Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Police

Game 112 – Red Sox

Angels 4, Red Sox 2
Record: 68-44

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – George Santayana

“History will teach us nothing” – Sting

Now that the Yankees are a mere 6 games behind the Sox, it’s quite certain that the Worldwide Leader, Dan Shaughnessy, Murray Chass, Bob Klapisch and the rest of the media-entertainment complex will be beating the 1978 horse until long after it expires. Yesterday, SoSH superhero Jose Melendez had a unique and I think spot-on take on the relevance of that 29 year-old choke:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Bam. That one little sentence, that casual string of symbols and scratches flowing from George Santayana’s quill explains why we study history. We wouldn’t want to repeat the miseries of the past would we? Certainly not. Indeed, William Shirer made that line the epigraph for “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” an account of some history we definitely don’t want to repeat. The sentiment is right. Repeating the past is best avoided. In too many cases the past is simply awful, but even when the past is beautiful is it really something we wish to repeat, or is progress the goal of eternity?

There is, however, a problem with Santayana’s little cliché. It is wrong. That is not to say that it is an incomplete model, that it, like how the Newtonian laws, explains some things very well, while at the same time being verifiably untrue. It is not merely flawed; it stands in direct opposition to truth. Those who do remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

What has an excessive devotion to history ever brought us? Hubris, anger, vengeance. Would we not be better off if no Serb had heard of the Field of Blackbirds, or knew the tragic story of Tsar Lazar? Would social progress in India not proceed more smoothly if no one remembered his caste?

History is not a teacher. It is not some kindly scholar eager to impart wisdom to the generations. History is a propagandist, eager to demand moral clarity where none exists.

History is not a lover, gently letting us know that we are part of something bigger.

History is a bitch, offering any flattery to get the drama she craves, spreading disease and decay across generations.

History is not a friend. It offers no counsel, no compassion, no support.

History is a traitor, leading us to disaster with promises of insight.

History is the problem in two ways. First, history is an illusionist, a master of misdirection. Much as the conjurer distracts us from his manipulations with movements of the hand, history distracts us from the issue of the day by focusing our attention on the movements of the past. The Maginot line, that monument to the ineffectiveness of backward thinking, is nothing if not an indictment of close attention to history. Baseball has its Maginot lines, and one guards the Bronx. The Yankees are fixated on the past. For them, the solution to any problem, it seems, is a closer study of that which has gone before. First base is a problem? Bring back Tino Martinez. The starting pitching is lacking? Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens used to be good, so they must be good now. The Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens of today are nothing more than a machine gun bunker on the Franco-German border, threatening, but ultimately irrelevant.

The second curse of history is that one’s very fixation on it is the greatest guarantor of its recurrence. So much conflict in the world, so much despair, is driven by fear of what has happened before, of past conquest, of past slavery, of past pain. And much like Oedipus, desperately trying to avoid a perceived fate, people around the world, over and over, have charged recklessly into the arms of their damnable past thereby guaranteeing a damnable future.

Remember 1978? Forget it. Only because we know that the Red Sox blew a huge lead in 1978 do we think it possible that it could happen again. Yet, only by acting fearfully, could it happen this year. This is not 1978. The Yankees have no Ron Guidry, save the graying pitching coach. We are better than them. And yet, fear persists. What if it happens again? But it will not. It cannot. It cannot, unless fear moves us to irrationality.

The genius of the 2004 Red Sox was their utter mindlessness. Their lack of attention to tradition, to history, allowed them to avoid letting fear direct their actions. Conversely, the 2004 Yankees’ fixation on history led to hubris, and, invariably, nemesis. The 2004 lesson, the silliness, the shallowness, the disregard for the norms of the game, that is what must be emulated if we are to have success in 2007. Of course, that would be taking a lesson from history.

Best to avoid it.

Damn right. As another great American once said, “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?” Wait, I mean, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” Don Zimmer’s not walking through that door, setting off airport metal detectors, hating all his best players and panicking every time he makes out a lineup card. The shredded pitching staff’s not walking through that door. Ron Guidry as Louisiana Lightning isn't walking through that door, unless he’s going to talk Kyle Farnsworth off a ledge.

The schedule does not favor the Red Sox right now, and significantly favors their major competitor. That calculus changes substantially in less than a week. Until then, I’ll keep repeating this mantra and chewing my fingernails. I’m simply not ready to contemplate any alternative reality.

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