Analogic Thinking & National Character

Frank Marshall,the WW2 U.S.chess champion for eight consecutive years,was a tall red haired Californian who went east and founded the famous Marshall chess club in N.Y.C.He was a solidly built white male.Serena Williams is a solidly built black female who hails from Compton California and who at 5’11″just misses qualifying as tall by today,s standards.She has had her name emblazoned at Forest Hills as U.S tennis champion six(?)times.Both are deserving of the term”power player”and each has”owned” New York.Frank Marshall’s slashing attack style did not hold up well against the top Europeans.In a showdown with Edward Lasker,he went 0&8 with 7(?)draws.If they survived his attack other grandmasters usually dismembered his end game.Watching Serena through the years I find myself expecting her opponents to contribute to their own defeat by committing unforced errors.An intimidation factor that certainly affects outcome operating for her.
Is there such a thing as national character?Probably but it is hard to demonstrate empirically and reliably.We are a people who love the home run and who prefer football to soccer.The geopolitical environment that we share with 7 1/2 billion others requires the ability to finesse and to go from offense to defense as required by the situation as often as needed.Serena will go on to win more tournaments but time ran out on Frank Marshall.We need adept leadership to continue to hold our own in the modern,nuclear world.



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  17. Dear Professor Thomas:

    As a recent recipient of your blog, I need to tell you a few things. Firstly, I love your style of teaching for surely provoking thought is … teaching. However, I must confess I’m highly intimidated by your eloquence of expression and genuinely fear showing my shortcomings. With that buffer having been expressed, I was intrigued by your latest … “Analogically Thinking & Our National Character.” You raised a question of, what I perceive, great depth:

    “Is there such a thing as national character?”

    Especially so in view of a column I read this morning in The Nation Magazine:

    ” … no woman has the option of this kind of candor. … A female candidate who was prone, as Biden is, to veering off script and saying things she should not wouldn’t seem frank and lovable. She would seem sloppy and unstable. No woman could say on national television that she might be too emotionally fragile to run for president, and still be seen as someone who could actually run for president. …

    The comparison (based on Vice President Joe Biden’s interview by Stephen Colbert) becomes more encompassing in light of Donald Trump’s attention-getting personal attacks on Carly Fiorina based on her gender rather than policy. I do not share the philosophy of that side of the aisle. Therefore, it’s not my position to defend Ms. Fiorina’s hat-in-the-ring. What I find offensive in our “national character” is the claim to exceptionalism when, in fact, we are still unable to overcome double standards in race and gender.

    “We are a people who love the home run … ”

    Isn’t that a sign of flawed desire for instant gratification? Does that make our “national character” petty?

    “The geopolitical environment that we share with 7 1/2 billion others requires the ability to finesse and to go from offense to defense as required by the situation as often as needed.”

    Sir, how to adequately express how much I concur with your requirements. Referring once again to our claim to exceptionalism, are we embarrassingly self-centered? Or, is that a requirement asset for leadership? Is our provincialism effective or the venue to our downward spiral as no longer positive contributors to social evolution? Do I understand your analogy to Serena (a game I love!)?

    “Watching Serena through the years I find myself expecting her opponents to contribute to their own defeat by committing unforced errors.” Are we Serena, or the geopolitical environment?

    Sent from my iPad


    1. We are definitely Serena (and Frank Marshall) and we can no longer count on unforced errors.Of course you are right; we are part of an environment as well.So that it not be always hostile, it needs our thoughtful non monolithic contribution to move mankind forward.I suspect but I don’t know that women tend to be less monolithic and absolutist than men. But if the iron lady is any example (let’s not talk about Katherine the Great) the curves overlap.

    2. Thank you, Susanna, for contributing some stimulating ideas. You have presented them well.
      Susanna writes: “What I find offensive in our “national character” is the claim to exceptionalism when, in fact, we are still unable to overcome double standards in race and gender.”
      First, let me suggest that “exceptionalism” should not be equated with “perfectionism”. I think that we can all agree that human social structures will never be completely without some examples of conflict (such as double standards). “Exceptional” accurately describes a system that “best” addresses the vast blends of human needs. Historically, few humans have chosen to leave the U.S. and great numbers choose to come here as a permanent destination. That is the bottom-line-evidence supporting the thesis that we have been an exceptional nation. Historically exceptional is the fact that under our original read of the constitution, regardless special interest, race or gender, every individual is supposed to be treated equally under the law. Consisting of humans, this has not been done perfectly (We were not the first to end slavery, but the seed for its ending was planted in the core of the constitution). Apparently we have been vastly more successful with the equal-treatment endeavor than most. Laws that favor some – and therefore obligate some to be subordinate to those favored – must logically be a violation of the promised state of equal individual liberty. By favoring group interests we emulate the character of many other (less successful) countries thereby making us less than exceptional. The “philosophy” of Carly Fiorina’s party is trying to conserve the exceptional, “individual citizen” intent of the constitution. This effort is under deep assault by an ideological force that chooses to elevate group interests (deified as “diversity”) over that of individual rights (For this group “social” justice tends to trump “individual” justice).

  18. Black Americans have embraced the attacking style in sports.Rod Laver who dominated Ashe(as well as everybody else in his day)said of Ashe something like” he hits the ball too hard.”James Blake who got to #4 in the world was criticized for never learning to play defense.Maybe anger has something to do with it.If it wins why change it.If it doesn’t adapting to defense is called for.Maybe Obama had something going when he talked of “leading from behind: in geopolitics.

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