Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sporting values reconsidered

The current excitement about international sporting events has made me think about the values this sort of activity actually represents. Of course, I have no objection to people engaging in sports for their personal fitness and enjoyment, and I suppose people who enjoy watching sports are welcome to their pleasure. I have more problems with the whole professional sports ethos.

First, sports are competitive. There are two basic strategies or approaches to life: competition and cooperation. Competition assumes that resources are limited and that other people are hostile, and therefore in order to survive every individual tries to get hold of resources and become "better" than others in some way. Cooperation assumes that people can work together for their mutual and collective benefit. It seems to me that cooperation is a more sensible strategy in the long run, though it does require some trust, and should be based on proper education. It makes me sad that so many types of sports emphasize winning rather than working together.

Second, these events foster group loyalty, such as nationalism or local patriotism. People tend to support sporting teams and individual athletes from their own country or city, or they form a new group with other supporters, not necessarily based on geography. These group loyalties seem to me to be unhelpful in creating a peaceful world community. I see all human beings as part of one big group, and the small groupings that divide and separate people from humanity as a whole and create a narrower identity seem to have some negative consequences in their world views and behaviours.

Third, sports emphasize quantity rather than quality, with numerical scores or measurements determining who wins or is considered better. In most areas in life I think we should seek ways to use more qualitative evaluations, even if they are subjective, because human life is not an exact science.

I have also been thinking about the contribution of professional sports to society, and haven't found much benefit in the whole area. Sports are said to inspire people, but the achievements of exceptional athletes can also create the feeling that no matter how hard we try, we could never equal their skills, so there is no point in trying. When "normal" people decide to exercise and get fit, they rarely say they were inspired by famous sporting figures. In fact, those who engage in professional sports are a separate social class. They spend their lives in training, sometimes never hold a "normal" job or get a real education, and the successful among them are rewarded with vast amounts of money. What does it say about our society that professional sportspeople and entertainers are among the highest-paid individuals?

The special skills they develop are not put to any practical use within society. We don't hear about fast runners being used to carry messages, or strong weight-lifters volunteering to lift heavy patients in hospitals. No, using their skills for some practical end would somehow devalue the "purity" of the sporting ideal. They have to develop these skills just for their own sake, and use them only for their personal glory and public entertainment.

These are some of the reasons why I feel uneasy about sporting events.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Me as a baby and toddler

Here are some photos I have just scanned of me as a baby and toddler. Not all of the photos have dates on the back, but I think the earliest is from age 8 months, and latest is probably around 1 year (March-August 1970). It's interesting how serious I look in some of these! I like black and white photos, and these are authentic rather than an Instagram-type effect. Also featured in some of these are my parents, Carol and John Glucker, and our house in Exeter.