David and Goliath

The Hebrew bible tells the myth of David and Goliath, and how a mighty battle was won in favour of the Israelite people (the predecessor to the Jewish people), thanks to a young boy called David, and his ingenuity. This battle supposedly took place in the ancient near east at the first or second millennium B.C.E. when technology was still primitive. I will paraphrase it here.

The Israelites and their enemy and tormentor, the Philistines schedule a large battle. The Philistines have far superior equipment with armours made out of iron, which the Israelites don't have. Goliath, a tall Philistine giant covered in heavy iron armour, with a shield bearer, who carried a big and heavy iron shield to protect him, steps forward and asks for an Israelite man worthy enough to fight him and determine the fate of the battle. Note that in the ancient Near East, the verdicts of battles were commonly determined in such a way. The Israelites fear they will lose the battle.

Out of nowhere, a young Israelite boy, whom hardly anyone knew about, steps forward with a sling and a few pebbles. Goliath thinks this is ridiculous and ridicules him. However, the boy quickly puts a pebble in his sling, and after rotating the sling to achieve a very large velocity (not unusual with slings), hurls it with great accuracy into Goliath's face. (Also not unusual, because shepherds in the Near East effectively used slings to kill lions and other predators to their flock). Goliath’s face was uncovered to allow him to see so the pebble could hit his forehead. Even if Goliath's shield bearer wanted, he could not have lifted the huge shield in time, and Goliath was completely unagile in his suit and armour. The pebble smashes Goliath’s brain, and he falls to the ground dead. The Israelites have won the battle.

The Boy's name was David.

Why do I think it's important here? Because David was a hacker (see Paul Graham’s essay “The Word ‘Hacker’” for a definition of the terms). He knew the rules, and played by them, but knew how to bend them, in order to earn his victory. If David had fought Goliath using a spear or a sword, he would have lost, but using the sling was a useful workaround.

There were many other hackers since, and there are a lot of them today even if some of them think that “hackers” only mean no good-nick and malevolent computer intruders. Hackers come in all shapes and sizes - and, while a lot of them are male, many of them (including Ayn Rand and Jennifer Lawrence) were or are female.

And here’s the thing: this is what an action hero is all about: he makes his own rules, or he even breaks them, and does not accept his fate. This is whereas a tragic hero is bound by many invisible rules, and accepts his fate, which is, almost certainly going to be death.

And in real life, you should also aim to be a hacker or an action hero, or the many phrases this phenomenon used to be called.

Was David an Israelite and Goliath a Philistine? Did the battle actually happen in its form? What really happened to David next? That is hard to know, because in a true open source fashion, the peoples of the Near East gladly borrowed legends and memes from other people and improved them, or adapted them to their whims. This is similar to how we now create fan fiction by the droves. (Only now it's in much greater speed and capacity.) Moreover, in a way, the tale of David and Goliath is obscured by the mentality of the times, and its context within the larger Biblical epic.