Sheer bull-headedness may be the death knell for us all

Warning No. 1: The following is going to hurt — badly — for ardent Notre Dame football fans.

Warning No. 2. What follows Brian’s Blunder is only going to get worse. Much worse.

I take you all the way back to Oct. 30, 2010, and the friendly confines of Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame was losing to Tulsa, 28-27, with 36 seconds left. But Notre Dame had marched deep into Tulsa territory and the Irish ace kicker was on the sidelines for what would be an easy field goal.

A three-point chip shot. Irish win.

 What does Coach Brian Kelly do? He instructs quarterback Tommy Rees to roll and throw a pass into the end zone. The ball is intercepted. Tulsa wins.

Did anybody on the Notre Dame sideline try to dissuade Kelly from making that horrible call? In fairness to his assistants, this is the same Kelly who would fly off into purple-faced rages that often embarrassed so many Irish faithful. 

Similarly, in January 2020, did anybody try to dissuade the helicopter pilot after he made the unilateral call to fly in a thick fog that obliterated the California hills? The resulting crash, as you undoubtedly know by now, killed basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven others, including the pilot. The crash was entirely preventable.

I’m not done yet. 

The deadliest crash in aviation history killed 583 people in 1977 in the Canary Islands. Known as the Tenerife Airport Disaster, it happened when — again in a heavy fog — the  KLM pilot decided to take off in near-zero visibility.

He announced his intention to his co-pilot, who thought better of it and warned him against his foolish decision. Maybe it was because the captain tut-tutted him, but the co-pilot was cowed and remained silent during his second opportunity to talk some sense into the pilot. 

The KLM plane crashed into a Pan Am plane sitting in the runway. Both planes were fully loaded with passengers.

There was another pilot who ignored warnings and still tried to land in a heavy fog in April 2010. He killed Polish president Lech Kaczynski and everyone else in the plane.

After so many airline crashes caused by “pilot error” — a better term I think would be “arrogance” — the industry adopted a program to improve communications between a pilot, a concerned co-pilot and anyone else who might offer rational thought in a touchy situation.

I wonder how many tragedies have been caused by sheer bull-headedness? How would history have played out if somebody had vehemently urged an absolutist to stop? How many lives have been lost because of an egocentric authoritarian? 

No need to go back to Genghis Khan. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee ordered Gen. George Pickett to charge smack into Union lines at Gettysburg in 1863. Did Pickett or anyone else say, “Hey, Bob, that’s where all their guns are.”

More recently, a new analysis finds 234,000 U.S. deaths from COVID-19 since June 2021 could have been prevented if people had been vaccinated. Maybe some were swayed by a self-centered politician who we shall not name, who called the plague a hoax and preferred that people use an antimalarial drug, hydroxychloroquine, as a potential wonder drug to defeat the virus and simultaneously get himself out of a tight jam.

Remember? His Plan B was a horse de-wormer.

Almost every day I open Facebook or YouTube, and I see animals perform marvelous, impressive acts of cognitive thought, empathy and emotion. “Wow,” we say. “They seem almost human.” Huh?

But, then again, I also see a lot of dead deer on the side of the road. Were they emotionally whacked-out?

America’s story-teller, Garrison Keillor, famously pondered whether deeply depressed and old raccoons thought it over and simply decided to end it all by lunging from the side of the road. 

I’ve delayed Warning No. 2 because it’s going to bum you out like never before.

I don’t want to do this. But here goes: death by Vladimir Putin.

Consider the possibly that a nuclear war explodes, killing billions of people in the first hour after a single human — Putin  — makes mankind’s ultimate, unilateral decision with nobody in the Kremlin to advise him against pushing the red button. 

Remember Diogenes, the guy who wandered around Athens swinging  a lit lamp? “I am just looking for a human being,” he was quoted as saying.

Humans will be the death of us. But not before they put us all through the wringer.

How many ways can our fellow humans kill us, or hurt us badly? Let the experts count the ways.

The DSM-5, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, lists 297 disorders, like narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), characterized by a lifelong pattern of exaggerated feelings of self-importance. Perhaps you have read about NPD. It’s been in the news a lot over the past six years.

Not everything is pathological. There is another type of whacked-out thinking called cognitive bias (conscious and unconscious), or simply irrational thinking. There’s that old standby, confirmation bias, or the tendency to listen more often to information that confirms our existing beliefs. Or if you are up to date on the latest, there’s a new subset of cognitive bias called the Dunning–Kruger effect. Wikipedia describes this as “people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability.”

Psychologists seem overwhelmed. They don’t know what to do with all these cognitive biases. Some say there are 102 of them. I read that there are 151 and even 188 discrete examples of screwy thinking.

I’ll end on a positive note. We are animals, and some animals have an uncanny knack of avoiding disaster.

As I drive, I see a lot of wildlife making the right decision not to run in front of my car. As I was mulling this over last week, a bird flew right past my front bumper and escaped just inches from death.

Maybe it was simple flight training. Or maybe the bird accepted a dare in one of those avian “hold-my-beer” moments.

I do see a lot of squirrels, raccoons and deer dart in front of me, then re-think the whole issue without needing the wise counsel of a co-pilot, buddy or wife that it would be better just to turn around.

Smart critters. Animals by and large seem to make wise, self-informed decisions — unlike many American Homo sapiens afflicted and energized by fear, hate, grievances, revenge and other emotional dysfunctions. 

Small consolation, I’d say, considering we have Putin and we have fog.