Monday, May 10, 2010
General Kagan is "humbled" by her nomination. That's a fine thing to say and people often say it on these occasions, but I wonder what it means exactly. You say, the Chargers humbled the Redskins, say, meaning they put them in their place, but that's not what Kagan means, I don't think. She means perhaps that she doesn't really deserve the honor, that she is not worthy? In which case she means, I am so humble that I am saying I don't really deserve this? Yet then people always go on to accept the honor. I can't think of a case in which a high honor was offered to somebody and then they turned it down because they really didn't deserve it. Obama had the perfect opportunity to do this with the recent Nobel Peace Prize (still embarrassing to contemplate) but alas he was merely humbled, not humble. Or maybe it means, the largeness of the this office or honor makes me realize how small I really am. Well, that's good, though I am a little bit opposed to so much puffing up of office, which after all is just an entirely artificial and finally political creation. Let's remember our republican roots and all that. One can say "I am humbled" by the office or whatever. But if you said "You have humbled me" by the nomination or whatever, that would not sound right. You honor me and yet I am humbled. It has a kind of medieval even primatological feel to it, a ritual self-humiliation before one's benefactor, like getting on your knees before you are knighted. Unfortunately I am too objectively humble ever to have to say I have been humbled, but if I ever am so humbled I at least hope it is an occasion for only the falsest of humilities. The really bad thing is to have something to be genuinely humble about, as many of us know only too well.