This post finally answers the question, “What do you get when an English major watches a TED talk on David and Goliath?” The answer: a connection between one of the most famous bible stories, Nazi’s in Charlottesville, and social media.
Malcom Gladwell is the many times New York Times Best Selling Author of books like Outliers and now the host of the podcast “Revisionist History.” I highly recommend both. In 2013, he gave a TED Talk on how we misunderstand the story of David and Goliath. For those that aren’t familiar with it you can find it in the old testament, 1 Samuel 17. This is an entirely secular post but from a purely secular stand point the Bible is still a really cool book to study.
Anyway, Gladwell’s core question is “Why do we classify David as an underdog?” After providing some historical context and an overview of the story he explains that this story obsessed him because everything he had thought about it was wrong. He goes on to say we consider David an underdog because we understandably apply common sense to the story. We see a young boy with nothing but a sling against a well-trained giant, and assume the odds from there. Our first mistake then is misunderstanding David’s weapon.
Gladwell explains that ancient military forces were comprised of Cavalry, Heavy Infantry, And Artillery. Artillery forces contained archers and most importantly slingers. Gladwell describes how devastatingly effective the sling was at the time and says that a well-practiced slinger could deliver a stone with the same stopping power as a modern 45mm handgun. Still, common sense would say “even with that force, delivering a stone right between the eyes, the only place Goliath was vulnerable, is highly improbable.” And today, when no one uses slings, that would be true. However, David is well practiced at using his sling from years of defending his flock of sheep. This makes his shot much more plausible, even somewhat expected. Additionally, David is described as being quite close to Goliath.
David’s prowess with leather aside, Gladwell goes on to provide some further insights into some of Goliaths potential deficiencies. Basically, the theory is that Goliath had a benign tumor that limited his vision and over-produced growth hormones, accounting for his abnormal height.
The moral of all of this is that David was not just some little kid that made a lucky shot with his sling guided by the Holy Spirit. He was a brilliant strategic mind that defied expectations to deliver a decisive victory (you decided how he got that brilliant mind). Everyone expected Heavy Infantry to be met with Heavy Infantry. King Saul even tries to armor David. Instead, David does what today we would call a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) of himself and his adversary. He sheds the hindering weight of the traditional and expected response. He chooses to utilize his skills to deliver a precise and decisive blow.
If we apply this to recent history, Donald Trump was David and Hilary Clinton and literally everyone else that ran for POTUS were Goliath. Limited by their adherence to traditional politics “the establishment”, Trump so vehemently vowed to destroy, fell to his twitter sling. We made the mistake of betting on Goliath instead of humbly analyzing the adversary.
In hindsight, we have seen how devastatingly effective Trumps use of Social Media coupled his clear diversion from the traditional was. It showed that Social Media coupled with political correctness is useless against an adversary that disregards its traditions. Ironically, “clicktivism” and politicized social media have become the traditional response and have been rendered impotent. Social Media was originally so devastatingly effective because it was the underestimated slinger against traditional telecoms. Now it is the default like King Saul assuming the only way to meet Goliath was with another Goliath.
Let us now turn to the recent events of Charlottesville. Are these Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists David or Goliath?
We saw in Charlottesville Goliath meet Goliath, we saw large demonstrations on both sides. In the aftermath, we now see solidarity on social media against the ideals of the opposition. We are now in the same position the Israelites and Philistines found themselves in 3000 years ago. Both sides stand in stalled solidarity against the other across the valley. The Neo-Nazi’s have entered the field of battle in Charlottesville as Goliath. They are armored in archaic ideas and ways that have no place in today’s world. What will be our David? I don’t have an answer, except that it won’t be Social Media and it won’t be our President.
However, I think this story does show us how to find our answer. And like all worthwhile answers it begins as a ton of questions. In other words, 3000 years ago David invented SWOT and beat his giant. Do you think its worth trying it again?