How fortunate of me to arrive at Montaigne’s essay about prognostications on the eve of Super Bowl XLV … which gives me an excuse to write a nice, short, light posting for a Saturday night.
I’ll get there, but first I have to share Montaigne’s view of prognostications – he didn’t like them:
There remain among us it is true some means of divination by the heavens, by spirits, by bodily features, by dreams and so on: that is a remarkable example of the mad curiosity of our nature which wastes time trying to seize hold of the future as though it were not enough to have to deal with the present.
There’s actually a very interesting line of thought in this essay that connects predictions with a belief in a divine plan. When you consider just how much our society depends on forecasts – from weather forecasts to prices on Wall Street to betting lines in Vegas, our world depends on them – it’s remarkable how many people make predictions based on an idea of a divine plan, usually one that has destined them to be rich.
In other cases, we make predictions to show off how smart we are, so we can have bragging rights about picking who will win the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination or the Best Picture race at the Oscars. And then there’s Glenn Beck, who has turned politics into the art of looking underneath events and finding obscure texts to prove that the future is a scary place, filled with conspiring Muslims and cloaked communists.
As an avid reader of Thomas Pynchon, I’m capable of enjoying a good conspiracy yarn as much as the other guy. But given how crazy Beck has become, I’m starting to wonder why Rupert Murdoch keeps him around, especially considering Beck’s rapidly falling ratings. Maybe Pynchon, in his “Proverbs for Paranoids” set piece in “Gravity’s Rainbow” explained Murdoch’s thinking: if they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.
Back to Montaigne, he saw the likes of Beck coming centuries ago:
When men are stunned by their fate in our civil disturbances, they have resorted to almost any superstition, including seeking in the heavens for ancient portents and causes for their ills. In this they have been so strangely successful in my days that they have convinced me that (since this way of passing time is for acute yet idle minds) those who have been inducted into the subtle art of unwrapping portents and unknotting them would be able to find anything they wish in any piece of writing whatsoever: but their game is particularly favoured by the obscure, ambiguous, fantastical jargon of these prophecies, the authors of which never supply any clear meaning themselves so that posterity can give them any meaning it chooses.
Okay, enough politics, I promised a Super Bowl prediction. To be honest, I don’t feel like making one. I’m still bitter about Week 15 of the NFL season, when the NY Giants blew a 21 point lead over the Philadelphia Eagles with less than 8 minutes to play. I’m tempted to entitle this essay “In praise of the prevent defense,” because if the Giants had simply dropped back into one after going up by three touchdowns, there’s no way the Eagles could have scored so quickly three times and tied the game, setting up the insane punt return for TD at the gun to win it.
If the Giants win that game, they go on to win the NFC East and later defeat the Packers in the NFC title game at the Meadowlands, setting up a truly fascinating Giants-Steelers Super Bowl tomorrow. Instead, we get the Packers … and they will win, 34-24. But as Montaigne is fond of saying, what do I know?