“There are many demographic fault lines emerging in this year’s
presidential campaign, but few are deeper than the division among likely
voters based on educational attainment.” (http://www.bloomberg.com/…/education-level-sharply-divides-…) Among the boldest dividing lines in this election is educational. Why would that be?
There seem to be at least several mutually inclusive possibilities for explaining it:
(1) Education is liberal indoctrination, that is, the more education one has, the more has been successfully brainwashed to accept liberal beliefs.
(2) Education is the conveyance of information and when you know certain things, you are more inclined to adopt progressive positions.
(3) Education is about the acquisition of habits of mind and skills and techniques that all one to think through problems that tend to lead to progressive positions.
(4) Progressive positions are crafted by the highly educated in part to appeal to the highly educated.
(5) The college-educated are a special interest group and their preference for progressive policies is a political move to actualize their worldview on our culture.
I claim that all five of these are true.
Let’s start with the easy ones – 2 and 3. According to classical democratic theory, a functional democracy requires a well-informed electorate. In order to make maximally effective decisions about how to proceed, you need to know what are the facts on the ground. Take college courses and you will have an expert in a given field tell you what is our best understanding about what is going on. Their information has been challenged by others in the field and that which has withstood criticism becomes the consensus position and we teach undergraduates only the most firmly established beliefs given our best evidence.
Could it be wrong? Of course. And when it is shown to be wrong, it is exciting news in the academic community and we teach both the debate and the new approach. Indeed, this is how progress is made and that progress spreads through the educated class. Possession of new information is a badge of status for the educated. To be up on the latest is to be better educated and that is a measure of self-worth.
To an extent, this is justifiable. The advances are important in better understanding situations and in adopting the most effective and just positions. If you understand the basics of thermodynamics and chemistry and understand that different substances have different specific heats, then the idea of global warming does not seem mysterious in the slightest. If you have discussed Kimberle Crenshaw’s notion of intersectionality in a classroom, then you will look at police shootings of non-whites in a way that has a nuance you would not have without it. Thought-workers do real work. We make progress. We develop better ideas and applying those better ideas lead to better ways of understanding the contemporary context.
Similarly, we not only teach what to think, but how to think. A college education requires problem solving. It requires paper-writing. Writing is thinking. If you write badly, it is because you have not learned how to carefully work through questions and how to support claims with evidence. College is hard. It is intellectual boot camp. You emerge cognitively stronger with skills of analysis that you would not have had without the experience.
Can intellectual be deceived by their own beliefs and biases? Absolutely. Indeed, the educated are more likely to fall into certain logical pitfalls because we develop an arrogance about our abilities. If I think so, it must be true – after all, I’m well-educated. There are a whole range of logical fallacies that derive from cognitive biases that all people are subject to. That is why I wrote my last post. Bill asked “t why piss on Clinton's political grave when there are more important things to worry about?” The answer is that making sure that progressives recognize their own biases is crucial to our critical evaluation of situations and necessary if progress is to be made. If we don’t do the discursive autopsy, we won’t know what killed our chances.
But what the combination of 2 and 3 will do, however, is diminish the chances of falling prey to the Dunning-Kruger effect wherein the less one knows about something, the more one thinks one knows about that very thing. College reveals to us our ignorance. We realize how hard, how intricate, how inter-related questions are and we are less likely to fall for simple, but attractive and false silver bullet claims. This notion of interconnectedness of problems and the need for structural solutions – that is the hallmark of the progressive worldview.
In this case, 2+3=4, that is, the sorts of policy prescriptions those with the background from 2 and the skills from 3 will develop will be those that appeal to others who speak the same language – that is, claim 4. We work from common concepts and through common approaches, we demand similar sorts of evidentiary support, we value certain forms of explanation. Wittgenstein introduced the concept of a language game. The idea is that there are different discourse communities whose linguistic behaviors presuppose certain background beliefs in order to give rise to the basic vocabulary.
Different language speakers will carve nature at different joints. The college-educated have been taught to speak a specific language which makes perfect sense to those in the club, but largely sounds like meaningless jargon to many outside. The way the world is divided up by the language of Higher Ed is more amenable to progressive approaches and those who are fluent in the language will be much more comfortable with potential solutions in their mother-tongue.
Here is where 1 and 5 come in. Languages are pregnant with worldview. Languages are not value-neutral (this is something egghead professors have figured out) and when we work on solutions in our language they will be biased toward the sort of worldview we espouse in which rationality and knowledge are prized, a sort of equality of worth is presumed among all people, psychological and sociological factors are in effect that are working to shape our belief-structure on the basis of political power not likely truth, and problems are interconnected puzzles that affect each other. In the college-educated worldview, black and white is mistrusted. Our bumper sticker reads “It’s more complicated than that” and every time we tried to advance a straight-forward, simple solution, someone else in the community of the educated smugly points out how it naïve and in need of complexity. We have learned to prize interdisciplinarity and a multiplicity of interpretive viewpoints. We have had it beaten into us that there are other ways of thinking about things and that the better thinkers can shift among their different perspectives to gain a deeper synthetic understanding.
This prizing of intellectual knottiness leads us to embrace multiculturalism, critiques from the perspectives of minimized voices, and a cosmopolitan stance. We have a knee-jerk global mode of being which minimizes the local and thereby the locals. We look for universal laws of nature and give prizes to literature and film that make us see the world through new lenses. If you only speak one language and do not speak it with grammatical precision, if you work at a job which is held to be inferior because it involves manual instead of cognitive labor, if you had trouble in high school and were made to feel stupid and inferior because of it, then the foundations of this worldview will diminish you as well. And you will resent the prescriptions coming from it. On the other hand, if it is a language you speak, the policy proposals will read like poetry, elegant in their complexity and confirming of your picture.
And their success or failure is an empirical matter which is determinable by economists and social scientists, physicists and climate scientists whose mathematical acumen comforts you in accepting their findings.
Higher Education has produced an epistemic bubble. In the Scholastic period, all Western intellectual works were written in Latin ensuring that scholars across the Continent could read each others work, but also ensuring that those not in the scholar’s club could not. We have done the same sort of thing now. What we saw in this election were warring linguistic communities. Language is pregnant with worldview and those who have learned to speak the academic language are much more likely to prefer certain political approaches. Those who do not speak the language have radically different preferences. The most radically subversive suggestion of the campaign? It turns out to be Sanders’ free college for everyone. Expensive? Yes. But if instituting your worldview depends on one people accepting your basic presuppositions and those are embedded in the ways of thinking and the things you know, it may be the only way – the divide may not be bridgeable, just conquerable.
Thursday, December 08, 2016
“There are many demographic fault lines emerging in this year’s
presidential campaign, but few are deeper than the division among likely
voters based on educational attainment.” (http://www.bloomberg.com/…/education-level-sharply-divides-…) Among the boldest dividing lines in this election is educational. Why would that be?
There is a cold civil war in America – indeed, it is likely the
leftover of the hot civil war of the 1860’s. It is a civil war based on
white class resentment and it infects virtually all corners of
mainstream American culture. Why do our kids have too much homework?
Why are there FoxNews and MSNBC? Why are there smoking areas in
extremely inconvenient places? Why do we suddenly have to sing “God
Bless America” at the seventh inning stretch? It’s all about class
insecurity and class resentment.
Middle class whites are proud of their material trappings, of their worldliness, of their bourgeois lifestyle. They know that they are doing better than their parents who did better than their grandparents, who were either immigrants or the children of immigrants and lived a tough life in the Depression as members of the working class. But that is not us now.
Then they look at their kids and the promise of social advancement that could be assumed for them is not there for their kids. There is the constant concern among white middle-class parents that their kids may not remain in the class that ought to be there by birth-right. So, they worry and they act. Helicopter parents hover to make sure that wrong steps don’t lead to the path away from the middle class. Schools press kids from a young age to make sure they can make it into college, especially the right college. They are taken from activity to activity to bolster their standing to make their success more likely. When I ask my students – largely from this population – what would happen if they messed up in college, what would be the worst fate that could befall them, without a thought they all say the same thing, “Working at McDonald’s.” Jean Paul Sartre wrote that hell is other people, but to the white middle-class of contemporary America, it is only certain people – those who identify with Sarah Palin.
Their cries of “elitism” ring strange in middle-class ears. Elite is good. Elite is well-educated. Elite is what we strive for. How is this a bad thing? What the middle-class doesn’t realize is that “elite” is used to dehumanize the working class. They are sneered at for being inferior.
But it isn’t the inferiority of minorities. The middle-class went to college and listen to NPR where they learned about structural racism and white privilege. The social status of the non-white underclass has a sociological explanation and we need to side with social justice to elevate them…eventually, when it doesn’t raise our taxes too much.
But lower-class and working class whites? They have white privilege and still ended up down the ladder. They got a head start and blew it. We knew these people in school when we were kids. They didn’t do their homework, were the first ones into drugs and alcohol, got pregnant and dropped out. They are where they are because of their bad decisions and lack of work ethic. Yes, they labor manually now, working hard for long hours, but that’s because they didn’t put in the work then. And, hey, I may be behind a desk, but I work long hours, too. I just get more money because I deserve it. I was successful. They are sneered at by us because they deserve it.
And they know that's what the middle-class think of them -- that they are human failures. And they resent it. They demand status. They demand celebration. That is why we now sing “God Bless America” at every professional baseball game in the middle of the 7th inning. It is why we “honor the troops.” Who are the troops?
After the G.I. Bill after WWII made college possible for a wide range of Americans for whom it had always been inaccessible previously, and the war in Vietnam from which one could receive a deferment from service if one was in college, everyone who could go to college, did. As a result, if you wanted a good job, your competition were all college grads and so you had to be. Everyone knows that the key to higher pay today is college. So, who doesn’t go to college and instead serves in the military? A few because they are called by duty, honor, or patriotism, but there are plenty of patriotic accountants and middle managers. To the middle-class, the military is for the few kids who mess up the statistic of how many graduates went on to earn college degrees. It is for those they see as the screw-ups. So, when we are honoring the troops, there is a sense among the middle-class that we are not celebrating dedication to democracy and freedom, but saying good job to those who refused to work hard when they were supposed to.
To the working class, they appreciate the use of words like valor and honor, but really it is finally them in the spotlight. Everyone has to stand up and honor them, praise them, value them.
And THAT, I would argue, is the real subtext of this past election. Yes, the racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, sexism, and anti-Semitism were prominently on display. But pushing it all was an argument in the white family. The middle-class thinks the working class unfit, stupid, and immoral while the working-class thinks the middle class to be stuck up jerks who don’t know what it means to have to work. I’ve seen a LOT of articles and memes about how the Trump supporters will feel when they realize that he is going to screw them over. They’ll see and we can rejoice in our Schadenfreude. But my guess is that they won’t be the slightest bit angry at all. Sure, they’ll get screwed over, but they always do. And when they don’t it is because uppity middle-class people with their sociology and stuff are giving them extra money for overtime. But they don’t want our charity. They are pissed and want to blow stuff up. Cut off their nose to spite their face? Sure, hand me the knife. At least you’ll get cut, too, this time. This election was never about policy, it was always about resentment.
I find cognitive biases fascinating. Psychologists are discovering
how much the Enlightenment picture of humans as perfectly rational,
self-interested calculators deviates from reality because we are just
not wired to be logical. Our ability to predictably deceive ourselves is
stunning. And it is not a matter of innate intelligence or education.
Smarter, more well-read people are even more likely to fall prey to
these errors because we are inclined to believe what we think, even if
we pride ourselves on our developed critical faculties. This was in
full display in the recent election.
The halo effect is an error wherein we take success in one area to entail likely success in other, non-related areas. The more attractive a person is, for example, the better his/her teaching evaluations will be. (That, of course, is how I got tenure…) If there is something very attractive about someone, we will overlook and/or rationalize away any flaws – even if they are obvious and pointed out to us over and over again.
This was the case with Hilary Clinton. Would having the first female President of the United States have been a great thing? Yes. Is she smart and well-educated? Yes. Has she served in a wide-range of positions that lead to her having relevant experience and contacts? Yes. However…these points led to a far less than critical evaluation of her candidacy and likely presidency on the part of many smart Democrats.
Hilary Clinton is that best friend you had who lived next door growing up. You played every day, shared your secrets, had sleepovers. Then when you got to high school, she realized that she was pretty enough to join the Heathers and not only stopped talking to you, but would look away and say nothing when those mean girls would pick on you and make fun of you. But if she forgot her book for the big homework assignment, she was knocking on the door pretending to be your friend and borrowing your book, then returning it before school so she wouldn’t be seen with you.
Let’s put the Clintons in a bit of historical context. After the Great Depression when an unregulated financial and banking sector led to a stock bubble that crashed and took the whole economy with it, Democrats led by Franklin Delano Roosevelt brought the country back. The New Deal moved wealth down from the top to the workers and coupled with the needed spending connected to WWII, pulled the country to a stable economic equilibrium. Regulations were put in place to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. Workers were grateful and became staunch Democrats seeing who fought for them. On the heels of this came the civil rights and women’s rights movements. Having been clobbered by FDR, a surprise loss to Truman, and a close loss to Kennedy, Republicans realized that they needed to break up the working-people-based coalition that was giving the Democrats power. How to do it? Bigotry. The Southern Strategy would turn the Southeast and the Midwest against those Democrats who had turned their interests away from the working class to the oppressed non-white, non-male part of the population. So, appeal to their self-interest and biases, arguing that it is a zero-sum game and that the elevation of the downcast will put them ahead of you – and it ain’t like you’re doing all that great now, is it?
And so, we had a cultural conservative backlash, Republicans gained power riding this wave of bias and the center-right corporatist GOP became a far-right party because that was where their votes were. But underneath, there was the belief that the corporatist heart could keep the power with the man behind the curtain, but the party drifted further and further rightward.
Enter the third way, the blue dogs, the “moderate” democrats. They saw that the Republicans had abandoned the center-right and they knew that that political spot came with wealth and power. They thought, “hey, if we abandon all of our New Deal-based beliefs, stop caring about the oppressed, and make the Democrats into a center-right party, we get the wealth, we get the power, we get the votes of the middle-class Baby Boomers entering their peak earning years (never under-estimate the power of Baby Boomer self-interest) and the left will have no choice but to support us (what are they going to do, vote Republican or third party? Yeah, right.)” So, after defeating an incredibly earnest, competent, thoughtful candidate in Paul Tsongas, Bill Clinton let Ross Perot split the Republicans and the third way had its President.
The result was pro-corporate dismantling of the protections that were put in place after the Great Depression. The Democrats became the home of the Rockefeller Republicans, the moderates who were being squeezed out of their party in its move to the right, because its policies were Republican policies. And the first lady moved ultimately into the Senate and the Obama administration.
Hilary Clinton was a Rockefeller Republican when she was young and never changed. She lost to Barack Obama in the primaries when he ran to the dead center and she to the right of him. Her positions in the Senate, from the war to race to homosexuality – all traditional Republican positions.
And then there was this year. There was a real Democrat (who wasn’t a Democrat – hmmm, how did that happen?) and the result? A new Hillary. Presto chango, she’s a progressive now!
I saw lots of claims that Clinton was the most honest candidate we’ve had. It is certainly true that she did not misstate facts like our buffoon-in-waiting. But there are two ways to lie. I could tell you that your blue shirt is red or I could tell you that I like your blue shirt when I don’t. She did not tell many of the first sort of fib, but the second sort is the heart of her political being. Hillary Clinton is, to her core, a liar.
The claim that all of the dislike of her is based on right-wing smears and misogyny? Rationalization. Have there been decades of organized right-wing falsehoods designed to undermine her? Yes. Is there misogyny? Without a doubt. But I agree with David Brooks (not a clause I type often) when he said that the most important moment in the campaign was Clinton’s sudden rejection of the TPP. Clinton is a center-right free trader. She believes in these trade deals as good for the economy. She did call the TPP the “gold standard” of trade deals. She loves it. Not loved it – loves it. Yet, she was willing to throw it under the bus in order to try to falsely position her public self where the voters seemed to be. No defense of her belief, no standing up for her principles (which, of course, requires you to HAVE principles).
And it was not uncommon. She was explicitly against gay marriage…when it was polling below 50%. Once it became politically acceptable, she’s “evolved.” It was a generation-long fight and (to steal a wonderful metaphor from… I forget whom) she’s the person cowering behind the rock until the bad guy is over, jumping out when it is safe, and shooting the corpse to show how much she was in the fight. I believe that she always wanted gay marriage, that she knew it was unjust to deprive gay men and lesbians of civil rights and protections, but was willing to deny them, to side with immorality for the sake of gaining and keeping power.
The Goldman-Sachs speeches were exhibit A. The top brass at Goldman are close friends of the Clintons – if they really wanted to know what she thought, a simple phone call or waiting for the next dinner party would have sufficed. But yet, they paid her hundreds of thousands of dollars. Why? They knew what they were buying and she knew what she was selling. And why wouldn’t she release those transcripts? Because they said what we always knew was true – she told the banksters who destroyed our economy to ignore her public rhetoric because it is all lies. There is a public position that she used to gain power and a private position she would have used to govern. And guess whom the real view helps and whom it hurts? The Clintons are the nouveau riche at the country club who are thrilled to be part of the wealthy and make sure they do plenty of favors for the long-standing members knowing their status is tenuous.
The Clinton Foundation scandals? I can count the times fellow Dems waved them off as propaganda. Was there quid pro quo? Well, there was certainly plenty of quid with the expectation of quo from powerful people with foreign interests. Was there any quo or would there have been? We don’t know, but to deny the appearance of impropriety is to have your head buried in the sand…or elsewhere.
So, hands are being wrung. The future is uncertain. Worries are legitimate. But the stage was set. The Democratic machine was rigged. The DNC was an active part of one of the candidates and from the number of debates to public rhetoric, there was preferential treatment rendered by party insiders. The Clinton camp did have a mole delivering debate questions to them against the rules. And when the DNC chair was caught with her finger on the scale, who replaced her? The mole. I do fear for our country and our planet. But I also had long feared for my party. Maybe now we can regain our critical faculties. We’re going to need them.
This is wrong. There are many, many kind, caring racists. You can reach out to people of other races, backgrounds, and beliefs, do wonderful, thoughtful, helpful things for them, and still be racist. You can have lots of friends, real friends, good friends, of multiple backgrounds, and still be racist. We have created a cartoon out of racism, a bizarrely-shaped caricature that engages in over-the-top malicious acts in order to be able to point to it and say “that’s not me, therefore I must not be racist.”
Let us start by labeling acts and not people. An act is racist if it disadvantages or demeans someone because of that person’s membership in a racial group. We may act this way intentionally or unintentionally. We may act this way maliciously or non-maliciously. When someone points out that our act is racist, we recoil because the assumption is that what that means is that the person is telling me that I hate members of that group and go out of my way to harm them. No, that is not what that means. It may be perfectly true that (a) your act was racist and (b) you are a thoughtful, caring, perfectly lovely person. The problem is that the truth of (b) is all we focus on, whereas (a) is the real problem. If only we were all nice, we think, racist acts would not occur. So, let’s all be nice. That is not the solution because it misses the problem.
Where there is an unequal distribution of power, especially when there are largely homogenous groups with differences in power, the acts which advantage one group and/or disadvantage another will largely be invisible to those who have the power. We often don’t even realize that our acts are, in fact, racist. The only way we will realize it and alter our approach – to be told.
There are people for whom the cartoon character fits. There are intentional, malicious racists. These are bad people. There are white nationalists, racial purists, people who claim that they are superior beings because of their genes – indeed, some perhaps very close to very powerful people. We ought to judge these folks harshly.
But not being that person, the intentional malicious racist, is not to be innocent of racism. There are the social psychological elements like the fundamental attribution error that leads us to judge people differently based on whether they are like us or different from us. If I see a white person steal a candy bar, I naturally think, “What a bad individual.” If I see someone non-white steal the same candy bar, I naturally think “They are bad people.” And so, when I open my store, I will treat those people differently because of my experience coupled with my cognitive bias. We are wired in certain ways to be racist. This does not excuse it. To the contrary, it means that we need to always be vigilant.
But much racism is not individual to individual. The way our social structures and institutions are arranged will intrinsically favor certain groups over others. This is what we call, institutional racism. What makes it so pernicious is that it means racism can occur without there being any particular person who can be pointed to as racist. “I didn’t do it.” And you didn’t…but you did benefit from it without trying.
When we act to perpetuate these systems, even if our motivation is not to harm those who end up being harmed, then our act is racist. If one votes for a candidate whose tax proposals will disproportionately advantage whites and disproportionately disadvantage non-whites, my support is racist – EVEN IF I HAVE NO EXPLICIT DESIRE TO CAUSE THE DISADVANTAGE. I may not be intending to cause them harm, I may regret the harm, but if I am helping to bring about the harm, then I am responsible for it.
There is such thing as passive racism. I didn’t cause the racist system, I don’t want there to be a racist system, but I allow it continue. That is a racist, albeit passive, act. I may say that I am just doing what is in my financial best interest. I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, just help me. But if the structure is unjust, then acting without concern to injustice is unjust.
This is why it is said that voting in a certain way was racist. It did not mean that the vote had to be motivated by hate – although there was certainly plenty of that demonstrated. It cannot be denied that Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policy proposals not only continue, but exacerbate the entrenched structural injustices inherent in our system. To support those views and act to implement them is a racist act.
At the same time, the smugness of Clinton supporters on pure anti-racist grounds is also unwarranted. We learned lots from the Wikileaks documents. Yes, it was an assault on democracy and needs to not only be condemned, but protected against henceforth. Yet, we learned some important facts. Why didn’t Hilary Clinton release the speeches to Goldman-Sachs? Because she admitted to them that when she speaks to the public, she is often lying. She has one message to soothe the masses, to convince them that she is on their side, but then a private set of beliefs which she would use to determine policy, policies that would leave the unjust power structure unchanged with wealth and power flowing upward. The structural racism would be maintained.
Is there an equivalence here? Of course not. But we need to be fully aware that we did have a choice between two racist options, a pair of candidates who had no intention of dismantling or radically reshaping the cultural institutions that do disproportionately prefer some other others on the basis of characteristics like race, sex, and class. Breaking a glass ceiling for one does not keep shards from raining down on many.
If we are to confront racism, we need to see it not only in its individual form, but in its collective form and we need to understand that addressing it will require us to see things we have worked very hard to avoid seeing. We need to understand that we can be kind and still be racist. We should be kind – something we need to once again prize in our culture – but understand that this is independent from questions of racism. We have two separate issues here that we conflate in order to avoid having to deal with the uncomfortable questions of race and privilege. But if the last few weeks have shown us anything it is that being uncomfortable is not the worst of possibilities.
Friday, September 14, 2012
This is my 2,000th and final post at the Philosophers' Playground. It's been six and a half years of almost daily entertainment posing questions and provocative theses for you folks to bat around.
It was during a sabbatical when my former colleague who went by the blog name Aspazia convinced me to give the whole blog thing a go. It was still a new hot edgy thing in those pre-Facebook years. The sense was still there that blogs could be a place where voices could make themselves heard without corporate support. It was the heart of the post-9/11 George W. Bush years and politics were intense. I was working on a popular book on ethical reasoning to be called Was It Morally Good For You, Too: A How-To Guide to Ethics in Sex, Politics, and Other Dirty Words and thought that this might be a good way to test-drive some sections of the manuscript, a good way to find some clever language, and maybe gain a sense of what was interesting and engaging for non-academic readers. That work never found a publisher, but more than a half decade later, the blog persisted.
I have loved the way it took people from every facet and period of my life and brought them together in one continuous dinner party where I never had to wash a single dish. I also love that I met so many new folks who happened across the Playground from another blog and came to make it a regular hangout. Over the years we have had many, many friends stop through, most constructive in their time with us, some not so much. But no matter how passionate this community got over issues, the discourse was almost always respectful. Ad hominem attacks were shut down without my having to be a police officer for the place. It had a playful spirit, but a mature sensibility.
It has been a challenge to keep it fresh and lively, but it was really a joy for me to be a part of this open group. Thank you all for your energy, your presence, and your time whether you were a regular in the comments, wrote guest posts, or just lurked. It has been a lot of fun, good times filled with camaraderie -- everything you want a playground to be.
Thanks again everyone.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
What are the greatest last words in history? My favorites are Hegel who just before dying said, "Only one person ever understood me...and he got it wrong." and Pope Alexander VI who, just before dying said, "Wait a minute..."
Other great parting words?
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
What is the greatest last line/scene of a film? For my money, the best ever will always be Casablanca.The runner-up, Life of Brian. Monty Python was notorious for not being able to end sketches, but this ending is nothing short of classic.Other great endings?
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
There's an old sketch film called "Amazon Women on the Moon" which
contained a spoof of Leonard Nemoy's old program "In Search Of" that had
the tagline, "Bullshit or not, you decide." We use it as a basis for
an occasional series of posts where we consider a passage or quotation from someone notable. Today, let's consider the final lyrics of the last song recorded together by the Beatles, "The End":
"And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make."Romanticized poppycock or legitimately true? Bullshit or not? You decide. As usual, responses may range from a single word to a dissertation.
Monday, September 10, 2012
The Washington Nationals have a good shot at playing some serious post-season baseball. A team that has spent several years rebuilding itself, now has a chance to make a run at the World Series. And just as this happens, they shut down one of, if not their absolutely best pitcher, Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg had surgery last year and before the season began -- when no one thought the Nats would be in such a strong position -- the management announced it would have their fireballer on a strict inning count for the year. He has reached it and they have removed him from the mound. But in doing so, they have harmed their chances to take the championship.
It makes sense why they did it. It is long-term thinking. If we push his arm too hard this close to surgery, it could take years off of his career and they want him to be strong, healthy, and productive as long as possible. But is it sporting? If there is a requirement that one always try one's best to win, is there a problem with this move (admittedly one that may be trumped by the larger moral concern, but is it even there)?
On the one hand, the argument can be made that it is a move designed with competitiveness in mind. Just as starting catchers are given regular days off and less capable back-ups given games to save the catchers for the length of the season, we are seeing the same sort of calculation over several seasons and not just one.
But, on the other hand, isn't competitiveness limited to only the season at hand? You only play one season at a time and the injunction to be maximally competitive is limited to a single year's play. If a football team has been doing poorly in the first half of the year and starts intentionally losing games in order to secure a better draft pick to get a superior player to improve next year's team, there is a big problem. You have to play to win, even if winning would be a disadvantage later on -- think Olympic badminton. Couldn't the move to shut down Strasburg seen as an example of this?
If we take trying your best to win to be a duty of professional athletic organizations, is the shutting down of Stephen Strasburg a violation of the ethos of sport?
Friday, September 07, 2012
Tomorrow is Mencken day at the Enoch Pratt Library, honoring one of the great intellects of Baltimore. Who would be the modern day version of H.L. Mencken? Is there a writer who is smart, ascerbic, conservative, and wry? P.J. O'Rourke? Too flat. Jonah Goldberg? Not smart or clever enough. Ann Coulter? Too...well, Ann Coulter. Who would be the contemporary version of Mencken?