Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Shootings in Pittsburgh

10/28/2018—A story from the July 2, 2018 issue of Sports Illustrated, of all places, offers wisdom in light of yesterday’s killing spree at Tree of Life synagogue. The story was adapted from Ben Reiter’s book, Astroball, which is about how the Houston Astros won the World Series in 2017.

Before the season started, the Astros signed Carlos Beltran, an aging superstar, to a one-year, $16 million deal. Before spending that much money, the data-driven Astros wanted to know not just about Beltran’s hitting and fielding, but about team chemistry. But nothing about chemistry had ever been quantified, or even really studied.

The team examined all major league baseball team performance in terms of what are called fault lines—essentially differences among players, like race and age and compensation. They found that the teams that did best were neither those who were most alike or most different. Instead, two factors consistently aided winning: players who transcended fault lines—a older white, less compensated, player and players who were motivated to deactivate fault lines.

America has fault lines—on issues, on race, on compensation, on Parties—what some call tribal factors. And, of course, our politicians and interest groups thrive by emphasizing these fault lines, not by deactivating them.

So, you could say, that we need coalitions that transcend our fault lines: pro-choice Republicans, rich Democrats, etc. Of course such people exist, but not together. This analysis suggests that the decline of fault-transcending social networks is as bad for society as some sociologists have suggested—think of Bowling alone by Robert Putnam (2000). Of course, Putnam was weaker on what to do than on what had gone wrong, but he has a great deal to say.

As Putnam noted, religion was once one of the great networks building what Putnam called social capital. But now even religion tends to divide rather than unify.

So, the great task is for secularists to build fault-line transcending social groups—we can start by ending our demonization of religion, seeing religion as still an important societal resource—hear that Brian Leiter! I don’t know how to do that, any more than anyone else does, but it is clearly one of our great tasks—along with restoring the climate.

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