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.