Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Context of Magic vs. Tiger

So, one guy has tens of extramarital affairs and is considered a disgrace, someone who must come clean and ask forgiveness. Another guy has hundreds if not thousands of affairs, in the process acquiring HIV, thus exposing his poor wife.

Which guy is morally worse? Clearly, the guy who caught HIV by having 100x more affairs. Yet, when Magic Johnson announced he had become HIV positive due to innumerable extramarital affairs, all he got was sincere pity, poor Magic. In contrast, the venom inspired by Tiger's actions is rather severe.

To me this highlights that everything has a context. What is true, just, beautiful, or important, is rarely seen in isolation, but as a member of a larger class. Magic was announcing he had HIV when the politics of AIDS were especially large, and 'blaming the victim' was not politically correct so he got the appropriate pity, regardless of his reckless behavior. Tiger doesn't have any such angle.

The importance of context is why so many partisans think the other side are a bunch of hypocrites. Your average true believer rationalizes exceptions to their world view, sacrifices various smaller principles to larger ones. This is the right thing to do, just as murdering Hitler is morally good thing to do if you had a time machine, and saw him in 1938, or ignoring Pasteur's faulty argument's in favor of his 'germ theory' would have been prudent.

The key in all these exceptions is being on the right side, which is determined by current politics, posterity, and one's own conscience. Clearly, the easiest way to go through life is to see what is popular, and shade one's prejudices appropriately, so 150 years ago it would be proper to be a racist and think that the 'upper class' was a thoroughly different beast, whereas today smarmy college freshman at top colleges think every human grouping possible has equal genetic ability and interest in every meaningful human dimension. People never get rid of their prejudices, they just change them.

It is far better to acknowledge our most basic unproven assumptions than to claim they don't exist, and that it's all about truth now, or only 'my side' is using science (the other, driven by crass self interest). Of course it is about truth, but truth of what? No one lies like the indignant because they feel their big point is being obscured by unfair tactics, and so feel justified in fighting fire with fire to acheive their ultimate, good aim (which, because it is good, is also true).


Brian Hewes said...

Karl Mannheim wrote about this in his "Ideology and Utopia: an Intro to the Sociology of Knowledge". Basic idea is that our ideologies are the fictions that are used to stabilize a social order and utopias are the wishdreams that are employed when trying to transform the same order.

The idea of myths and also Robin Hanson's posts on status seeking have been a eye opener.

mnl said...

Love your posts.

Interesting piece here on Tiger vs. Magic. But there are a few more contrasts to note also.

First, remember that Magic got HIV. And back then, HIV was seen as an immediate precursor to AIDS--and a grisly death. So, in some sense the public likely thought Magic got his punishment. There was an element of Shakespearean tragedy and a restoration of the moral order in his story. Tiger can't draw near the same public sympathy as he's not "suffered" (yet) and his story lacks the same moral closure.

Second, and if my memory is right, Magic came forward and announced his situation to a surprised public. He took the offensive. And we, the public, were shocked at his frank revelation. By contrast and with Tiger, the public found out about his affairs indirectly rather than from Tiger per se. We found out from a crashed SUV and what was possibly the seen of a domestic squabble--we were never (and still aren't) quite sure. The story has only trickled in. Only after the suspicion of affairs had crept into the public mind (aided by salacious revelations from the involved women) are we finally putting two and two together. In other words, Magic owned-up; Tiger cowed-out. The public prefers the figure who mans-up, who's not a wussy.

mnl said...

Okay, so this is comment overkill, but you heard it hear first folks...

You can see this coming from a mile away. Tiger's way of handling his extra-marital affairs has not only failed to win him public endearment but he's also exhibited all the WRONG responses necessary to keep his wife! Ironically, his admission of guilt and the way he appears to be "correcting" things will, in fact, ultimately push Elin away. It's a tough balance. When a man 'fesses-up and tries to correct such things, he has to do so in a way that preserves his manliness, his status, and all the things that Elin first found attractive in him. Tiger's done just the opposite. He's almost been too pleasing. He's pausing golf? Adjusting the pre-nup in her favor? Granting her an isolated house in Sweden? And now we hear he may be checking-in for "sex compulsion"? (Note to Tiger: never apologize for feeling sexual). He might as well just cut off his balls now and get it over with.

So, another difference between Magic and Tiger is... Magic's wife stood by him (and is still standing) after Magic cheated on at least 10x the women that Tiger has. But where is Elin? Tiger only has Tiger to blame for that.

Anonymous said...

Eric, give us some finance posts!

Jim Glass said...

There is truth in what you say, but you omit a major point.

Tiger made most of a billion dollars from the public by marketing to it an ideal image of a human being. Magic did nothing like that.

For perspective vis a vis a contemporary (who is not in any way on the "politically correct" side of things): baseball has a lot more fans than golf, and A-Rod recently got caught in a "cheating on his wife with a mistress in every city" scandal that was a whole lot like Tiger's, right down to he and his wife having two young kids.

But A-Rod had never marketed himself as being above such things. Who cared when the story broke? Pretty much nobody (other than the NYC tabloids).

If Tiger had, like A-Rod, been content to make most of his money by being the best at his sport -- instead of having his image handlers make an extra half billion for him by marketing "Tiger[TM]" -- then his scandal would have been no bigger than A-Rod's.

It's always very costly to ruin a brand.

Anonymous said...

Yeah! What the sixth post said. 5th one, too.

Anonymous said...

I thought magic got his disease before he was married? Was he philandering after?

Pete S said...

One difference: The only way Tiger's indiscretions are going to kill him is by a golf club to his skull by Elin.