The monkey skillfully climbing a tree and jumping from treetop to treetop using the environment to its advantage like a parkour artist is something we expect to witness. To see the very same monkey fall to the ground in its acrobatic mastery calls upon shock, laughter, bewilderment and what not.
When I witnessed this a few days ago in my own wood clad backyard I didn’t knew what to think really except for a brief internal dialogue consisting in ‘how on earth was that possible’ and sitting there watching the monkey getting up on its feet and disappear in the foliage I stayed there puzzled wondering about this whole event, thoughts I wanted to share as this bizarre incident of a falling monkey triggered a bounty of reflections.
Witnessing the monkey falling from the tree a judgment occurs, instinctively and reactionary where a form of certainty concerning the reasons of the monkeys fall is established in the matter of seconds, a judgment born from preexisting learning and the desire of making sense of what is outside the expected that in turn hatches itself on our prior experiences where our lazy brain makes the most immediate connections possible to present us with some plausible explanation. Just to make sense of whatever happened, hence sense making is commonly a selfish process – and how could it be in any other way – our reference to the world will always be rooted in how we experience the world, our learning and our personal history.
Hence we have an innate tendency to generate rules that validate a behavior or a phenomena that at first is simple response born from personal history and experience that then takes the shape of truth.
And here we are diving into waters most poisonous. To take your judgement of why the monkey fell from the tree as truth would probably indicate that you are in error. The Romans saw truth or Veritas as a maiden clad in white resting at the bottom of a deep well – and truth will always be like that, truth is something we sense, feel and know is true, it is not limited to facts and behaviour, axioms or possibilities. Truth is not what is statistically secure or relevant; truth is always elusive and subject to perspective and placement. The quest for truth gave us postmodern philosophers like Deleuze, Lyotard and Derrida in recent years who in their enquiry of situation, location, time and space related to meaning can be summarised in Derridas observation, here paraphrased, that ‘facts proves or explains nothing, we always give a voice to the facts we observe’.
And so, let us return to the monkey that fell in his jump, to some extent we can perhaps agree that falling in your self-confidence is a result of hubris, it be in the form of a debilitating character trait or as a consequence of some error. If so, this brings us back to the concept of judgement.
We judge constantly, if you have no idea about how much we judge every day, set a goal of avoid judgements for one day, just to see how much you judge everything in a self-referring way constantly.
If we look at Dante’s Divine Comedy we find that hubris is that sin that throws you in the deepest pit, in tartaros, what is above here is people of treachery and fraud, flatterers, hypocrites and oath breakers. Lucifer always served as the great example of hubris in that one thing of believing that he knew better than anyone else. It doesn’t matter if he did or not, what matters is his attitude, namely over confidence born from an exalted idea of self-importance and so in the case of the monkey falling from the tree and those judging it we are perhaps speaking of the presence of hubris on both the part of the monkey and those who judge the reasons why and declares truth.
In analysing hubris I have found that there is some difference here between the English ‘pride’ or ‘vainglory’ in how hubris was understood in Antiquity. Commonly hubris was ascribed to the Olympic gods and to rulers and political advisors from Aristotle to Seneca to Machiavelli was always warning against the consequences of hubris, it would always lead to fall, lest the erroneous trait or attitude was recognized and altered. Sun Tzu advices in his the art of war that if your opponent suffers from pride or believes himself to have to upper hand, feed his arrogance so you can strike like thunder in the blackest night.
Like monkeys sometimes fall from the trees we also fall in the journey of life, we commit errors and mistakes, some born from foolishness and others from hubris. The corpus of Ifá is full of stories about orisas committing mistakes of both sorts, it be about refusing to make the sacrifice necessary because they find it unnecessary or because they know better. Hence we find the orisa of purity, Obatala in complicated and demeaning situations as we do with the majority of the orisas. Somehow it seems that the only one not prone to hubris is the orisa Esu, the man at the crossroad, Lord of transformation, choice and opportunity.
Errors committed in hubris must always been corrected and this ranges from the simple things like let us say you stopped smoking and in turn you demand your partner to cease the habit as well. You do this from the best of reasons, yet since you are over confident and portray yourself to know better this might be an act of hubris performed in such situation. From such small matters as this to the wide array of aesthetic, and political opinions, judgements, bickering and fights for truth and right in opinion, verdict and judgement of all kinds.
From the perspective of Ifá hubris is considered a trait or attitude born from praise and flattery, success and increase in social station and not necessary as a character flaw. The orisa of justice, Sango, being the power often used to represent the downfall of hubris. In the case of Sango it all starts with good intention, he came from the invisible realm wanting every human being to be rich. Finding human beings to be fickle and inconsistent, prone to quarrel and judgement he interfered because he knew better the ways of abundance (and indeed as the author of abundance he knew what he was speaking of) – yet imposing his supremacy led to his downfall.
Judgement is another form of hubris and I feel the story from sura 18 in Al Quran where Khidir meets Moses is illustrative in this regard. Briefly told the sura speaks about how Khidir met Moses at the junction of two seas and intended to teach him ‘the right knowledge of what he has been taught’. Khidir asks from Moses that he must have patience and avoid questioning his actions. They set out on the journey and enter a boat. Here Khidir when they are out on sea damages the boat so it will sink. Moses shocked by the saints behaviour questions him and is immediately corrected and reminded he promised to be patient and don’t questioning him. After this Khidir kills a young man and after this they arrive to a town where they are denied hospitality, here Khidir restores a broken wall for the villagers. Moses in shock of his conduct breaks his oath on all three occasions whereas Khidir tells him:
“Many acts which seem to be evil, malicious or somber, actually are merciful. The boat was damaged to prevent its owners from falling into the hands of a king who seized every boat by force. And as for the boy, his parents were believers and we feared lest he should make disobedience and ingratitude to come upon them. God will replace the child with one better in purity, affection and obedience. As for the restored wall, the Servant explained that underneath the wall was a treasure belonging to two helpless orphans whose father was a righteous man. As God's envoy, the Servant restored the wall, showing God's kindness by rewarding the piety of the orphans' father, and so that when the wall becomes weak again and collapses, the orphans will be older and stronger and will take the treasure that belongs to them."
My point being an act with its judgement is often rooted in hubris, a hubris born from a desire to understand how something not in conformity with what we assume or think is the logical or correct way or outcome of a situation. It is Moses in bewilderment not figuring out the reasons for a saint to behave ‘unsaintly’ or a monkey falling from the tree judgement always occurs and this judgement is instinctive and born from our personal history and expectation. And so if my judgement of the monkey falling from the tree is because he is stupid or bad – well maybe I am wrong – maybe he was just in error and took a jump on a broken branch. We always confer judgements and judgements born from jealousy, envy and self-hatred always lead to gossip as judgement born from bitterness and hubris lead to slander… and still monkey’s will from time to time fall from the tree and we will keep on wondering why and pass our judgements.