Win or Lose

Back in the early ’80s, I used to play pool with a guy named Dave Williamson. We would drive down to a nearby pool hall and play 8-ball while eating lunch. Dave was Keyboard’s advertising director, and a very competitive guy. In order to understand this story, you have to know a little about the rules of 8-ball.

There are two ways to win a game of 8-ball: You can sink all of your balls, followed by the 8, or your opponent can foul. If you foul, you lose immediately. Sinking the 8 ball too early is a foul … but here’s the nasty bit: Once you’ve sunk all of your balls and you’re shooting for the 8, if the cue ball strikes one of your opponent’s remaining balls before it hits the 8, you’ve fouled, and you lose.

If your opponent gets too far ahead — if he’s shooting for the 8 while you still have four or five of your balls on the table — you have a tactical opportunity. You can make a shot that deliberately puts the cue ball behind two or three of your balls, thus making it quite likely that your opponent will foul.

I was a slightly better shot than Dave, and that used to drive him crazy. If I got ahead in the race toward the 8, he would sandbag. He would deliberately start missing shots, thus inviting me to get even farther ahead, so that on a later shot he could more easily trap me behind his remaining balls.

This tactic made it less fun to shoot pool with Dave. To his way of thinking, winning was more important than skillful performance. If he could win by making a couple of bad shots, he would do so, and congratulate himself on the victory.

Does this remind you at all of how the Republican Party operates?

We know perfectly well that many Republican lawmakers have no problem personally with the idea of gay marriage. But they’ll never say so, because that would cost them votes among the knuckle-dragging fringe of their constituency. No, these legislators would rather hurt people than take a chance on losing an election.

The desire to win is not merely a cultural artifact; it’s deeply rooted in evolution. The winners (among many species of mammals) are the ones that get to make babies. The losers don’t make babies. So our instincts get cranked up with the desire to win. Whether or not a given victory will lead to procreational possibilities doesn’t matter at all. What matters is winning.

I’ve started to feel that the desire to win is a disgusting and vicious thing. It leads to all sorts of horrible malformations of psyche and culture. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with it.

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One Response to Win or Lose

  1. We’re not actually stuck with any idea that most find distasteful, unless we stick ourselves with the habits of others’ thoughts.
    Winning in this manner is just as much fun, for it is just as much winning, for some.
    It all has to do with which reality one lives in regarding rules.

    People who fixate a lot on the letter of the law, and expect from the universe a predictable unfolding tends to see thing very different than those who fixate on the purpose of the rule(s). Rule lovers wonder how else it is that anyone who does not respect the rules above all else can have any moral ethic at all, while people who love and respect wonder how they can not see it is wrong to teo the line on rules that foster love and respect for each other. Both have a commitment to human well being, but they see it from different universes. If one does not follow the exact limits of the law, one cannot be predicted and trusted, but if one is always seeking to bend the law to one’s advantage, then one can only be trusted to be selfish.

    Most of us do not live at either extreme of respect for rules or their purpose, or either end of the spectrum from those who love only their own advanntage over others to those who love every part of their universe, but as someone who lives near the later end I must say, for me the best part of life is not knowing how to predict everything.

    For me David’s style of playing is not much fun, but from David’s perspective it is more fun than losing.

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