Thursday, October 31, 2013

Puny David the Giant-Killer?

If Malcolm Gladwell is right, then, "Clumsy and heavy, Goliath never stood a chance" against little David, or so reports William Leith in his review of Gladwell's recent book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (The Spectator, 12 October 2013):
When we think of David and Goliath, we think of a young man, not very big, who has a fight with a terrifying opponent, and wins. We think of David as puny and Goliath as towering and strong -- not to mention heavily armed. We see David's victory as something that happened against all odds. The story of David and Goliath is, as Malcolm Gladwell puts it, 'a metaphor for improbable victory'. Well, that's how we think about it, anyway. But the thing is, apparently, we've got it all wrong . . . . We know David came out on top. That's because, in single combat, a guy with a deadly projectile weapon is likely to beat a guy who is weighed down with armour. Goliath wasn't very mobile. He wore a heavy helmet and shin pads made of bronze. David, on the other hand, was a 'slinger'. Gladwell tells us about slingers in antiquity. They used a contraption made from leather strings and a leather pouch, which they whizzed around their heads, and then let go. Pow! They could fire stones through the air at something approaching 100 mph. Slingers could knock birds out of the sky and 'hit a coin from as far away as they could see it'.
All these fifty years since I first read the story at about six, I've misread that duel between the adult giant Goliath and the undersized teen David as a tale of the underdog, David, overcoming great odds through faith in God, but Gladwell shows that the odds were stacked against the giant and that David's confidence stemmed from his knowledge of those odds in his own favor. And no matter how much Goliath may have practiced his swordsmanship -- even as much as 10,000 hours -- he couldn't have used a sword to defeat a slinger.

The moral of the tale? Little David was small, but, oh my, did he ever put the odds in his favor. Put the odds in your favor as well, but a sling takes a lot of practice to master, so carry a pistol!

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At 10:37 PM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

I remember my geography teacher in 9th grade made this same point. As a sling is a deadly weapon, and in David's time youngsters didn't have anything else to do but practice, moreover with uncles and the bigger boys standing around ready to heap ridicule upon the boys who had poor aim, is it any wonder David was a crack shot with the thing? My geography teacher even suggested a child's parents might withhold his lunch if he couldn't hit a designated target.

At 10:47 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You had an unusual geography teacher.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:27 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Prep school... Everything was unusual.

At 5:06 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I can't even imagine . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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