Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Real Life Ellsworth Toohey

A friend of mine from work sent me this article that was reposted on Deadspin though originally ran in The Nation magazine. At first glance, I actually thought I agreed with where the article was going. Dividing the world into "jocks" and "pukes" reminded me a lot of the distinction between "producers" and "looters" made in Atlas Shrugged. A couple paragraphs in things started to feel a little off, but it wasn't until paragraph six; in which the author says in an aside, "Obviously, I am for de-emphasizing early competition and redistributing athletic resources so that everyone, throughout their lives, has access to sports. But then, I am also for world peace;" that I officially wanted to choke Robert Lipsyte, the article's author.

His basic premise is that growing up playing sports makes you competitive, ambitious, greedy, amoral, and submissive to authority (with illusions toward this being a Republican ideal), and that in our enlightened post-feminist world, we can finally start to question some of these foundations in order to move past them. Also that we should, of course, because greed is bad, bullying is bad, and competition is obviously bad. Now to be sure, I am not trying to defend "jock culture;" I think there are some major problems with it that need to be addressed; however, this article cannot stand unanswered, because it is the most vile, immoral, senseless piece of propaganda I have read since Elsworth Toohey's speech in The Fountainhead (text version here) on how to rule the world, and the fact that it is trying to pass itself off as taking the moral high ground is at the root of everything that is wrong with America, and to a larger extent, the world.

First, I want to address this idea that a "willingness to subordinate [oneself] to authority" is a necessary part of athletics or achievement, or even jock culture for that matter. I can see where Lipsyte got this idea from, but it is a total perversion of reality. Among athletes, as is the case with all producers, respect is earned. An athlete may take on the role of a student, seeking knowledge, trying things that on his own he would not have done; but he chooses to do so because he trusts the authority figure telling him to do it. He has made this evaluation of trustworthiness based on the judgment of his own mind, not based on a blind sense of supplication.

Do great players actually submit to authority? I mean, Derek Jeter is known as one of the classiest individuals in sports, and for good reason. I do not recall a single incident between Jeter and a Yankees manager during his 15 year career (though that's not to say that they didn't happen). It's quite a stretch to call this "blind loyalty" or supplication, though. Jeter has had two managers over the course of his career. The first was Joe Torre, who led Jeter and company to win four championships in five years. If that is not an example of someone who has earned the respect of even the biggest stars, I don't know what is. His second manager, of course, was Joe Girardi, who played on three of the four championship teams, and managed the Yanks to one world series as well. This is another guy who commands respect from everyone, even the Derek Jeters and Alex Rodriguez's of the world.

Let's talk about Michael Jordan. We all know and love Jordan. I remember being a Knicks fan during Jordan's second run of three championships; if he was on the team, that team was unstoppable, period. He left the league to go try to play professional baseball, and without him, the team went no where. Then when he came back in the league, which was when I was a fan, reinserting him into the starting five was all that it took to put the Bulls back on top. When Jordan was inducted to the hall of fame, he gave this speech, and it was people like Lipsyte who criticized it.

Jordan is the ultimate competitor. He achieved what every athlete wishes he could, and that is why he is who he is. The perfect combination of natural ability and commitment. Few people in the history of the world have done any single thing as well as Jordan played basketball. This realization of the ideal basketball player, as personified in Michael Jordan, was not as a result of submission to authority. When he was coming back from an ankle injury and was told he could only play 10 minutes, he walked into the owner's office and demanded that he get more time. He had a love of the game clause in his contract which stated that he could play anytime he wanted, even in the off season at the risk of injuring himself. So bringing it back full circle, are the "pukes" really the only ones that are capable of independent thought and questioning authority? Decidedly NO.
At a critical time when masculinity is being redefined, or at least re-examined seriously, this sports system has become more economically, culturally, and emotionally important than ever. More at service to the empire. More dangerous to the common good.
Great, here comes "the common good." Now we are really starting to delve into some Toohey speak. This is straight out of the playbook of the virtue of selfessness. We shouldn't build a stadium for a football team in Texas at the benefit of only the jocks. We should redistribute this money to the education of the children. Nevermind that it was the football program that raised that money in the first place, and the stadium will pay for itself many times over, bringing money back into the school. Granted, this is Lipsyte quoting someone else, but this is his point throughout the article, in particular in the aside that I mentioned earlier.
Jock culture is a distortion of sports. It can be physically and mentally unhealthy, driving people apart instead of together. It is fueled by greed and desperate competition. At its most grotesque, think killer dodgeball for prize money, the Super Bowl.
You have the cause and effect wrong there, bud. Competition and self interest are at the core of human nature. It is our biological imperative to stay alive, and we have evolved these characteristics because they provided us a survival advantage. We take life as our standard of value, and since we long ago realized that not finding an outlet for this competitive nature creates problems, we have created a competitive outlet for ourselves that adds value to the world. Try for a second to imagine how many people would be out of a job if we decided that the Super Bowl should no longer exist. I'll wait.

Lipsyte is suggesting that we get rid of not only the Super Bowl, but if I'm extrapolating correctly from the words "think killer dodgeball," it would seem the sport of football as well. He is asking athletes to sacrifice their happiness for his virtue of selflessness. He is asking hundreds of millions of fans to sacrifice their happiness for his virtue of selflessness. He is asking tens if not hundreds of thousands of people around the world to sacrifice their living for his virtue of selflessness. This is not moral. This is not GOOD. This stops here.

The false sense of virtue based on altruistic behavior and the "common good" is propagated by the weak in an attempt to control strong. "Pukes" like Lipsyte still resent the jocks who picked on them throughout their school years, and attempt to use guilt as a tool by which they can control others. They carry a chip on their shoulder throughout their lives, just like Jordan did about getting cut from his high school basketball team. But instead of using this chip as motivation to create value and self-actualize like Jordan did, the Lipsytes of the world use it to try to rule; to amass power and respect; to try to bring great people down to their level of mediocrity.

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