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1st order, 2nd order, last place Rockets

A philosophy of desiring losing.

Hellenistic Statue of Aristotle
The Not As Big Aristotle

Rockets fans want the Rockets to win. Rockets fans know the Rockets need to lose. Losing brings the delayed gratification reward of a chance at a higher draft pick, and thus, a chance at far less losing in the future, if all goes well.

But we want to see our team win.

We have here an interesting philosophical quandary, with a clash of the normal sort of first order desire - to see the team win, against knowing it needs to lose. But we ought to want the second order desire, for the team to lose. (It’s almost immaterial, in terms of our desires, whether or not the team can win.)

It’s like wanting a pizza, but desiring to want a pile of kale. It’s hard to overcome that first order desire, wanting a pizza (it tastes good right now), in light of the higher goals of the second order desire, wanting to want a pile of kale (it should result in better health, if applied frequently enough).

(Disclaimer - this is a very brief and unstudied summary of the topic, for the purpose of a hopefully entertaining piece on the Rockets and Tanking. Not everyone will agree. This is one of the central, perhaps the only, objective truth of western philosophy: that not everyone will agree. You may or may not know that you know nothing, but one pretty much does know that not everyone will agree with literally any proposition.)

The Rockets current situation takes part in one of the defining arguments of western philosophy.

Socrates, through Plato, claims that every person desires what is good, what is best. If they fail to do it, it is because they do not know, or do not truly understand the good. In Socrates view, The Good is a real thing, that exists outside of human experience, in the realm of the forms. Bottom line, for Socrates and Plato, if someone truly does know the good, that person will act in accordance, no matter their previous actions or experience. Thus humanity is perfectible, if provided with true knowledge of the good. (There are entire careers in that last sentence.)

Aristotle does not agree. Aristotle would admit that there is an objective good, but not in terms of the Platonic forms (we’ll leave that there). Aristotle believes that people do not naturally seek the good, and will not necessarily act in accordance, even if they do know the good. They must be habituated to doing good through consistent right action.

Thought of the good is insufficient, there must be consistent practice of the good. (I wish I could have heard Phil Jackson explaining this concept to Shaquille O’Neil. The impact was such that Shaq, for a while, called himself The Big Aristotle.)

How does this work back to our first and second order desires?

If you believe Plato, we know what the ultimate good is in light of this Rockets season: getting a high draft pick. We now, in light of such knowledge, will want losses, and not hope for wins.

If you believe Aristotle, we must habituate ourselves towards a proper end (telos) - getting the best possible draft pick. It is only by consistently suppressing our desire for Rockets wins, and supporting the desire for Rockets losses, that we can hope for right thought (if not action, as we have no control over the Rockets play.

(Aristotle is aware of the circumstances of our powerlessness in terms of the actions of the Rockets, by the way. It’s why he believes plays and histories rightly concern themselves with only the actions of “the great” - because only they have the power, scope of action and the authority to choose right or wrong. Almost everyone else is more or less constrained or compelled to act in some way by temporal powers and society. Thus our moral scope is far more limited. So, really, this is more properly addressed to Rockets ownership, management, and coaching, and to an extent, the players.)

In any case, I have struggled all season long with suppressing my first order desire for Rockets wins, to the second order desire, of needing losses to perhaps ensure a better future. I think I maybe have one more season of it in me, despite the constant habituation. Perhaps the good, the immortal form, is winning and never losing?



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