In Greek mythology, Epimetheus and his much more famous and levelheaded brother, Prometheus, were Titans charged by the Olympian gods with creating Earth’s inhabitants. The only caveat was that fire was to be kept exclusively for the gods. Prometheus, with great care, shaped man out of clay in imitation of gods while Epimetheus was assigned the task of creating the lesser beasts that would populate the planet. In his overexcitement, Epimetheus rashly bestowed all the gifts to his creatures and left nothing for man, leaving them naked and weak. Concerned for mankind’s well-being, Prometheus brazenly stole fire from the gods and gifted it to man. For defying the gods, Prometheus was punished by being chained to the side of a mountain, where every day an eagle would descend and slowly devour his liver, which would regenerate itself overnight only to be tortuously torn out and eaten once again the next day. Later, despite his brother’s warnings, Epimetheus plays a role in Pandora’s opening of the infamous box that let loose disease, famine, and all sorts of evils into the world.
From these Titans, we have derived the proper adjectives Promethean and Epimethean. The former is used to describe one who exhibits careful foresight, planning, and daring; the latter is applied to those who lack foresight, charge headlong into situations, and afterwards wallow in afterthought and regret. My wife is quite admirably Promethean in most things while I tend toward the reckless hurriedness of Epimetheus. It’s a trait I wish I did not own, for it often leaves me shaking my head and asking myself, “What was I thinking?”
I had a similar reaction last week in response to the Epimethean actions of those misguided many who somehow thought it wise to storm the nation’s capitol. I’ve been shaking my head ever since and wondering, “What were they thinking?” Not so much in terms of their goals that afternoon. I understand that they were attempting to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden as the next president and thereby foster the continuation of the Trump administration. What I wonder, however, is did they really believe this was an achievable goal? Did they really think a few thousand of them could overthrow the U.S. government? They had to know that whatever small measure of success they might achieve that day would be short-lived and that the will of the people as expressed in the election and the gargantuan machinery of the U.S. government would in short order come crashing down upon them and squash their quixotic uprising. Despite their questionable identification with the insurrectionists of the original American Revolution, we no longer live in a time when one can put on an Indian costume, board a ship, and dump tea into a harbor without all of it being captured on a myriad of CCTV cameras.
I’m not even questioning the legitimacy of their actions – at least not in this post – but did they really think that they could mount no less than an armed insurrection on a Wednesday and return to their families, jobs, bowling leagues, and life as normal on Thursday? Such thinking was not only Epimethean, it was straight delusional. I have to believe it was spurred on by what they sincerely felt to be righteous anger, mixed with a false sense of anonymity and the very real momentum easily ignited inside a mob of likeminded and goal-oriented people. In some small measure, I can appreciate their pluck, but I have a very difficult time, empathizing with any of it.
For their lack of Promethean foresight, in the aftermath, a number have been arrested and charged with a myriad of crimes, some have lost their jobs, many have expressed remorse, and tragically, one has even ended his own life. With the Inauguration in the offing – at least according to reported intel – sadly, a good number seem not to have learned much from last week’s debacle and assault on normalcy and are planning additional acts of insurrection in the coming days. I think they would be wise to heed the warning of the story of Epimetheus, whose name is forever associated with foolishness and who was left to live with the feelings of guilt and shame for ruining not only his own reputation but the very life of his brother. I would also remind them of the words of that great Midwestern philosopher and songwriter John Mellencamp. who famously sings, “I fight authority; authority always wins.”
For readers of my earlier post on my favorite words, you might notice that I managed to squeeze both “quixotic” and “pluck” into this one.
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