Never run with the crowd. They're probably headed over a cliff.

Futbol, Fate, and 42

Fate isn't a popular subject these days. After all, the world has grown up. Industrialized. Science has eliminated mystery and explains the world around us. Changing our surroundings is as easy as pumping flammable hydrocarbons from the ground and using their chemical energy to dig enormous holes from which we extract raw materials to modify our environment.

 Okay, so maybe that doesn't sound so easy. But in the industrialized nations we have come to look at the world as deterministic and malleable. To fix a problem or make a change all that is needed is the necessary application of effort. Sooner or later the world will look the way we desire. (Except perhaps for the enormous slag heap, but that is generally pushed into someone else's backyard.)  I just wonder if this is actually true, or if there is but a thin veneer masking us from a reality so gray we don't want to look at it.

 My oldest son plays on a high school soccer team ranked second in the state in which we live. That was until yesterday when they had their first state-level game against a team they were predicted to defeat. And they controlled the ball at least ninety percent of the time. In over thirty years of watching and playing soccer at every level from local rec to the EPL I have never seen a team so thoroughly dominate play yet fail to take away the win. There was not a player on the other side with the skill of our worst player and our teamwork was superb. But the other team, to their credit, was well coached and disciplined, and defended the net tenaciously. And the keeper had a stellar match. Full marks. But after our boys hit post or crossbar the fourth time I began to wonder if fate was on our side.

 I've seen it many times in soccer. A team that gets pounded throughout the game by a far superior opponent only to dodge the bullet time and again. It is as if there is a force field surrounding the goal. Shots that would normally find the back of the net sail inches wide, strike the woodwork, or meet with acrobatic saves. Then, as happened last night, the single offensive opportunity for the opponent finds us picking the ball out of the back of our net. Game over. Season ended. Hopes dashed. Those of us watching from the sidelines - those with experience in this frustrating, beautiful game - could sense it mid-way through the second half though it didn't come until a golden goal three minutes into the first overtime. Their single offensive opportunity of the match. None of understood it, but we had all seen it before, and there is nothing those boys or the coach could have done differently to change the result. Fate had played the decisive role.

 Control over our lives is an illusion. An illusion that persists through a combination of chance, probability, and the enormous number of people interacting on this Earth. At over six billion it is very truly a statistically significant set. Lives are snuffed out in traffic accidents. People strike it rich at the slots. One man is diagnosed with cancer. Another invests in a stock that skyrockets. One woman writes a book that turns into a runaway bestseller while another can't even get an agent to answer her letters. Nothing any of these people do has any real effect on their fate, it simply is, what it is, while the rest of us work ever more diligently with no result. Like that team.

 This is a very frightening view of the world and it is no wonder we don't want to believe it. It respects no person, bends to no will, and is utterly and completely outside our control. It is perhaps why the ancients translated this fact of life into the supernatural. And who am I to say they weren't accurate in doing so? Certainly an all-controlling God with a precocious will is no more or no less unfathomable than, say, the equation for a normal distribution. And a normal distribution does little to explain a series of statistically improbable yet unrelated outcomes such as happened at that soccer game last night. Perhaps that is why we so love sports, because only in sport do we glimpse the nature of reality in a way that doesn't reflect so powerfully on our own lives. There is after all, a primordial comfort in truth, even when it hurts.

 What is the fate of a lemming? Does it know it is being driven towards the cliff? Can it know? And even if it knows is there anything it can do about it?

 Futbol Guru,


C.bronco said:

Lemmings are so very cute and furry!

I think there's a Deux ex machina for every one of us, but only in retrospect do we see it.  Sometimes we are fortunate enough to notice it as it is happening.

Hang in there!

In the meantime, there are always Lolcats.  They have gotten me through hard times, as have the goofy and wonderful folks at AW.

# May 24, 2009 9:05 PM