Swamp Baseball

My warning meant nothing | You’re dancing in quicksand…

— Tool, “Swamp Song”, 1993

Swamp Baseball is like regular baseball, but with a few changes:

  • You play in a muddy bog. Outfielders can fall into quicksand. The “run” to each base can take 30 seconds. Swimming is allowed, but bare-eyed (no goggles!) only.
  • The ball is covered in mud and will spin and fly unpredictably. Every pitch has its own character. Instead of bats, you remove and use tree branches.
  • Each inning, you have to remove leeches. Whichever team has fewer leeches gets an additional run. Lampreys count as four leeches each. (This does make the game notably higher-scoring than regular baseball.)
  • Dangerous mosquitos are shipped in, if not already present; therefore, you will probably die of malaria (and, thus, be kicked out of the game with nothing to show for it) before you are 40.

Who wants to play Swamp Baseball? I’m guessing that the answer is “No one”. Nor would most people want to watch it as anything more than a novelty. We like to see humans play the sport in a more appropriate habitat. There’s nothing wrong with swamps. They’re good for the world. They just aren’t where we do our best running– or pitching or fielding or spectating. If you want to see baseball played in top form, you’ll go to a ballpark rather than a malarial bog. It may be, in the abstract, more of an accomplishment to score a home run in Swamp Baseball, but who cares?

In the career sense, I’ve played a lot of Swamp Baseball. I’ve become an expert on the topic. I used to have the leading blog on the ins and outs of Swamp Baseball: how it’s played, why it exists, and how not to lose too much. I’ve fought actual fascists in corporate environments and had my share of runs and outs, wins and losses.

Here’s the problem: no one cares about Swamp Baseball. Why should they? It’s a depressing, muddy sport where even the winners get their blood sucked out by leeches and lampreys. It doesn’t inspire. No one sees the guy who slides into home plate for a run, only to get his face ripped off by an alligator, and says, “I want to be like him when I grow up!”

Technology can be a creative force, and programming can be an intellectually thrilling activity. Getting a complicated machine learning system to compile, run, and produce right answers might be more exciting than the crack of a bat (says a guy who has no hope of being any kind of professional athlete). Like writing and mathematics, it’s one of the Great Games. Victories are hard-won but often useful and sometimes even profitable.

Yet, most programmers are going to be playing their sport in the swamps. There won’t be literal mud pits, but legacy code that management refuses to budget the time to fix. There won’t be literal lampreys and leeches but there will be middle managers and project managers trying to get the team to do more with less– bloodsuckers of a different kind. Just as all swamps are different, all corporate obstructions are unique.

Here’s the problem. Swamp Baseball can be fun in a perverse way, but it would fail as a watchable sport because one’s success has more to do with the terrain than the players or teams. Runner falls into a mud pit? Whoops, too bad! Fielder faints due to blood loss, thanks to leeches? Looks like the other team’s getting a run. Real baseball has boring terrain and lets the players write the story. Swamp Baseball has interesting terrain but no sport or art. If the sport existed, it would just be artificially hobbled people failing at everything because they’re in the wrong habitat.

Corporate life is, likewise, all about the swamps. The success or failure of a person’s career has nothing to do with batting or running or fielding, but whether that person trips over an alligator or not on the way to first base… or whether the shortstop collapses because the lampreys and leeches have exsanguinated him in time. Sometimes the terrain wrecks you, and sometimes it wrecks everyone else and leaves you the winner, but… in the end, who cares?

Swamp Baseball wouldn’t get zero viewers, of course. Some people enjoy comic relief, which in this case is a euphemism for schadenfreude. It wouldn’t be respectable to watch it, nor to play, but some people would watch and for enough money, some would play. Corporate life is the same. Its myriad dysfunctions and self-contradictions make for lots of entertainment, often at another’s literal and severe expense, but it’s fundamentally lowbrow.

That’s why I don’t like to write about corporate software engineering (or “the tech industry”) anymore. And if I stay in technology (which I intend to do) then I want to play the real game.

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14 thoughts on “Swamp Baseball

  1. Pingback: Swamp Baseball – Michael O. Church | Ace Infoway

  2. Your content is outstanding, and I will show my adoration through harsh criticism…

    The real game is the swamp. Believing it’s not is a lie that losers tell themselves to make themselves feel better about losing. Just like the fat bald awkward creep who puts on a cosplay rabbit suit because under the fake fur he can pretend that furry culture is the “real” culture and all the dirty nuances of social interactions and value exchange are beneath him.

    Let’s ask some important questions:

    1. Why aren’t you posting the truth from behind 9 proxies under a pseudonym?

    2. Do women prefer good swamp baseball skills, or good fantasy baseball skills?

    3. How corrupt is the “Elite” social class? (i.e. those who own relationships between other people and enjoy incomes >$1mil/yr)

    Check out 4chan.org/pol. I think you’d appreciate its unique outlook. Look for a “redpill thread”

    • You have a strong point. It’s a bit inconsistent of us as programmers (most of whom will go into private-sector corporate work) to insist that we should be doing our “real work” (i.e. programming, solving problems, applying creativity where it fits) when the messier, interpersonally nasty game of corporate politics was here first.

      Sports give us idealized, simplified versions of physical activities that mattered in our hunter-gatherer days where there is no fog of war (except, perhaps, around doping) so we can see who the best are. That’s why we watch them. We want to see what the possible human best is, without the fog of war. No one can sprint at 20 miles an hour on a battlefield, but Olympic-level sprinters can achieve that on a track.

      Of course, the way most people conduct themselves is warlike… and anyone going into Corporate America and expecting anything else is severely naive.

      The problem might then be that social respectability forces us to deny that there is war. Acknowledging that corporate stack ranking is an act of war by a company against its own employees is not socially acceptable. Listen to some successful executive or even a research scientist at Google talk about his career. He’s not going to talk war. He’s going to talk about the highlights… and if there are lowlights, they’ll be presented in an anodyne “haha, glad we got out of that” way that doesn’t embarrass anyone.

      The Boomers created a myth of a corporate existence with purpose and where the company functions like a team. They keep saying that business isn’t zero-sum and they are, technically speaking, correct. It’s not zero-sum, but everyone these days plays it as a zero-sum game and you’re naive if you don’t think that 95% of your corporate existence will be dealing with the zero-sum players and the wreckage they leave behind.

      • I learned from this to expel the zero-sum players at every opportunity…in the past I stayed neutral to avoid retaliation. So thanks once again.

        Some ideas from other obscure things I’ve read:

        I take some small consolation in how the ruthless game of zero-sum politics (in which the losers don’t reproduce) drives its players to higher IQs. (From HPMOR…but the author is pushing his Marxist cult so is at best misleading if you do read it.)

        The lie goes deeper…the “beta-ization” of men or the success of female empowerment has changed the dominant means of competition (for most workers) from male to female styles. Male style is to banter to establish dominance, then go hunt together. Female style is to pretend to be friends while jockeying for status in the harem (through lies and social treachery) and draining the harem ruler of resources. Unfortunately the female style tends to collapse civilization since women in power vote in universal welfare (see the play “Assemblywoman”) and then refuse to have sex with the (fat, awkward) men whose work pays for that welfare, so naturally the men stop being engineers and start being criminal musicians…resulting in a weak society that falls to barbarians. Just like Rome. Or Sweden. Some say this is a deliberate plot by Russians (Yuri Bezmov) or other groups. (Mix of /pol/ and theredpill on how marriage is the cornerstone of civilization because it gives every man a wife (instead of letting the women flock to the highest-status men) so men who aren’t 9/10 in looks actually have a reason to work.)

        The Last Psychiatrist (who also appears to have been taken down after naming the media machine) wrote “The Problem is You”.

        Good luck out there man.

  3. But the mud field is a reality for every participant and the skill to navigate the field is valuable, the ability to jump ship is maybe even more vital than job related skills, in any job (The situation in other industries is not much different). The only power we have is to vote with our feets.

    • This is true. The problem, I think, is that every mud field is different. Each time you decide that the grass might be greener on the other side of the bog (slight mixed metaphor, I know) you are in another field with new mud traps and alligators.

      At the same time, there are people who are lucky enough to play the real game. They had their shit together at 21, they went to Stanford and got CS PhDs, and they’re good enough at self-presentation to get Real Projects. And they have impressive CVs not because they’re inherently better (although they *were* better at 21, natch, and are still quite good) but because the stars aligned differently for them. They get good at the real game, which is what everyone values… and yes, there are things you learn by playing in a swamp, but every swamp is different and if you swamp hop too much, you’re just discarding that hard-won knowledge.

      There’s a game and a meta-game and neither will ever be figured out because, as soon as one could, they change the rules.

      • And a meta-meta-game. Which changes more slowly. And a meta-meta-meta-game. Which changes even more slowly. Where does it stop?

  4. All you write about is corporate software engineering. Especially when you insist you’ve stopped writing about it.

  5. Dear Michael O. Church,

    It seems to me that you are a natural born general, but one that finds it demeaning to own an army. I sympathize with that. In fact, there might be cultures that hold such people in the highest of regards.

    You are brilliant. That is easy enough to see. People complain about the light, that’s what dark ages are all about. But none of that is what is bothering you. Hell, the problem isn’t the people, nor the corporations, the main problem is within your own self. There are many error correcting processes deep within our souls that checks that we are doing all right. Some of those error correcting codes are fighting within you. Maybe a bug is eating all the ram. Oh well, your own mind is software, and you are a genius programmer, time to patch it up.

    Damn your fucking ego. We need all your writing up. Still, it is not about us, your life is about you. You want to have fun, you want to protect your ego, you want to illuminate as far as you can see, and then illuminate even further. Find the way to do that simultaneously. You are brilliant, remember? It should be easy enough to fix.

    Your tactics are alive and breathing in many of us. Your strategy resonates. Hackers are moving up. Culture changes. This is not the time to give up.

    “On a planet that increasingly resembles one huge Maximum Security prison, the only intelligent choice is to plan a jail break.”

    Let’s start with our own minds, but most of all, let us make it hedonistic and fun.

  6. BOSS: If you could come in this weekend at change the heading font from Garamond to Helvetica in these 953 files, that’s be great. We have no time for any of that fancy SSC stuff.

    DEV: You mean CSS?

    BOSS: I don’t need any of your fancy MIT PhD talk, just have it ready by the deployment at 3 AM Monday morning. And, welp, if you could be on the conference call for that, some of us would be glad you did it.

    Exaggeration, maybe, but close to the truth. And most of us don’t get Katherine Hepburn to pull them off of us, either.

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