Discover more from Stoic Observations
Everybody Hates A Level Playing Field
The Tyranny of Merit, Cruel Bastards and the Logarithmic Shadow
This is an argument for class and against equality.
Imagine that you were introduced to basketball by Michael Jordan. He teaches you how to dribble, to shoot, to block, to assist. You get pretty good. And then he starts playing. Every day you are playing against Michael Jordan; every day you are losing. After a while, the sport would cease to be appealing to you, unless you were Clyde Drexler or Dominique Wilkins.
My observation of meritocracy is that it must be tyrannical in this way. It is a domination game. There are technical, political and aesthetic tyrannies at work at the core of any contest. Sometimes we made our decision about ‘sport vs activity’ based upon whether the score was determined by judges. Ice dancing, springboard diving, skateboard vert ramp. All of these require judges rather than timers or other measuring devices. But a winner must be determined no matter what. If it's not, then a game isn't fair. Fairness seems rather odd in this respect - if everybody plays by the same rules, you always produce proper winners and proper losers. We seem to forget that this is what fairness demands. Fairness demands that you create losers. Somehow we've perverted our ideas of sportsmanship and equality of opportunity into regimes of truth and equity. That’s Orwell calling. He wants his sarcasm back.
It's true that it's not whether you win or lose but how you play the game. Right. If you play fair and lose, then it's a good game. But if you play so that there are no winners and no losers then you have destroyed the rules, and thus the meaning of sportsmanship and the integrity of the idea of fair play. Meritocracy is hardball. Rules are tyrannical. All of that is fair.
In another version of 'sport vs activity' we focused on the courtly games vs the roughneck games. Is golfing a sport? What about skiing? Well, not like football or boxing. As it turns out, every sport, every competitive activity has its requirements most of which at the pro level are far beyond us. I don't know about you, but I'm never going to dunk on Akeem. I'm never going to hit a 90mph fastball. I'm never going to pass a stock car on the high side at 190mph. I'm never going to drive a golf ball 350 yards. I'm never going to surf Mavericks. And yet these are the things the best of us do on a regular basis. Nevertheless, I should be able to enjoy auto racing, baseball, surfing and basketball not only as a spectator, but as a participant. I don't want to play one on one against Jordan, but what about fairness? A level playing field is a killing field. That's why we have leagues. Multiple playing fields with fences and gates. 9 foot rims. Softball. Boogie boards. Community colleges. Flag football.
Cruel Realities, Soft Bigotry
Here in America, we suffer a surfeit of bastards. My definition of a bastard combines facts and observables. A bastard is always the heartless one who exerts his cruelty upon others because of the cruelty at the heart of his very existence. He was not loved by the man who made him. So bastards tend to be unforgiving when it comes to the rules - they expect none and give no love or quarter. A gentleman on the other hand will have his honor and with honor comes grace which is taken and given. A forgiving and honorable father will wrestle with his son, and in that roughhouse play, the son will learn the limits of force and the discipline of violent action. The son learns how to speak up when the pain is too great. The graceful father relents. The son knows his father is stronger, but can be kind, and so respects his restraint. These are lessons the bastard never learns. The bastard sees no honor in any failure to be the strongest. So bastards stand as border guards, bayonets at the ready, following the only orders they get, surviving on the thin gruel of absolute regulatory compliance. Bastards live in the zone of zero-tolerance of the hardest tyrannies. They pervert meritocracy by dismissing class and demanding the absolute highest standards for all. They do not learn. They cannot teach. Their discrimination is indiscriminate. They only know the hard gate of ‘the’ level playing field. Sorry Charlie, we don’t want tuna with good taste, only tuna that taste good.
What many object to when speaking American merit is that our promise of meritocracy gives fine comfort to those who would be bastards. Here in the States, we don't go in for hereditary titles and the other trappings of royalty, peerage and primogeniture. It’s all about skills. We prefer SAT results, Body Mass Indices and FICO scores. But what about honor? We make sport scoreboards of our humanity, often to our detriment. The entire burgeoning industry of data science privileges all the types of knowledge that can be measured with numbers and piped through a digital system. How can we avoid a discussion about who was the best rock guitarist of all time, or the top five romantic comedies, or Chanel vs Hermés? We cannot, because the bastards among us will not let us have history settled. America is the land that killed the gentleman's 'C'. We have left ladies and gentlemen behind. America is leaving the roughhousing fathers behind. We are searching for new hard categories of racial and gender classes which are supposed to generate special passes to ‘the’ playing field of meritocracy. So history needs a rewrite for the promise of the utopia to come. The new bastards need new rules for the new panoptic regime. They presume all of history was run by bastards similar to themselves.
We will come to regret that, yielding as we do all sorts of credits to all sorts of characters, ungentlemanly as they may be. You see in order to create the illusion that we are personally and institutionally in service to the ideal of equality, we try to assert the absolute necessity of representational quotas. Looks don’t ‘look like America’. Fair play looks like the America of non-bastards who show grace and demonstrate fairness. It doesn't bother me much that I cannot hang with Michael Jordan, but I feel as though I am often surrounded by those who are bound and determined to level things out. To have he and I play by the same rules on the same court and call that equality is only something a heartless bastard would ask. It is quite enough for any sort of meritocracy I would respect that I can see and be inspired by Jordan, and play equitably amongst my peers, in my class, in my league, in my own neighborhood.
So who is really the bastard? The one who says we all must play on one playing field without any regard to our actual abilities. The one who won't let us group up into respectable leagues. The one who, in service to the unreal ideal of a level playing field for everyone, makes the boys play against the girls, the rich play against the poor, the strong play against the weak, the young against the old, all without regard to their demonstrated ability or their reasonable potential. All as stridently illiberal as possible. The demands are clear. The right way to do have fairness and meritocracy is to have a hierarchy of leagues and an open, unlimited class. Judge them by whether or not the tyrannical rules produce proper winners and proper losers.
America loves sports because we get to participate. We get to be inspired by Tiger Woods; we watched him climb the leagues. We have leagues and classes and invitationals and opens and tournaments and qualifiers so that the tyranny of rules can apply where we can apply ourselves with discipline among our peers. Social mobility is impossible without class. The firmness of class can never be realized without proper roughhousing around the real individual boundaries of ability and pain. Promotion is not real unless relegation is real.
Obligatory Trump Statement
Trump refused to be a proper loser. But Trump’s opponents refused to have tyrannical rules when applied to the open, unlimited class. That is why their accusations of cheating fell on deaf ears. Tyrannical rules of evidence were not carried out to the letter. Were they afraid of being called bastards? Trump welcomed being called a bastard, because he is just that petty, cruel man. He remains America’s bastard, still leading the confused into RINO bastardy and the opposition into shrill panic.
Obligatory Citizenship Statement
Equality before the law is absolutely necessary in a civilized society. But that society becomes uncivilized when the aegis of tyrannical rules increases. Simply stated, all rules must be policed. The more closely we apply rules to persons, the more we make the personal political, the more we destroy liberty, the more we reward the bastards, scolds, busybodies and whiny among us.
Obligatory Monarchy Statement
There’s something about nobility that hits us humans square in our hearts. The lessons of kings and the understanding of their inner conflict is what makes Shakespeare great. We have enough history and literature of rulers great and mean to serve our moral and ethical purposes.
The Logarithmic Shadow
There's something I have called the Logarithmic Shadow. I have described it all kinds of ways. In one way I've described it in Cobb's Rule #7: Never trust a man whose shoes cost more than your whole day's pay. The Logarithmic Shadow is how I describe how the poor survive at all given the power of the rich. Most of us don't know Michael Jordan. Most of us are even incompetent to be a high school basketball coach. So what keeps Jordan from messing all over our neighborhood basketball games? What keeps the CIA from bugging your PTA? What keeps Special Forces snipers from shooting schoolyard bullies? It's the same thing that keeps you standing outside of the club where Lady Gaga is hanging out tonight. It's the same thing that keeps you stuck in traffic on the freeway.
The big dogs have bigger fish to fry, and you ain't one of them. Be grateful for your league.
So I will describe the Logarithmic Shadow as the respect for leagues, boundaries and capabilities. It's NOT fair if we all play on the same turf. That's a class violation, and class violations are what makes the small tyrannies of rulesets into big tyrannies of societies. See you didn't like me saying meritocracy is tyrannical did you? OK. The proper American meritocracy implicitly means multiple levels and hierarchy. We mean preserving the mobility of climbing (and descending) the social ladder. We mean, if we're serious, we mean superior and inferior. We mean winners and losers. We mean brackets and championships. We mean win, place, show and also ran. We mean fair, gated competitions, not a national free-for-all.
Now that we have that understanding, I'm going to point out some things I don't like which are consequential - representing people who are stepping out of the Shadow.
I don't like a President who doesn't act Presidential.
That means a President who hogs the spotlight and doesn't delegate authority is the man whose shoes cost more than your day's pay. When he's the big dog paying attention small fry that means three things. One. He's going to win with overwhelming force 95% of the time. Two. The bigger fish are getting away. Three. The 5% of the time he loses to the small fry, degrades the office. Stay in your lane.
I don't like all this rabble about 'income inequality'.
If you can walk all day barefoot, then that's your advantage over the man who can't. Ask the Viet Cong. If you can live without eating steak and lobster, without manicures and tummy tucks, without air conditioning and power windows, good! He who lives without luxury will not be a slave to fashion. But the girl who wears fake Prada sunglasses is both self-delusional and a fraud. The man who cannot save $100,000 cannot save the planet. Stay in your lane, people.
I don’t like blessing of the marginal gift.
Rulers abuse the populace when they aggregate seemingly trivial contributions. Telling me I can save the planet by enduring cold showers, or telling me which kind of car to buy is a con game. Phony virtue is a busy and volatile market for suckers. Don’t reply to the spam.
I don’t like watching Michael Jackson playing basketball. I don’t like Michael Jordan dancing and singing, and neither do you. I don’t like watching women do flying scissor takedowns in movies. They’re not empowering. They are junior league. To engage the fantasy of classless equality is to poison the mind against self-improvement. This video is not real fighting. All black belts are not equal. But a real MMA champion fighter is not going to come to this gym and destroy that woman. She lives safely in the Shadow. Good. Yokels deserve respect, as do all of us Peasants.