The most obvious and ancient substitute for War is Sport. The origins of the first athletic game are lost in the mists of history, which means that Sport has been helping individuals and nations release their aggressions for a very long time. And given the billions of dollars spent on Sport, it stands a proven economic engine. But how does Sport perform against our crucial criteria?
- It creates jobs that challenge nations and individuals to their utmost limits: The answer to this one is both yes and no. Sport challenges individuals physically to their limits, to the very limits of human possibility. Arguably Sport can also challenge individuals mentally and emotionally. But Sport doesn’t challenge nations in the same way that War does, nor does Sport encompass a wide range of arenas-of-challenge, such as technology, in the same way that War does. True, there are technologies attached to Sport, better running shoes and sports drinks, illegal performance enhancers such as steroids, high performing playing surfaces, split-second cameras, instant-replay television, advanced prosthetics, and so forth. However, there is a very real sense in which such things must remain peripheral to Sport in order for Sport to maintain its integrity.
- It distributes jobs: In modern life, Sport has divided into increasingly segregated groups of participants and viewers, with there being a relatively small pool of full-time, dedicated athletes versus a relatively large pool of people whose only connection to athletics is through watching it on television. That, however, is a reflection on the modern condition and not on Sport itself. Theoretically, everyone can participate in athletics in some capacity. Like War, corporations and Feudalism, Sport has a pyramidal hierarchy that distributes athletic experiences, but in this case, the nature of the pyramid is quite different. Instead of a system where orders filter down from the top to the bottom in a chain of command, the Sport hierarchy is based on a League system. At the top of any major sport is an elite national or international league, whose stars are the best at their sport in the world, who command huge salaries, and whose numbers are quite limited. At another level down are minor leagues, less prestigious associations of players that often serve as training grounds for the lucky few who make it up to the next level. Further down are college leagues, amateur leagues, youth leagues and on down to office teams, neighborhood pickup teams, and so forth. In general, the system guarantees that any given player will have a chance to compete against other players of similar skill level and commitment. Very few people can play at the top of any league, but very few people can’t play somewhere at the bottom. In addition to its main hierarchy, Sport also generates a wide host of auxiliary jobs surrounding the athletes –coaches, trainers, athletic gear producers, and so forth.
- It makes jobs meaningful
- by serving as a test of ideologies: This is where it really begins to fall apart for Sport. Athletic contests are games, and their rules are arbitrary. This causes two significant problems for us. First, it raises the issue of picking a sport to serve as the locus of meaning. In other words, if the United States wants to make American Football the game that decides geopolitical destiny, and Canada wants to make it Hockey, how can that decision possibly be arbitrated? Second, it reduces the expressive power of Sport in relation to ideology. In other words, one team may play a completely honest game, the other team may cheat when it can, and such things may offer consequential ideology-based differences between the teams, but both teams basically have to agree to abide by all standard rules in order to play the game in the first place. That limits the impact an ideology can have on a team’s success, which in turn limits the value of sport as a test of ideologies.
- by being definitive: This is the killer blow for War versus Sport. War is definitive, and Sport is not. For example, take a look at the most prestigious, well-respected, universally endorsed athletic competition on the planet, the Olympics. The Olympics represent a wide range of sports, selected by an international panel, which lessons the issues discussed in regards to subclause “a.” If any athletic event could stand in the place of War, this would be it. But when Hitler’s Aryan athletes were humiliated by African-American runner Jesse Owens in the Berlin Olympics, Hitler didn’t retire from the world stage in disgrace, his racist ideology definitively debunked. Instead, he invaded Poland. Sport can never be the last word when it comes to physical conflict in any world in which War still exists. No nation with the power to reshape the world through War is going to settle for having its reputation be established by Sport instead.
Next Week: Science