Soccer, mass man, and a world without meaning

Gintas writes:

You wrote: “But Dalrymple has hit the nail on the head: the intense interest in soccer as a spectator sport is a manifestation of human stupidity.”

It’s not stupidity, it’s mass man.

Leonard D. writes:

You wrote: “There’s a man who is controlling a ball between his two feet, and another man with his feet wrests control of the ball from the first man. And then the first man tries to get control back. And this, with variations, goes on for hour. And people are supposed to be interested in this?”

Your specific criticisms of soccer cannot, I think, distinguish it from any other sport. Soccer is men running back and forth chasing a ball, but basketball is men bouncing a ball back and forth trying to throw it through a hoop, football is men pushing each other around, chasing a ball, etc. Sport, by its very nature, has no higher end and no enduring significance. And thus it must always appear empty to the outsider. That is to say, the intense interest in all spectator sports is a manifestation of human stupidity. (I think most women feel this way.) [LA replies: but your description eliminates the large differences between soccer on one hand and the other sports on the other.]

I liked the Dalyrymple essay most for a line that was almost a throwaway on his part: “When bread is assured, circuses fill men’s minds.” Here is an insight into the deeper significance of sports in modern culture. I do not think it is a coincidence that the increase in interest in sports has coincided with the “progress” of the modern progressive state. The fundamental power source of progressivism is the destruction of natural order. But that order is what provides (or provided, anyway) most men with meaning. Thus, progressivism is a vampire of meaning. In addition to killing God and the transcendent worldview, it has weakened the fabric of our culture. Men now live as atoms. But material progress cannot stop men from wanting meaning. People with challenging jobs throw themselves into their work. Intellectuals retreat into books and other intellectual pursuits. (Or progressive activism, for those so inclined—not a minor source of progressivism’s power, I think.) But where can stupid people find meaning in modernity? Not many places. One place they can find meaning is in sports.

The intense interest in spectator sports is a manifestation of human stupidity in a world deprived of meaning.

LA replies:

That is an excellent point. I think you’re right.

I would also note that Leonard, who is a libertarian, speaks of “the natural order” and a “transcendent worldview,” which is unusual for a libertarian.

- end of initial entry -

Leonard D. writes:

You wrote: “your description eliminates the large differences between soccer on one hand and the other sports on the other.”

Yes it does.

I can certainly perceive distinctions between soccer and other sports. But I don’t find them to be very meaningful. Certainly not in any absolute sense.

Soccer is heavily based on the use of the feet. And this is, at least in some sense, rather unnatural. Men did not evolve to control objects with our feet. (Evolution doubters are invited to substitute “designed” for “evolved” with no loss of meaning.) Whereas we are evolved to control objects with our hands, and in particular to throw them with great force and accuracy. Hence, we might argue that any sport emphasizing hard, accurate throws (baseball, football), is better than others. Similarly, we might argue that men evolved to use handheld levers (clubs and axes). So, any sport that tests the accurate use of a lever (tennis, hockey, baseball, lacrosse) is better. Or that we are evolved to confront other men physically in battle; thus we should favor boxing, mixed martial arts, and football. Or that we evolved to act as a squad, to defeat other tribes in battle via superior organization. Etc.

I can kind of agree with such arguments, but there’s no reason why we ought to exalt those things that we naturally do well above those we naturally do poorly. Running while kicking a ball is unnatural, but so is wrestling without using the hands, dribbling, or hitting a thrown object with a club. More generally, for any criteria you might have for assessing sports, unless you have a way to tie it into the transcendent, then you’re left without meaning. You are left with only aesthetics to distinguish one sport from another.

Aesthetically, I have a few criteria for what makes a good sport:

it should emphasize uniquely human abilities, as suggested above

it should test the limits of human ability, both physical and mental.

it should reward team play

penalties and the refereeing should not be an important part of the game

it should have a variety of tactics and strategies

… but of course, those are just my opinion. You may or may not agree, and if you don’t, I probably cannot convince you. Based on those, I don’t see much to distinguish soccer from football, baseball, or basketball. All of them have their strong points and their weak points. I can enjoy watching all for them, at least for 15 minutes or so.

In the discussion of soccer as sport, I think some introspection about how and why we have come to appreciate sport is valuable. Here’s what I find: broadly speaking the degree to which I enjoy watching a popular sport correlates very strongly with (a) how much I know about that sport, and (b) how much of that sport I have watched in the past. This suggests that it is my familiarity with a sport that matters most for my enjoyment of it, and not anything intrinsic to the sport.

I watched a bit of world cup last night, and saw a few rather amazing plays. I also saw a lot of (to my eye) meaningless running around. Soccer seems pretty boring to me, but I think that’s because I’ve watched almost none of it in my life, and I don’t know it well enough to appreciate what the players are trying to do 95% of the time. I think there was a lot more going on than I was aware of. As such, I reserve judgment.

Kilroy M. writes from Australia:

I’ve restrained myself from defending football (what you Americans refer to as “soccer”) in the various threads that have appeared at VFR as I see this as an essentially trivial matter for a political blog. However, this doesn’t seem to be going away, so I will offer my thoughts.

First of all, I agree with Mr. Auster’s point that the elite’s adulation of the sport in a country where it has little popular appeal, will indeed open the media up to legitimate criticism. Since the constant media narrative has an internationalist flavour, it is more than reasonable to say that the sport has been hijacked by a leftist political agenda.

Having said that, I believe the following should be stressed:

1. The “one world” nonsense of football is not an essential element to the game. The sport in its present guise is a symptom of the Alinskyite political infiltration of culture. Any critique that focuses on the devoured host instead of the parasite that is devouring it, misses the point entirely. I feel most of the comments on VFR re the World Cup have been of this nature.

2. The fanaticism over any competitive sport is (at least in my view) a simulacrum for the celebration of the “tribe”, nationalism. Men will seek out a way to enjoy and revel in a corporate identity. This is possible in sport as there are no PC repercussions: the catharsis one experiences when the national team wins is delegitimised if the context is not related to sport. Therefore, the fanfare surrounding football is no more a product of “mass man” as it is the product of deracinated man in search of his lost tribe and the ability to show his affections for it publicly and passionately.

3. The only objection that this football fan (I confess) has to the sport as such is that the competing teams no longer represent the things they purport to represent. An amusing email once made the rounds comparing the colour of the French team as it was in the turn of last century, with today. Another example is the fact that two of the best the German strikers are actually Polish. It seems that the left cannot really escape the competitive nature of the game, nore the manner in which the teams are centred around national themes, but they have nevertheless largely succeeded in eliminating the substance of that national character from the teams themselves. Only the shell remains. This hasn’t harmed the sport, but it has harmed the esprit de corps which is part of traditional football culture.

In all, I appreciate that most Americans don’t give a hoot about the sport. Fine. But there is a great deal to be said for how the sport has been a microcosm of the social trends that have plagued the West on other levels. It can also be seen (ironically) as a conduit for national pride where that expression is otherwise poo-pooed by more “enlightened” types. Here, football is a useful tool for analogy and contrast to broader social trends. In conclusion: I hope that in future you Amercians aren’t so quick to denigrate it by targeting the wrong thing.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 07, 2010 09:12 AM | Send

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