Thursday, October 06, 2005

Our Sporting Nature

This is more grist from the insolublog mill of counter-intuitive logic. Over airport coffee, which stinks to high heaven BTW, a family associate was rambling on about the evils of our capitalist culture, the evil of competition and how the violence of professional sports has poisoned the minds of people in Western civilization. He is of the same ilk that accuse guns of killing people. He did have some intelligent observations, with some rather unintelligent conclusions. This insolurant is on competitive spirit in general, sports in specific.

Here are some of the pertinent observations that were raised in conversation:
  • Enraged, rabidly competitive soccer parents, are pushing their kids over the edge.
  • In many countries, soccer thugs run amok.
  • There is a rise in extreme sports, with extreme physical risk.
  • Use of performance enhancing drugs by athletes.
  • Juvenile criminal behavior by athletes
I could not claim that these things do not exist. I have two eyes, like most observers out there. There are a few other observations to ponder, before we let the end product beg a potentially false conclusion.

Conservation of Energy

I believe the human being and most living things need to engage in competition like they need food and water. It is a basic hard wired survival relic. Competition provides emotional and physical relief for both participants and observers.

Competitive sports have been a part of Western civilization going back beyond the Romans, the Greeks and the Olympic games. Sports existed before Western civilization. Sports have been associated with military strength, national health, individual recognition and the mechanics of teams for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

Why did the Taliban ban sports?

They banned sports because the passion of both the observers and players are bled off by participation. It is a grand distraction from the religious indoctrination, offered by the Madrassa. If you are thinking of your favorite team, you are not thinking of Allah. They want to monopolize that emotional resource. There is plenty of undivided passion in a young ignorant suicide bomber.

Why did Hitler use sports to condition the young?

Sports is a tool as good as any other. A hammer may be used to destroy. A hammer may be used to build. A hammer can even build things, that are used for destruction. I do not believe that cultural decay and evil is facilitated by the fostering of our competitive spirit. This is a shallow, straw man generalization, based on the most superficial observations.

The Fall of Individual Merit

Human competitive passion will always find a conduit for relief, regardless of the path offered. It's like the energy of a lighting strike finding the path of least resistance. Taking away the path of the lighting rod, will only force the bolt to seek your house instead. The political correctness movement has been very busy, expunging all instances of individual merit. PC purveyors arrogantly presume that this is a psychologically healthy practice. I believe it is very unhealthy.
  • We now have multiple high school valedictorians.
  • We now have flat, uninspired grade scaling of a flat uninspired curriculum.
  • Self esteem is elevated above achievement.
  • Discipline is replaced with excuses.
  • No child gets a gold star or EVERY child gets a gold star. Both are equally perverse.
These people are unwinding the competitive element from every facet of society that can be safely molested. Schools, businesses, government and politics have all been drenched with this acid. They are all showing the signs of poor performance, lack of courage, lousy leadership, fear of risk and unnecessary compromise. My own Republican party has the seat of a winner, but the cowering fear of a loser, for example.

If you take away paths of discharge, for our competitive spirit, the spirit will find other paths to flow along. It will not only find those paths, it will amplify the emotional intensity along those paths. You might see increased ferocity in existing sports, sports advocation, political battles, aggressive business ethics, rise of black markets, games of risk and any path willing to take up the slack. People can become as emotional and obsessive about competition as they are about religion.

An Island of Relief or Source of Corruption?

If you take away the freedom of merit recognition and freedom of economic association, in one set of venues, the gravitational attraction to free venues increases, like the sports industry. Sports is one of those few areas, where the knife of the political thought policeman must cut carefully. You will not see merit removed from sports. You will not see affirmative action move to balance the racial profile of the sports population. Rigorous enforcement of a political correctness dictum on sports, would be political or even physical suicide to the enforcer.

When we take away all of the elements of society, which rejoice over individual achievement, we should not get upset if people become extremist about whatever is left over. Those who advocate destroying competitive spirit, for the health of our civilization, may not have a civilization to turn to, if they succeed. Look at the violence of soccer hooligans, in oppressive liberal European countries. Pointing the finger of blame at the game of soccer is absurd.

The Celebrity Can Go

I remember when the NBA used to be a sport I could watch. Celebrity salaries, endorsements and media pumped egos have damaged that sport. Much of the team dynamic has eroded in the face of lionizing individual success, individual grooming and individual performance over the team and the game. The MSM and its irresponsible quest for scandals, pandering product placement and fawning showers of false praise and unearned compensation are largely responsible.

You might think this is a deconstruction of my previous argument over the virtues of recognizing individual merit. It is not. When the old Lakers and Celtics used to play, all those individuals were known and praised. All were lauded for their performance. They possessed attributes, which are now wounded in the modern NBA. They understood the concept of team discipline, team communication and team execution. They knew they could have their individual merit cake and eat it too. They also knew that individuals who failed to perform, failed the team and themselves.

The Team Can Stay

We are seeing a reversal of this trend in modern Football. You now see more team attitude and success through team oriented strategy, planning and execution; Many successful players speak of the team and team success to the media, even when prompted for the type of eroding gossip the media thrive on. There can be just as much pleasure, in professional humility, as there is in basking beneath the limelight. Players realize that their specialty skills will still be recognized and rewarded. The fans love this. They cannot get enough of it. It reminds us of both our competitive strength and our national unity.

So, why can't the team model be expanded to large numbers of people?

Individual merit (yes it's important) and communication are are two big reasons why teams cannot successfully grow to large proportions.

People love positive individual recognition. They can have that on a small team, without being swamped out in a sea of faces. Why expend all your effort for no personal recognition? Why expend all your effort to be reviled by your peers? This is one of the many reasons Communism is such a dismal failure. Poor or negative recognition means the apathetic are unwilling to lift a finger for the team. It means nobody wants to be seen as a nail, standing proud of the board surface, waiting to be hammered down.

Tight, fast communication cannot be maintained with large groups. Small teams can become so adept at communicating, even subtle visual cues such as expressions and body language generate a practiced efficiency which operates at the subconscious threshold. As soon as the size and complexity of the multitude exceeds the individuals ability to mesh it all together, the magic is destroyed.

What can be done for the large organization?

A successful strategy is the cross-pollination of small team efforts. Individuals can periodically share skills and innovations with other team groups, through the mentoring process. Large groups benefit by small team innovation. Discipline is also facilitated by this behavior. Small teams internalize discipline. Large scale leadership can then operate on the team aggregate. All during this process, individual merit can be appreciated and rewarded. The competitive element keeps everyone sharp.

The Inevitable Checks and Balances

Extremism in any one element is as unhealthy as extremism in diet or religion. Great physical athletes, like Mike Tyson, can be frozen in time, locked in a psychological state of angry juvenile ignorance, unable to understand or reconcile criminal behavior. Simple early education, discipline and training outside of the athletic specialty, may have been the only thing needed to prevent damage to the reputation of the sport. Steroid abuse was permitted to damage the reputation of baseball by eroding the public confidence in the recent record breakers. Weak discipline and unchecked greed coupled with heavy competition pressure and sheltered manipulation by profit oriented handlers, can lead to steroid abuse, showboating, arrogance and ignorance. Sports would not be the first or last area of human endeavor corrupted by greed, putting the money in all the wrong places.

The lesson here is that team structure, individual merit and healthy competitive aggression do not exclude each other. They are not the evil things the PC crowd eschew. They can be made to enhance each other. Individuals need merit based recognition. Teams need strong team oriented individuals, with individual strengths. Some must be leaders and the rest must follow. Individuals and teams must have discipline and education, on and off the field. Teams must be small efficient packages of tight communication. Teams must compete for excellence against other teams, but also share their innovations.

The sum of all these things is much greater than the parts. We can all be good sports, and the competitive nature of sports can be good for all of us.


Peakah said...

Now that was some in-depth analysis! You're right on the money...

My own Republican party has the seat of a winner, but the cowering fear of a loser, for example.

Insolisms anyone?

miriam said...

Basketball is totally ruined.

Uber said...

Excellent. You've just described a recipe for success that is not limited to sports.

The extreme success of the home school movement, even as it grows more diverse, comes to mind. Ok so I'm biased there, but the stats and studies are not.

GunnNutt said...

A perfect example of the implementation of your logic can be found in Michael Yon's latest post The Battle for Mosul IV in which he describes how the new Iraqi security forces were transformed from unorganized and fearful masses into incredibly tight and efficient squads. Much of it had to do with building confidence thru the recruits' competition with insurgents/terrorists/asshats and emulating their U.S. counterparts. Saddam Hussein, like all other dictators, wanted praise heaped upon himself rather than spread over his productive workers and thus he ended up with a piss-poor military.

Once again, you've provided an excellent essay!

a4g said...

You keep this kind of quality up, Insolublog, and that Site Meter is going to read in the seven digits.

I wish I had time to comment thoroughly today-- practically every paragraph invites further discussion/ contemplation.


Insolublog said...

peakah - Maybe I'm insolent. But that makes it fun.

miriam - You can always pray there is redemption in all things.

Uber - Education is a big gripe for me. I intend to do a full rant on college alone. Competition is just as valid and useful in education, as it is in sports and business. It should be applied with full rigor and enthusiasm.

GunnNutt - I am glad to see success in so relevant an example. My father used to remark on how so many enemy Chinese would fall apart in Korea, when the officers were killed. They did not train every soldier to read maps, make leadership decisions etc. All they had were sheer bloody numbers, levied by attrition. Our military has the power of intelligence, teamwork and strength in every individual.

a4g - I feel honored again. I also welcome the discussion and contemplation.

Thanks everybody.