TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Are Law Professors (And Lawyers) Playing Baseball When We Should Be Playing Soccer?

SoccerNew York Times op-ed:  Baseball or Soccer?, by David Brooks:

Is life more like baseball, or is it more like soccer?

Baseball is a team sport, but it is basically an accumulation of individual activities. Throwing a strike, hitting a line drive or fielding a grounder is primarily an individual achievement. The team that performs the most individual tasks well will probably win the game.

Soccer is not like that. In soccer, almost no task, except the penalty kick and a few others, is intrinsically individual. Soccer, as Simon Critchley pointed out recently in The New York Review of Books, is a game about occupying and controlling space. If you get the ball and your teammates have run the right formations, and structured the space around you, you’ll have three or four options on where to distribute it. If the defenders have structured their formations to control the space, then you will have no options. Even the act of touching the ball is not primarily defined by the man who is touching it; it is defined by the context created by all the other players. As Critchley writes, “Soccer is a collective game, a team game, and everyone has to play the part which has been assigned to them, which means they have to understand it spatially, positionally and intelligently and make it effective.” ...

Most 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. ...

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.

Second, predictive models will be less useful. Baseball is wonderful for sabermetricians. In each at bat there is a limited range of possible outcomes. Activities like soccer are not as easily renderable statistically, because the relevant spatial structures are harder to quantify. Even the estimable statistician Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight gave Brazil a 65 percent chance of beating Germany.

Finally, Critchley notes that soccer 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.

For more, see The Role of Faculty Scholarship at Faith-Based Law Schools.

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If your life is slow, then it's like baseball.

If it's so boring and pointless that you're inclined to explode in anger, it's like soccer.

If it's a battle in which you're continually being knocked down, it's like (American) football.

If you never seem to get a moments rest, then it's like basketball.

If your life makes no sense to outsiders, then it's like cricket.

If your life is leisurely and pleasant, then it is like golf.


Posted by: Michael W. Perry | Jul 13, 2014 1:10:18 PM

Certain liberals claim to love soccer, but think they pass yet one more blizzard of laws to control the rest of the country and the world. Doesn't soccer help us realize that the rest of the country and the world are just too complicated and full of competing interests to be so easily controlled?

Posted by: Elmer Stoup | Jul 14, 2014 9:50:35 AM