Everyone has asked that about the Republican Party at some time, and while the last few years have changed the answer, in most sentient beings’ minds, from “maybe” to “oh hell yes,” it’s not always the case. I’m not going to defend the GOP here — I know full well they’re merely the “right” wing of GloboHomo — but it’s interesting to think about those situations where emergent behavior looks like deliberate failure.
At Z Man’s the other day, I offered a very limited defense of the History Biz. It’s not just that they’re rabid Leftists, I said. I mean, yeah, they are, no denying that, but outright “writing the conclusion before you even start asking the question”-type fraud, Michael Bellesisles-type fraud, is a lot rarer than you probably think.
Bellesisles, you might recall, is the guy whose revolutionary revisionist thesis was that the Founders weren’t really all that enthusiastic about guns, and didn’t own that many, and that whole 2nd Amendment thing was just an afterthought. Yeah, right. That one was written conclusion first, and since no remotely objective look at the evidence could ever possibly support it, he resorted to making lots of “evidence” up. But the reaction of the rest of the profession was interesting: They lauded Bellesisles to the skies. He won the Bancroft Prize for his work, which is the biggest one you can get in American history. Now, I’m sure you’re saying “of course they praised him, he was telling them exactly what they wanted to hear!”, and you’re right…
…but only to a point. Because eggheads are — as you might imagine — the pettiest, most envious bunch of little bitches this side of a junior high cheerleading squad, there’s no piece of research so meticulous, no conclusion so solid, that someone isn’t going to tear into it in one of the professional journals, for base personal reasons if no other. Lest you think I’m kidding, I personally know of a woman at a big league school whose husband was seduced, and her marriage ruined, by an open, obnoxious lesbian colleague, all because she, the hetero, had dared to question some of the lesbian’s work at a conference in their mutual field.
That’s the level of pettiness we’re dealing with here. And I can’t say for absolute certain that Bellesisles received no criticism whatsoever; he doesn’t work in my field, so even though I was certain that Arming America was bullshit of the purest ray serene, it wasn’t my problem, professionally speaking. But whatever, point is, in my fairly well-informed opinion, merely “telling them what they want to hear” doesn’t account for the entire profession ignoring the huge, blinking, neon red flags surrounding Arming America. Rather, I suggest it’s more of a Pauline Kael thing.
I actually kinda pity Kael — much like John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, she was a fairly big wheel back in her day, but if she’s known at all now, it’s for something entirely peripheral to her life’s work. In Kael’s case, it’s her declaration that it was impossible for Richard Nixon to have won in 1972, since “nobody I know voted for him” (it was one of the biggest blowouts in American electoral history). The Arming America thing is, I think, like that — nobody in academia owns a gun, or knows anyone who owns a gun, or knows anyone who knows anyone who owns a gun. So, yeah, they know all the scary statistics about how there are sixty gorillion more guns than people in America, but all of that iron belongs to the Dirt People, far away over the horizon. They’d never in a million years even be in the same zip code as someone who thinks Arming America was absurd on its face. Hence, it never occurred to them to question it.
It helped that Bellesisles was telling them what they wanted to hear, no doubt, but the main reason nobody challenged it was that they lacked the cognitive toolkit to even consider the possibility he might be wrong.
To put it another way (which also had its genesis in Z Man’s comment section; if you wonder why I don’t write sometimes for a few days or weeks at at time, it’s that I’m an almost entirely “reactive” blogger)… where was I? Oh yeah: Football. It’s been many a year since I watched the Negro Felon League, but last time I did, coaches were still blitzing Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, who at the time were the best quarterbacks in the league (I guess Brady’s somehow still playing). Which is stupid, because good quarterbacks love getting blitzed. If they pick up on it — which they usually do, being good — a blitz is like an engraved, hand-delivered invitation to score. I have no idea how one goes about stopping Manning and Brady — if I did, I’d rent my knowledge out to a black guy (since no team would ever hire my honky ass) and we’d make millions — but I know one surefire way not to do it… and so does everyone else, and yet, they keep doing it. Are they trying to lose?
Again, this is emergent behavior. If Brady is carving his defense up, the defensive coordinator is under immense pressure to do something, anything, to change the dynamic. He knows that every yahoo in the tv audience is yelling “blitz him!!,” so that’s what the coordinator does, even though he knows full well that a) that’s stupid and counterproductive, and b) so are the yahoos urging him to do it, because if they knew anything worth knowing, they’d be wearing a headset instead of jockeying a barstool. Same goes for the yahoos at ESPN, from the bimbette who’s going to shove a mic in his face at the postgame press conference to the hair-gelled dipshits on the shout shows. “Why didn’t you blitz him?” is going to be the first thing out of their mouths, so again, even though he knows it, and they, are stupid, the coordinator dials up a few blitzes… with predictable results.
Football is a great metaphor for politics, especially in the sense that it’s the supposed experts, the guys who get paid millions of dollars to be innovative and analytical, who are the most allergic to actual analysis and innovation. I guess Tom Brady doesn’t play for the Patriots anymore, but for the sake of rhetorical continuity let’s assume he does, and look at legendary coach Bill Belichick. Much smarter, more knowledgeable folks than me have pointed out that he’s really not all that innovative, in the sense of “coming up with wacky new schemes.” Nor is he a particularly shrewd judge of football talent — for every Tom Brady who falls into his lap (Brady was famously a 6th round pick that Belichick had nothing to do with), or Randy Moss that he seems to rehabilitate for a few seasons, there are other big name free agents who join the Patriots and flame out, or highly touted draft picks that don’t do anything. The two secrets of Belichick’s success seem to be: 1) he actually knows the rules, and 2) he fits his game plans to the game.
#1 seems weird, I know, but here’s an example: A decade or so back, he was facing a rival, Pittsburgh or someone, who had a ferocious defense. Belichick knew that the said ferocious defense would be geared up to stopping TE Rob Gronkowski, who had burned them for a million yards last time. To defeat this, Belichick made sacrifice to his strange and awful gods, meditated in a secret Himalayan ashram with the Black Lotus society, and… checked the weather report, which told him that it would almost certainly be cold and rainy on game night. So then he broke out the rule book, in which he learned that there’s no rule against putting out as many offensive lineman as you want — it’s called a “goal line formation” — and so he simply swapped out Gronkowski for a sixth lineman, and ran the ball all night.
Which feeds into #2. Weather reports aren’t top secret information, and the rule book is literally right there, but everyone watching the game — most especially including the Steelers’ defensive coordinator — acted like Belichick had pulled his game plan straight out of the Necronomicon. They had no idea what he was doing, or any clue how to stop it. Here again, it’s not as if the Steelers’ d-coordinator had never seen a goal line formation before, or the announcers had never witnessed a game being played in the rain. It’s just that… well, he’s Rob Gronkowski. They pay him millions to catch balls and wreck worlds, and he was barely on the field. No other coach would do what Belichick did, because who else would tell a zillionaire glory boy to ride the pine, and expect to be obeyed?
See what I mean? Belichick’s “system” was that he didn’t have a system. He figured out what was most likely to win the game, then did that. Note too that nobody seemed to be baffled that an even richer, even more important glory boy, Tom Brady, was also pretty much useless that night. And again, who but Bill would have the sheer brass balls to tell a surefire Hall of Famer to just hand the ball off over and over and over and over and over….? There’s no question that if it should ever happen that Bill believed he had a better chance of winning a given game without Brady than with him, Brady’s ass would’ve been benched for that game, future Hall of Famer or not.
That’s what I mean about emergent behavior. Both Belichick and the Steelers’ d-coordinator thought they were trying to win the game. Hell, I’m willing to believe that both of them would swear in the very throne room of God Almighty that they did everything they could think of to win. It’s just that Belichick could think of a lot more “anything” than the other guy could, because the other guy felt he had to worry about the dudes on barstools, and the sideline reporterettes, and the jock sniffers on the ESPN rant shows, and Belichick… didn’t. That’s all.
But that’s the thing about politics, and why the football metaphor only goes so far: The very next week, every doofus football coach in America, from the NFL to the local PeeWee league, was running out six and seven offensive linemen for every play. It makes zero sense to do this in good weather, or when you don’t have a solid run-blocking line, or for a million other reasons, but all those meatheads saw that Belichick won with this never-before-seen thing called “the goal line formation, but, you know, at midfield,” and so they all had to incorporate it into their game plans….
…lest the barstool yahoos and the reporterettes and Stephen A. Smith all start yelling about why didn’t you send out the extra lineman?!?!*
Given all that, you’d think that politicians would take a few lessons from the Trump phenomenon, the way every coach who has seen Belichick’s latest “gimmick” feels honor-bound to repeat it… if, you know, he’s actually trying to win, however defined.
*See also: the “wildcat formation,” which is a gimmick crappy college teams sometimes use when they don’t really have a quarterback who can throw the ball consistently, as crappy teams often don’t. For some reason, some pro team busted it out one season — it was the Dolphins, I think, because their regular crappy quarterback got hurt and their crappy backup was crappy even by the Dolphins’ standards. So they used this silly college gadget play, and won a game or two with it, and next season every single fucking team in the entire goddamn league was running the “wildcat.” And then the inevitable happened, pro football being designed around quarterbacks capable of making professional throws, and now the only teams that run the wildcat are small high schools in the ass end of nowhere, as God intended.