On Horse Races, Absolutes, Red Pens, and Humility
by Robert L. Kocher
In a recent article I argued that real world truth was much like the red pen I was holding in my hand, and that the existence of the red pen was the strongest possible argument for its existence. I implicitly argued that truth is based upon reality and absolutes. Some readers argued with me by saying evaluations based upon such simple perceptions and physical facts were not always possible.
Maybe so. Maybe not.
Occasionally one meets someone who restores a sense of humility in one’s life. I have met several such in my lifetime. I had a friend whose mind functioned like something out of science fiction. He drove his wife to distraction because he would throw out the phone books. He didn’t need them because he had already seen them. In so doing, he had memorized any number he ever expected to use. He wore a watch because people expected him to wear one. In fact, he knew the time of day within two or three minutes without need of a watch or clock. It wasn’t a matter of him compulsively counting hours and seconds. It was as if there was a subconscious clock inside his head that he could refer to at will, but was not an intrusion, or even in his awareness, when he didn’t need it. He knew the daily weather conditions in diverse parts of the country going back four years.
There are people capable of intimidating feats of memory. Many of them seem to come from California and appear on TV as motivational speakers selling some kind of self-development program or something similar. Graduate schools and college faculties abound with people whose academic achievements are based primarily on memory. What one often sees is people who have phenomenal memories that they parade as showpieces, but who don’t seem to think accurately, productively, or creatively. However, this man could think and reason with absolute uncontaminated clarity.
Through study, he become one of the nation’s best thoroughbred race horse handicappers. He knew the breeding of any thoroughbred back almost to the time of Hammurabi. He knew what horses had beaten other horses with the same blood lines in hundreds of races. He was able to bet what are called maiden claiming races and win with regularity. Maiden claimers are races between horses that have either not raced before or have never won a race and who, hence, have no record to go on except knowledge of their breeding. That makes the races difficult to predict and brings the odds up. For the best handicappers in the business, that’s where the challenge and money is. Few people can do it.
A good handicapper seldom bets favorites or easy races. He looks for difficult races and long odds that other people miss. He never bets large sums of money. Anyone who bets more than 20 dollars on a race is an amateur. This man would, quite consistently, betting only small sums of money, quietly win from $200 to $15,000 per day at the race track while experienced people around him floundered around in confusion complaining the races must be fixed, that the horses aren’t running right, you can’t bet horses and win, horses are unpredictable, and so forth. Many of them have developed “systems” which don’t work. Although they do poorly, they still rationalize their systems work, but somehow things just go wrong.
Things don’t go that far wrong. The fact is, horses, like everything else, are absolutes. There is an absolute lawfulness, an absolute cause and effect, absolute consequences, to how they run. There is little ambiguity involved in horse races. This man was intelligent enough to have figured out those absolute principles of horse races. He’d spend the night studying a racing form. The next day he’d go to the races and win, often not bothering to see the final races finish or cash in winning tickets. Occasionally something would intervene, such as a horse breaking a leg or a jockey falling off. But, on the average, he’d hit it close.
To that man, the future outcome of a horse race was often as observable to him as the red pen in my hand.
The argument then becomes: if he was that good why wasn’t he a millionaire. The answer is, he was.
Absolutes vs. Self-Deception
Ambiguity and difficulty are not qualities of events. They are face-saving terms we assign to events as white lies to hide our humiliating limitations from ourselves when the basic principles or the complexities of events are beyond our abilities. To declare that there are no absolutes is an arrogant exercise in denial of one’s own limitations. People attribute their own shortcomings or desires to events rather than to themselves. People would rather attribute their poor performance at the track to the horses than to the way they analyzed and bet the race.
All reality is absolute. The entire universe is a horse race. Psychology is a horse race. Anthropology is a horse race. Economics is a horse race. The use and effects of recreational drugs is a horse race. Personal values are a horse race. Morality is a horse race. There are predictable consequences in each of these areas. They are all absolutes. When you make choices in any of these areas, there are predictable consequences that follow. To some people those relationships are as observable as my red pen.
A person’s belief in, and perception of, absolutes is dependent upon his intellectual ability, and his inclination to accept existence of those absolutes, interacting with the body of previously developed knowledge that need not be recapitulated from scratch, or that can be utilized, before making a decision. Thus, an intelligent and well-read mind need not recapitulate the years of work of Newton, Maxwell, Mendeleev, or Freud to attain knowledge at that level, but can begin with that level of knowledge to further his own level of absolute comprehension.
Before we go overboard on this, human beings are not omnipotent and there are reasonable limits of expectation. With some frequency lightening will hit a racetrack because of the open space and electrical attraction of the high overhead lighting system. This frightens the horses and jockeys, and changes the outcome of the race. Theoretically, it is possible to know exactly when that bolt is going to hit the track. In the practical real world it’s not reasonable to expect someone to know that without having the nearly the power of god. In the non-neurotic real world a person must recognize their own personal limits, and recognize the practical boundaries of cognitive possibilities. Life isn’t like in the movies where an absolutely perfect all-knowing Sherlock Holmes faces off against an absolutely perfect all-knowing Moriarty.
Having said that, let us look at some general principles.
The stupider a person is, the less he believes in absolutes and the fewer consequences he is able to predict. That is why fools never know what to do or what’s going to happen, or often, what has happened. Conversely, the brighter a person is, the more absolutes and consequences he can see. That’s why brighter people accomplish more and stay out of trouble more. Disbelief in absolutes is the mark of the unintelligent. It’s almost the definition of a dummy. Dummies never know what is happening or what is going to happen.
That last paragraph is completely contrary to everything we have been told or have heard for much of this century, especially from liberals. Certainly, for the last nearly 40 years the war cry among certified intellectuals has been, “There are no absolutes,” This is in strange contradiction to what I would expect someone of intellect to say. I used to believe the purpose of knowledge is to enable perception and utilization of absolutes. In recent periods the purpose of education has been to achieve the opposite condition. Over the years I have struggled to find an explanation.
In the first place, who are intellectuals and how do they become established as intellectuals? Has anyone ever questioned this? Maybe it’s time we did.
In the 60s and 70s Gore Vidal would write books and appear night after night on late night TV talk shows as an intellectual. Although he had a verbal fluency, my impression was that he was childish, and conceited over his power to remain childish, to the point of nausea. It’s as if his mommy patted him on the head for being a cute child and he still carried that image in his mind and took confidence in it long after he should have passed into manhood. I wouldn’t think any person of stature and mature frame of reference would tolerate being in the same room with him for any period. Eleanor Clift, and others like her, seem to glory in the attention achieved by being irritatingly oppositional. One time Kennedy advisor Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and others like him, impress me as having developed mentalities that recite empty jargon irrelevant to reality. That he was ever an advisor to anybody is frightening. Night after night I see people on TV, or I read about books, or I hear pronouncements from supposed university educators, who are complete goofs. Why aren’t these people dismissed as fools instead of being hailed as intellectuals?
To be certain, there are a few magnificent minds such as Solzhenitsyn who should be classified as true intellectual giants. Solzhenitsyn was more liked by American intellectuals from a distance where he could be romanticized as paralleling their own view of themselves as intellectuals suffering for truth, than he was after coming over here where soft Americans were faced with the hard content of his mind. When the intellectual establishment found he was a man instead of a fop, he didn’t fit in. Virtually none of the people I view as intelligent or insightful are viewed enthusiastically by the intellectual establishment.
An “Intellectual” and His Mommy
On the average, I don’t like what are proclaimed to be intellectuals and I don’t want them around me. They are typically immature, boring, demanding, and an annoyance. In forty years I have not found any of them apparently living in the same solar system I live in. Whatever it is they are describing and the logic they are using to justify it sure as hell doesn’t exist on the planet I live on. They are absolutely wrong about everything and believe it’s cute to be so, but they demand to be important and have their say in everything. Within the subculture, the complex evasion in confusion has been mistakenly sought-after as an indication of depth. They say something a little kid would say and look at me as if to say, “Don’t you think I’m clever?” But, I’m not their mommy and I don’t think they are clever. Most of the members of the intellectual establishment have minds like babies. In the serious world I live in they are silly. The problem is, that in this culture there are enough silly people to make silliness acceptable. The problem also is that American culture has enough cushy positions distant from serious responsibility, and enough intervention between individuals and irresponsibility, so that increasingly greater proportions of society find it allowable to do little else but engage in silliness. There is silliness from college faculties. There is silliness on TV. There is silliness from church pulpits. There is silliness in socio-political
movements. There is silliness in the White House. There isn’t enough mature seriousness remaining in this country to reject it.
Over the years I have put together a series of profiles and characteristics of intellectual life and intellectuals. I long ago came to the conclusion that intellectuals and intellectual life are a cult of self-infatuated narcissism combined with a measure of dishonesty, laziness, shallowness, and immaturity. Intellectuals, particularly in the academic world are often hiding from life and are often resentful of those who aren’t or don’t. They have constructed a false world in which they impress each other much like Lilliputians hopped over strings to amuse the king in Gulliver’s travels. It’s a let’s-pretend world where being foppishly dingy is looked upon as a terribly clever affectation and mark of identification.
I don’t find most intellectuals and people in the academic world to be terribly bright. Their definition of intellect is self-serving and arbitrary.
Within the intellectual subculture basic hard absolute reality is looked upon as a vulgar intrusion into their soft world or their puffed up fantasies about their selves. As a group, intellectuals seem to have a hatred of simple hard reality. It’s as if they look at reality as a personal attack upon them. Many spoiled people who have been protected from responsibility and demand to remain in that condition often look at demands to face reality as vicious attacks upon them. This often develops to a point of paranoia wherein they feel under constant attack and siege by a persecutional world. In reality the rest of the world is telling them they must leave a verbose pompous, self-absorbed, eternal childhood, and they conveniently interpret this as anti-intellectuality. The details of this must be reserved for a discussion of contemporary personality development.
Crush Competence Now!
If intellectuals hate reality, they are even more resentful and hateful of competence in other people and will try to obstruct it. Competence in other people, and threatening the complacency of the herd mentality, arouses rage and resentment that is unimaginable. The intellectual and educational establishment are in a war in which competence is to be crushed.
Some years ago I attended a university staff meeting where there was discussion as to whether there was oil pollution in a bay and whether a research contract could be obtained to study it. The aimless discussion went on for an hour. In impatience and exasperation I asked whether a differential spectrophotometer and gas chromatograph were available. After a yes answer I suggested a water sample be taken with a specially designed sampler costing $100, a solvent extraction be done, followed by a differential scan of the extracts. If contamination were present, the preliminary results could be put in the proposal demonstrating need for further research. Everyone in the room looked as if they had been slapped in the face with a stocking full of manure at the insulting intrusion of aggressive realistic competence. They had a temper tantrum and refused to do it. I’ve run into this hundreds of times dealing with academics and intellectuals. Both in academia and private industry I’ve had people refuse $300,000 research contracts because their anti-competence agenda was more important to them than the success of their department or business.
Coordinate with this, I find intellectuals are often subconsciously compulsively destructive. They define themselves by, and practice, a perverse creativity characterized by an adversarial and contrarian view of the sane world which is rewarded with attention and an apparent feeling of superiority over that which they criticize. It’s as if intellectuals play a game in which the more cleverly they are able to sabotage or destroy something against all reason, the more clearly the superiority and dominance of their intelligence level is demonstrated by subjecting the rational to petty humiliation.
In a glorious victory for the forces of pretentious mediocrity, Jack Kennedy brought something in the order of 16 intellectuals into the top levels of his administration, and more at lower levels. In reality, it was the greatest collection of childishly defiant destructive and useless duds in memory. They rapidly destroyed all opposition to Castro at the Bay of Pigs, solidified the security of the Castro regime and its export of revolution through a confrontation with Khrushchev, destabilized Southeast Asia by assassinating President Diem, and got us into a war in Viet Nam conducted in such a way that it destroyed our military and nearly created a revolution in the streets of this country. It didn’t happen by accident. It expressed a mental way of life in the people brought into the administration.
Now, we have a new so-called brilliant intellectual Rhodes Scholar as president. As a consequence, we have erroneously bombed or missiled parts of Africa. We are bombing Iraq. We are bombing Serbia. We’ve expended half the ordnance in our arsenal. Our relationship with Russia, and Russian internal stability, is in worse condition since any period before Reagan-Gorbachev. We’ve blown up a Chinese embassy. Through the agency of James Carville we have succeeded in overturning the Israeli government. North Korea is preparing to invade the South under the umbrella of newly-developed missile blackmail. China feels confident in testing missiles over Japan skys and pushing toward invasion of Taiwan–with the aid of imported American technology. A large portion of the world is beginning to wonder if we are nuts and whether they should legitimately feel threatened by an American loose cannon. And that isn’t the half of it while Bill Clinton, the eternal rebellious child, sits in the middle of it triumphant over the inexorable effect his superior manipulative intellect and importance are having on the world. If the entire world blows up it will be the ultimate victory because it both satisfies his hostility and demonstrate his magnificent evasive intellectual complexity was brilliant enough to entrap people into doing it.
The business of being an intellectual is once again really booming. How else are we going to get twisted rationalizations for all this? An ordinary intelligent mentality would be incapable of justifying it. At this point, I’m of the view that much of “intellectuality” is not intellectuality, but is instead of form of group-reinforced group pathology inhabited by pampered self-infatuated weaklings seeking escape from life and reality. More honest intelligent conversation can often be had from a good electrician or construction foreman who was born highly intelligent (but is only a high school graduate) than from intellectuals.
The degraded condition of modern intellectuality is either only a part of, or interacts with other elements. The rejection of absolutes has often been a matter of deliberate misunderstanding for purposes of people seeing what they can get away with.
In the fight against absolutes there has been a steady erosion of confidence and rationality as selective portions of other cultures have been used to invalidate or reference American culture for purposes of devising an irresponsible anthropologically-theorized hedonism. Both as a society and as individuals, we’ve been hit over the head and crippled with it for too many years.
The Social Anthropology of “Sexual Repression”
More specifically, for the last thirty years there is hardly a jackass in the country who, as a ploy to get into bed with somebody else’s husband or wife, or some other nonsense, does not arm his or her self with anthropology books, then begin a brilliant crusade denouncing American sexual repression while demanding the adoption of a more enlightened and permissive cultural arrangement as exists in Borneo or some other hypothetical bright spot. In such cases the war on absolutes is not a search for truth, but an indirect declaration that someone really wants out of their marriage. It’s important not to confuse relativism with personal conflict and denial. Absolutes are denied by people who purposely want to deny them. But wanting out of a marriage is not a disproof of absolutes.
We have regressed to the point where there is a public relations war against absolutes by people who are unable to see them, or who want to avoid admitting they exist so that they don’t have to admit they are stupid or so that they can act irrationally. We’ve lied ourselves into ignorance not only of absolutes, but of anything.
The public relations campaign against reality and acknowledgement of absolutes has worked nicely. The only problem is that the public relations campaign hasn’t changed the existence of absolutes and the consequences. We’re up to our behinds in drug problems. Our children are being born without parents. Although many people will argue with me about it, what was once the strongest economy in the world is in a state of disarray. Our social services are overwhelmed by the cumulative consequences of irrational behavior. And so on for another three pages which won’t be repeated here for the tenth time in this series of articles. These conditions have been brought upon this country by oppositional-defiant personalities and/or by the type of thinking that believes there are no absolutes and doesn’t know, or claims not to know, or says it’s impossible to know, what’s happening. But, all of it was absolutely clear from the start.
Personally, I wouldn’t be concerned about that mentality, or people with that mentality, if those people with that mentality could be put on a separate continent or another planet somewhere where they couldn’t blame others for the problems they create. Or there was nobody else to push responsibility off upon, and they would be faced with the choice of either growing up or destroying themselves or starving. However, they’re here, not there. And they’re taking me with them in the destruction they are creating.
There is a forcefulness and authority to those who see absolute reality and apply or attempt to apply it. Such people are often hard to live with and often exist on the stressful edge of their patience. They live in frequent fear of the unpredictability and folly of their fellow human beings. The reason for their fear and frustration is that people come up with screwball ideas which scare the hell out of one when he sees the consequences they can’t or won’t see. While many people may not want leadership or authority, they need it to prevent them from destroying themselves—and you and me along with them. Many times, clear-thinking people are dominant and aggressive out of desperate self-preservation as well as exasperation.
Those who live in the world of hard absolutes are easy to resent and easy to hate. They have the necessary job of bringing up facts that interfere with or impose limits upon other people’s irrational fantasies. They often remind other people of resented parental figures and authority. They represent an adult world with consequences many people don’t want to accept.
The assumption is that those who see absolutes are trying to dominate and humiliate other people. That may be the farthest thing from their mind. They are desperately attempting to save themselves from lunacy.
Reality is reality. In my life I can’t be swayed by what other people can’t, or don’t want to, see. I call the horses as they are going to run.
Robert L. Kocher is the author of “The American Mind in Denial,” as well as many other articles. He is an engineer working in the area of solid-state physics, and has done graduate study in clinical psychology. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.