Destruction ‘ad Nihilem’
By Anthony Esolen
Many years ago, the feminist Carol Gilligan made a study of boys at play. She noticed something with which every boy in America is familiar – and I daresay every boy anywhere in the world, in any culture, of any degree of wealth and at any stage of technological development.
Let’s say that boys are playing baseball. There are two outs, the tying run is on third, and the batter slaps a grounder to the shortstop, who fields it in the hole and slings it to first. The play is close. The shortstop says, “Got him!” The batter says, “I’m safe!” The runner crosses the plate. The batter and the shortstop have been needling each other for the last hour, and now their faces are red and their fists are clenched.
The boys go through a set of unwritten “rules” that govern such instances. The rules help ensure that hard feelings are averted or deferred, and that the game continues. Here’s how my cousins and neighbors and I would handle it. You appeal first to evidence.
“I fielded the ball clean and threw hard to first,” says the shortstop. “There’s no way you can outrun that! You aren’t that fast.”
“You were clear across the infield,” says the batter. “I beat the throw and that’s that.”
So the evidence is ambiguous. Next comes an appeal to equity.
“Look,” says the shortstop, “we gave you the last two close plays, but you’re not getting this one.”
“You gave us nothing,” says the batter, “and a guy who’s safe is safe no matter how close.”
The batter is being mulish, but he has a point. Next comes an appeal to the Honest Observer.
I’m convinced that there’s an umpire in the soul of every decent boy. There’s something right about the job of an umpire, something even noble. I worked as an umpire one summer when I was a teenager, as did my brother. We enjoyed it, even if the parents could be obstreperous. One of us once ejected a parent from the crowd, under threat of a forfeit by the son’s team. We had the rule book and knew our rights. We gave the kids a generous strike zone, to encourage them to swing and not to wait for walks. That was right, too.
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