew that there would be retribution. The act of marrying his mother is, as we would say, “unnatural.” In the Greek view it was a violation of what they called “Moira.” Since Oedipus was a great king, his actions resulted in cosmic imbalance (that’s right, cosmic imbalance). Things had to be set right. So while the folks sitting in the theater were horrified by what Oedipus did, they were even more concerned about how he would be punished — because he most assuredly would be punished. It was essential that the cosmic balance be restored and the only way that could possibly happen was if Oedipus were punished. It mattered not that he didn’t know his father was the man he killed on the road and the woman he subsequently married was his mother. It didn’t even matter that he fathered children by her. What mattered was that he committed a terrible wrong and it had to be set right.

Fundamentally the same notion of restoring cosmic harmony can be found in a number of Eastern religions in the notion of “karma.” It can be found in such religions as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism, Shintoism, and Ching Hai, among others. It is a common thread running through both Eastern and Western thought for many hundreds of years. We still hear today the trite notion the “what goes around comes around.” As it happens, this is a faint echo of the deep-seated notion that wrongs will inevitably be punished.

For the Greeks, of course, the wrong resulted from hubris, excessive pride — not pride, per se, but excessive pride. A certain amount of pride was expected of a Greek: after all, he was a Greek and not a barbarian! But excessive pride was the essence of tragedy for the Greeks and it could be exhibited by an entire city and the results would be the same: the wrong must be set right to restore cosmic balance. Thucydides wrote a history of the war between Sparta and Athens which was lost by Athens, a tragedy according to the historian brought about as a result of excessive arrogance and pride on the part of the Athenian leaders resulting in a series of tactical blunders. Oedipus, of course, exhibited hubris because he ignored oracular warnings and arrogantly proceeded as though he were in control of his own destiny. No one is in control of his destiny, according to the ancients, not even the most powerful of men and women. Not even the gods: Moira was beyond even them.

We, of course, know better (!) We are certain that we are free and control our own destiny. And despite our lip service to karma, we don’t really take seriously the notion that wrongs will be punished — not by the courts, not by the gods, or even by powers beyond the gods, as the Greeks saw it. We know better.

Or do we? We might take a page from these ancient books of wisdom and think about hubris. There can be no question that as a nation we are arrogant and suffer from excessive (unwarranted) pride. We insist that we know how others should live their lives. And if they choose not to live the way we think they should, we feel justified in sending drones deep into their world, or fighter planes with powerful weapons designed to “take out” the enemy (and numberless innocent people cataloged as “collateral damage”). Further, in the name of “jobs” we continue to assault the earth and insist that she bend to our will and yield up all her treasure. Time will tell whether jobs are more important than stewardship of the earth, or whether we are right and everyone else is wrong — or whether the ancients were right all along and at some point cosmic balance must be restored.

Yesterday’s News

Despite Tiger Woods’ most recent meltdown at the Pro-Am tournament in Pebble Beach, where he failed to make up a mere four shots to two unknown golfers, the media haven’t figured out that the man is yesterday’s news. In the interview after the tournament, Tiger bemoaned his poor putting and, once again, failed to give credit to the man who leap-frogged over him and the two men above him to come from six strokes behind to win the tournament — Phil Mickelson, who doesn’t seem to be caught up in the Tiger mystique. But Tiger’s name continues to draw interest and followers by the thousands and when he shows up at a golf tournament the TV producers drool because it translates into large numbers and makes the sponsors happy. But the man has had his day.

When Woods fails to deliver, as he has done repeatedly since his much-publicized breakup with his wife — resulting in world-wide tabloid exposure and the inevitable whispering behind the hand upon his appearance in a room — there is considerable talk about his putting, or his stroke, or his caddy, or his equipment. But none of these things will explain the fall from great heights that describe this man’s golfing career. His ego lies in tatters beneath his feet; he will need help putting it together again. His problem lies between his ears and no one seems to want to talk about that.

I am not a trained psychologist, but common sense tells me that a man who has been told all his life that he can do no wrong, that he can walk on water, and who seems to be doing precisely that every time he strides down a golf course in his red shirt on Sunday, when such a man suddenly and rudely runs head-on into the reality that he is none of these things, his psyche must be severely damaged. When his psyche takes such a thorough thrashing, no adjustment in his golf swing can possibly rebuild the self-concept that has taken more than thirty years and repeated success to build up. The man no longer believes in his own invincibility. He is learning what happens to a man when he begins to realize that he is not larger than life.

The Greeks learned over the years by trial and error that hubris leads inevitably to punishment. Buddhist philosophy likes to talk about karma and it is more or less the same idea, present punishment for past wrongs. When we begin to think we are gods, we will undoubtedly learn that we have feet of clay. Tiger Woods is learning that lesson and until or unless he takes steps to remedy the damage to his psyche, there will be no more major victories on the PGA circuit, I predict. There may be small wins, but the big ones will elude him as long as the ghosts of his past mistakes continue to whisper in his ear as he leans over the three-foot putt. The man’s problems are not mechanical, they are psychological. Even I can see that from where I sit.

But the news media will continue to pick at the carcass because there is still a large public that still believes the man can return to the heights he once commanded, or because they have a maudlin interest in seeing a man suffer for his sins — like elbowing one’s way to the front of the crowd at a traffic accident. But whatever the motivation, ESPN, the Golf Channel, and the major networks that televise golfing events will continue to hope the man shows up and makes the cut. It’s good for business. But I don’t see it happening.

In the end, the lesson Tiger should take away from  all this is the one we should all contemplate as individuals and as nations: none of us is invincible, and precisely when we think we are we had better prepare ourselves for a fall.