Passing Bull 326 –History is written by the winners

On the odd times that the Demons won a game, my mate and I would say: ‘Winners are grinners.  The rest make their own arrangements.’ 

There is a related saying.  ‘History is written by the winners.’  If you win, you get the carriage of the story-telling.  In the events leading to the Declaration of Independence, one rebel said: ‘We either stick together, or we hang separately.’  If you lose, you are a dead terrorist; if you win, you are a hero and nation builder.  Like Nelson Mandela.

Chance plays a big part in battles.  Just ask his Grace, the Duke of Wellington.  Waterloo was, he said, a very close-run thing.  It could have gone either way – especially if Blucher had arrived just a bit later.  According to the inscription at the base of the bust on my television cupboard, his Grace said: ‘The business of war, and indeed life, is guessing what is on the other side of the hill.’

Chance of course plays a big part in all games – which were meant to be played for fun.  ‘Where were you standing when the music stopped on the carousel of life?’ 

Any game could go either way at the start – and remain that way right to the end.  Yet, analysts of sporting contests – who for the AFL are about as numerous as the players – say that they can isolate the causes of one side’s triumph.  Even where the margin is one point – or is defined by one second in time.

Unless you live on Mars, you will know that Collingwood beat Carlton by a point – with extreme prejudice to the loser.  And we get exposed to reams of analysis of why Collingwood won.  By a point. 

One explanation is enough.  The losers did not kick straight.  They had four more scoring shots.  That is more than enough to explain a one-point deficit.  Since the game of football is based on your ability to apply your foot to the ball, this failing is fundamental.  It’s like saying I had a good round of golf – it’s just my putting that let me down.  Mate – putting is half the bloody game.

But, no, we have to get graphs, numbers, charts, and replays – to show how the players – yes, players – got to the position they were in when the carousel stopped.  When one of the many missed shots could have produced the opposite result.

And then we get the related fallacy.  The best player award should go to a member of the winning side.  When, five seconds later, it may have been the other side. 

And that is why winners are grinners – and why historians are always on guard against the dangers of the arrogance of hindsight.  The Roman Empire declined and fell.  But it is simply false to say that it had to decline or fall.

Well, we all need to put a meal on the table.  But there is a word for all this causal analysis of games of chance.


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