Some commentators have whinged piteously that Fred 'the Shred' Goodwin had committed no crime, and that taking away his putty medal, was an act of spite. Not so, the Shred committed the worst offence of all, he was guilty of acts of hubris, and he has been righteously punished.
In ancient Greek, hubris was most evident in the public and private actions of the powerful and rich. The word was used to describe the actions of those who challenged the gods or their laws, especially in Greek tragedy, resulting in the protagonist's fall.
Hubris, though not specifically defined, was a legal term and was considered a crime in classical Athens. It was also considered the greatest crime of ancient Greek society. It often resulted in fatal retribution or Nemesis, ancient Greek for "ruin, folly, delusion," the egregious actions performed by the individual, usually because of his or her hubris, or great pride, leading to his or her down-fall or disgrace.
Crucial to this definition are the ancient Greek concepts of honour and shame . The concept of honour included not only the exaltation of the one receiving the honour, but also the shaming of the one overcome by the act of hubris.
In its modern use, hubris denotes over-confident pride and arrogance; it is often associated with a lack of humility though not always with the lack of knowledge. An accusation of hubris often implies that a form of disgrace will follow, similar to the occasional pairing of hubris and nemesis in Greek society. The proverb "pride goes before a fall" is thought to summate the modern use of hubris. It is also referred to as "pride that blinds", as it often causes one accused of hubris to act in foolish ways that belie common sense. In other words, the modern definition may be thought of as, "that pride that comes just before the fall".
Examples of hubris in fiction, most famously in Marlowe's play Dr Faustus, portrays the eponymous character as a scholar whose arrogance and pride compel him to sign a deal with the devil, and retain his haughtiness until his death and damnation, despite the fact that he could have easily repented had he chosen so.
In so many ways, the Shred portrays a modern day Dr Faustus, whose arrogance drove him to push through the deal with ABN Amro, even when counselled against so doing, literally signing his own deal with the devil, and then, when found out, maintaining his arrogance and haughtiness, even when challenged in public in front of the select committee hearings, refusing to acknowledge his own personal culpability. If he had chosen that opportunity to make a heartfelt apology, to admit his failings, to take the blame fairly and squarely and say 'mea culpa' loud and long, he would have kept his knighthood.
Any man who can berate his staff and write threatening memos warning of dire retribution because someone put a pink wafer biscuit on his coffee tray, deserves to be punished by the gods. Taking away the Shred's knighthood is, even now, not enough punishment for the mess this overweening man made, but it's a start!