Of GOATs and Men: The Underlying Values and Temperaments That May Influence Our Preferences in These Debates

February 6, 2023

Is the USA the greatest country in the world? Is Michael Jordan the greatest basketball player of all time?

Everyone loves a good “Who/what is the greatest X of X” argument. Most of the time these arguments are completely subjective and good cases for or against any specific choice on a given topic can be made either way. Who is the greatest football player to have ever taken the field? Which rock band rises above all others? Who was the most influential ancient Greek philosopher? What was the most important invention/innovation that progressed mankind? The possibilities are endless for these debates.

Social media point-counterpoint on the importance of longevity/total points to the Jordan/LeBron GOAT debate

I am solidly on the “Michael Jordan is the GOAT” team. Full disclosure, I watched him as a player while I was young when I was more into basketball than I am now, so I definitely have a bias towards selecting him over more recent players. I am, however, also a trained researcher and analyst, so I have been taught how to effectively identify and check my biases so that determinations can be made considering all the relevant factors on a more objective basis (as much as possible for such subjects). While I do not particularly care for LeBron James or his style of play, according to my own criteria he definitely must be included in any debate to determine at least the top five basketball players of all time.

Recently on one of the many social media posts about the Jordan/LeBron debate, someone made a comment on one of my pro-Jordan, anti-LeBron comments that made me think:

A time period breakdown is a popular alternative to the overall GOAT debate

There is another “great debate” that comes up often on the internet – What is the greatest country in the world today? The tendency seems to be either to support or oppose a case for the United States of America, that is, the USA appears to be the default answer and people either agree with this assessment or critique it based on the many failings and shortcoming of the USA. This dichotomy and line of reasoning is evident in the following viral clip from a television show on this topic:

So considering our examples, a “sanguine” American Liberal may be more swayed by an argument for LeBron as the GOAT heavy on certain individual statistical achievements in themselves, his longevity, his inevitable record-breaking points total, and his perceived involvement in other issues of their concern. A “melancholic” American Conservative is more likely to put this into context, consider the differences in the game between eras, consider more factors of the game (more statistical categories, both offense and defense), how effective his performance has been overall (winning championships, relative performance with peers), and consider more intangible factors compared to that of Jordan and other players. Likewise, a “sanguine” American Liberal looks at the USA by statistical measures as Jeff Daniels’ character did in the clip above and sees disparities and flaws relative to the performance of other countries. They critique practical application whereas a “melancholic” American Conservative will be more likely to consider moral orientation and adherence to certain duties despite these problems we sometimes have with practical application. The “melancholic” American Conservative will look at the USA internally and the overall world state system and see the injustice still there, but will not so easily throw the baby out with the bathwater in an attempt to remedy that injustice by admiring and seeking to mimick models of other countries that cannot be applied to the USA without sacrificing more significant values and duties. The “sanguine” Liberal prefers a more pointed focus, the “melancholic” Conservative a “big picture” consideration.

This is not to say there are no exceptions to these general observations or that there is no overlap between them. There are also many nuances and perfectly valid arguments any side can make either way; I am not suggesting any particular disposition, temperament, or “side” is inherently 100% wrong from the start, making their entire argument bunk. As I said from the start, most of this is subjective. But I do think there is some truth to these general tendencies and recognizing them may help each side understand where the other is coming from so that we can bring up more factors in such debates that otherwise may not be considered.

2/3/23 was dubbed Michael Jordan day due to his jersey #23
Jordan is literally the dictionary definition of the GOAT, debate over! JK 😉

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