Friday, July 11, 2014

@nytdavidbrooks, today is your best column ever.

David Brooks, writing in the New York Times today, wrote just about the best column I think he's ever come up with.  He starts with a distinction between baseball and soccer as cognitive metaphors for understanding modern life, and comes down decidedly on the side of soccer.
"Baseball is a team sport, but it is basically an accumulation of individual activities ... soccer is not like that ... [soccer] is defined by the context created by all the other players ... [m]ost of us spend our days thinking we are playing baseball, but we are really playing soccer. We think we individually choose what career path to take, whom to socialize with, what views to hold. But, in fact, those decisions are shaped by the networks of people around us more than we dare recognize."
Welcome to the party, sir.
image available at
"Once we acknowledge that, in life, we are playing soccer, not baseball, a few things become clear. First, awareness of the landscape of reality is the highest form of wisdom. It’s not raw computational power that matters most; it’s having a sensitive attunement to the widest environment, feeling where the flow of events is going. Genius is in practice perceiving more than the conscious reasoning."
This is legibility via the back-door.  Brooks is arguing that value lies in awareness of the contours of the forest, rather than reshaping it to be "computable" (or presuming that it is legible in the first instance). This is a clarion call for evidence-based evaluation of reality, rather than the computation frame of thinking.  That concept's come up here before (and again here).
"... [s]occer is like a 90-minute anxiety dream — one of those frustrating dreams when you’re trying to get somewhere but something is always in the way. This is yet another way soccer is like life."
"Red on Maroon" (1959)
Mark Rothko (1903‑1970), Tate Modern
available at
This is Rothko's Red on Maroon -- a gateway through which one may struggle to pass, to a
destination unknown. A blocked portal, through which you're not even sure you want to go, knowing only that you feel little choice, on a path you sense will be fraught with danger, danger that we fear (which came up here).

Sometimes you want to just acknowledge the quality of another's writing, and while Brooks' often doesn't resonate with me like it once did, I think his time spent leading a writing seminar at Yale University may be paying off ...