The Pathetic Fallacy: On Small Ants & Long Flies

Readers of this site know I have a fascination with the work of Errol Morris; if you’re not reading his extraordinary multi-part examination on the Crimean War photography of Roger Fenton (Part I, Part II), you’re really missing something special. In his most recent entry, Morris addresses The Pathetic Fallacy. I’ll let him explain it:

The term, coined by John Ruskin in 1856, refers to our propensity to endow inanimate nature with human-like characteristics. Ruskin disapproved — he called it a fallacy, didn’t he? But to navigate in the world – to read the world, so to speak – we need to see the world as having some sort of purpose, some sort of motivation. (It is too frightening otherwise.) Hence, we see intentionality everywhere. The hurricane wants to thwart our plans; the earthquake intends to teach us a lesson.

For a Yankee fan, this hits home hard. As Paul’s post below points out, it seemed like some greater force aligned against the Yankees last night, when a swarm of tiny bugs (animate, I suppose, but certainly lacking in mental intentionality) came out of the night and knocked a cruising Joba Chamberlain off his game. Divine intervention? Or just an unusually hot night, and an entymological accident? I’m not prone to give in to the Pathetic Fallacy. With baseball, there is always the opportunity to do so. The games hinge on a series of small accidents, but we need to find some purpose in these individual plays. And so we study stat sheets incessantly, argue about this detail and that, and then lambast figures for “choking” and celebrate them for being “clutch.”

The two photographs below, like Roger Fenton’s images of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, are revealing and obscuring, at the same time. Appreciate what they represent, but don’t give in to the Fallacy.

10 comments… add one
  • Welll, I think Paul was joking, hence the humor tag. As for my post, there’s nothing there about “intentionality”. The Red Sox won a game, that’s all. That picture tells us something about how, if only a little.

    SF October 6, 2007, 1:19 pm
  • I have no issues with your post or Paul’s humorous piece (which, yes, i read that way). My post isn’t contingent upon them, just a happy accident (!) that they happened to be there.

    YF October 6, 2007, 1:24 pm
  • Let me re-emphasize, lest there be any confusion, that Paul’s noting of the biblical nature of the gnat-attack was merely a point of departure for a point i intended to make otherwise.

    YF October 6, 2007, 1:30 pm
  • The indians had to pitch and hit with the gnats as well, yankee neighborhood is acting as if it only effected the yankees and the indians came out to a perfectly clear night of no gnats and nice weather.
    but as always..

    TheTree1918 October 6, 2007, 2:26 pm
  • I don’t there’s any suggestion of that here. (It was bad for Carmona in the 9th, though I do think Joba had the worst of it in the bottom of the 8th.) In any case, the point isn’t who had it for the worse, but that the game itself was altered by an entirely random force majeur.

    YF October 6, 2007, 2:50 pm
  • Doug M on the bugs yesterday:
    “The joke around the guys was that we all have Derek Jeter’s Driven on,” he said. “Joba looked like the movie, ‘Bees.’ He had them all over his neck and his back. But then again, so did their guys.”
    Baseball and men’s cologne just don’t mix!

    SoxFan October 6, 2007, 4:34 pm
  • “The joke around the guys was that we all have Derek Jeter’s Driven on,”
    I definitely made that joke too.

    Jackie (SF) October 6, 2007, 4:47 pm
  • You mean “entomological”, surely.
    Not etymological.
    But is it not an etymological accident that the Evil Empire was attacked by a swarm of flies?
    I’ve been surprised not to see references to Joba, Mariano et. al. in the specific context of flies in the Biblical sense here.
    I was expecting to see the Yankees called “Beelzebub” (transliterated Hebrew for “Lord of the Flies”) all day today, and I haven’t seen it yet!
    Not even here in the land of Larry “Evil Empire” Lucchino…………….

    dabize October 6, 2007, 6:18 pm
  • I’m not superstitious. I’m not even averagestitious. But I’ve got a nagging suspicion that I’m getting a lesson for invoking the whole Mephistopheles Faust thing in the game thread. All I know is I felt like I got punched in the gut last night.

    attackgerbil October 6, 2007, 6:24 pm
  • “All I know is I felt like I got punched in the gut…”
    Well Gerb, that’s because you DID get punched in the gut.

    Brian October 7, 2007, 9:54 am

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