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Blogcat's Take, 5/13

Before John McCain made it cool, Admiral James Stockdale sought office with a resume highlighted by his credentials as a POW hero. Stockdale was Ross Perot’s running mate in 1992, and he is mostly remembered—if he’s remembered at all—for looking discombobulated in televised debates. In fact, along with the growing suspicion that Perot was actually bat-shit crazy, Stockdale’s lack of televised appeal is often cited as one of the primary factors behind Perot’s eventual loss. Voters focused on this crucial aspect far more than on Stockdale’s astonishing military career, his numerous well-received books on philosophy, his Master’s Degree from Stanford, and the fact that his physical impairments—a large part of why he looked bad on television—were the result of 8 years of imprisonment in a Vietnamese torture chamber. In one of the more underrated tasteless acts ever, they even made a Saturday Night Live skit about it.

Anyway, in college I once had to read an essay Stockdale wrote on the dangers of having just a little knowledge. Ostensibly, this topic probably doesn’t seem like it would require a full essay to explain or justify, but Stockdale made it interesting by comparing a low knowledge level with 1) having a high amount of knowledge and 2) having zero knowledge. Curiously, Stockdale argued that having just a little bit of knowledge is not only worse than having lots of knowledge, it’s also worse than having no knowledge whatsoever.

Here’s how he proved it: while locked up in the dungeons with his fellow POWs, Stockdale divided his comrades up into three groups: those who were well-educated in American history, those who were partially-educated in American history, and the completely ignorant ones. Knowledge of American history became crucial, because one of the tactics the Vietnamese captors deployed to subvert the POWs was manipulating their existing opinions of America. To do this, the Vietnamese would “re-teach” the POWs American history by playing up some of our country’s most negative aspects (e.g., the slave trade, imperialism, etc.). If they were successful in this ploy, it was then much easier for the Vietnamese to convince the POWs that their country was abandoning them, and therefore they might as well turn traitor and spill their guts about everything they knew.

Stockdale noticed that the success of this tactic on a given POW depended on the prisoner’s knowledge level. The backwoods hillbillies with almost no education were largely impervious, because they would just respond with “B.S.” to anything the Vietnamese said to them. Meanwhile, those who were highly-educated in American history (as Stockdale was), could resist the Vietnamese by conceding that although America certainly had its flaws, it also had many redeeming features too, and was therefore worth defending. It was that middle group, however—those who knew basic facts but lacked the intellectual depth and breadth to debate various points—who were most often swayed. Hence Stockdale’s conclusion that a little knowledge could be considered worse than no knowledge at all.

This brings us to Adam Morrison.

Morrison is a well-documented autodidact with a preference for social consciousness (e.g., he likes Rage Against the Machine) and a history of free-thinking (e.g., he was Ralph Nader supporter in 2004). He also seems to be a subscriber to the Great Man Theory, the idea that the course of history is usually directed by powerful and charismatic figures, such as Malcolm X, Karl Marx, and Che Guevara (all of whom he’s cited as heroes), rather than by random movements without any particular origin. Clearly, Morrison has exhibited contemplative tendencies.

The question I have is, how deep is Morrison’s grasp of his own place in history (okay, Bobcats history)? Intelligence-levels often seem to impact basketball players much the same way that they did Stockdale’s fellow POWs. For instance, Kobe Bryant is a multilingual, avid reader, consumed with NBA history and his potential legacy within it. Consequently, he’s driven toward totally dominating basketball courts, particularly in “crunch time”; his intellectually-burning desire to be considered the greatest ever is as march a part of his constitution as his athleticism. On the opposite end of the intelligence spectrum is a guy like Tim Duncan. Duncan is by no means stupid, but he seems so completely focused on simply mastering every fundamental task that his coaches put in front of him that he takes no time to consider the deeper ramifications of anything. As a result, he’s completely immune to pressure. As a result, he’s won four championships.

Obviously, Morrison is never going to think like (which is to say, “as little as”) Duncan. Morrison is extremely self-aware and probably spends hours each day reflecting on basketball and his place in it (along with—in no particular order—global warming, the Zapatistas, Hugo Chavez, and the Congressional Democrats’ proposal to shore up the housing crisis). He thus has the potential—a la Bryant—to comprehend and appreciate how close he is to being an historically transcendent talent, and will therefore focus all of his physical and leadership abilities toward achieving that goal. However, the danger for him (or at least, for us Bobcats fans) is if he doesn’t exploit his knowledge level enough and settles for a professionally vulnerable worldview, such as “nothing really matters in this infinitely vast universe upon which my existence is just a fraction of a drop in the cosmic bucket”; and/or “what’s the point of dribbling basketballs unless the U.S. cuts all economic and diplomatic ties with those oppressive, oil-infested regimes in the Middle East?”; and/or “I could be just as happy pocketing my rookie salary and spending the rest of my life sitting outside an organic coffee bar and reading about the success of left-wing farming co-ops in pre-Pinochet Chile.” In that unfortunate event, a little knowledge will spell doom for Morrison and accelerate a slow drift into NBA obscurity. For Bobcats fans, this would be akin to treason.

We’ve heard very little about Morrison since his ACL ruptured. He’s had plenty of time for solitary reflection, and he’s at that age when everything is an influence, either good or bad. Let’s hope that he’s considered all of the possibilities and has nonetheless concluded that his quest for NBA greatness—a vocation he’s dedicated his whole life to so far—is worth defending.


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