October 15, 2013


Why Malcolm Gladwell Is Wrong About David And Goliath (Sir Lawrence Freedman, 10/14/2013, Huffington Post)

If one is going to take the story literally then one has to explain how David's stone did the trick when Philistine helmets covered the forehead and the bridge of the nose. But to get into these details clearly misses the purpose of the original story, which depended on David being a palpable underdog, because only then could it be shown that it was God that made the difference. In saving the Israelites David demonstrates that he will make a better King than the hapless Saul, who should really have been the one to take on Goliath. Saul, after all, had been the first man chosen to lead the Jews as a warrior rather than as a prophet. But he had been something of a disappointment, showing excessive caution and poor military judgement.

Once we accept that David's confidence came from his superior faith in a superior God then we can also consider the risks that he was taking were it not for divine support. If the first shot had not brought Goliath down but had pinged off his helmet instead David would have been in real trouble. Even then as vital as the first shot was the speed with which he was able to take Goliath's sword and chop off his head, for if Goliath had recovered the giant's superior strength would have been back in play. Once Goliath was dead the Israelites depended on the Philistines accepting this unconventional approach as a fair fight and conceding the victory. Nor could David follow this strategy twice. Next time his opponent would know what to look for. Lastly, this was this the only strategy available. Muhammad Ali survived against stronger opponents (for example Sonny Liston) by using his agility to survive the early onslaught. David might have encouraged Goliath to thrash around until he was exhausted.

The strategic lessons of the story are therefore quite ambiguous. Gladwell draws his lesson by means of a dubious interpretation. In practice, David did not so much made a shrewd judgement about his strengths and Goliath's vulnerabilities but instead took a considerable risk, made possible by his faith in God.

If you ran a computer simulation of the fight one hundred times the combatant with the overwhelming firepower would win 100.

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Posted by at October 15, 2013 6:46 PM

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