January 28, 2011

Pulling Punches; Or, Letting the Wookie Win

Doubtless I’ll cause some ripples of indignation here, but I want to point out that Chewbacca was a coward and a bully. I suppose he has recourse to his animal status, but he’s personified enough to fly at light speed, so to my mind he should be held to a higher standard. Now, if I remember rightly, Chewy took great exception to being out-manoeuvred by R2D2, abetted by C3P0, at inter-galactic monster chess. The little droid made ‘a fair move’; the wookie took exception. As Mr. Solo pointed out, wookies have a tendency to rip people’s arms out of their sockets when they lose. C3P0 suggests the new strategy of letting the wookie win. Goldrod’s game plan was entirely rational given the stakes. Chewbacca’s behaviour was nothing short of reprehensible.

If the proper codes are observed, however, pulling punches is an unforgivable form of behaviour. Letting the other win is satisfying to nobody. If you’re in the habit of letting your boss beat you at golf, you are a crony, and he is a fake. Who wins? I typically aver that magnanimity in winning and grace in losing are the two essential components of competition. An honest win or an honest loss is, ultimately, honest, and honesty is the true measure of a man. Once this balance gets all out of kilter the civilized restraints of healthy sport or game playing are removed and things can get ugly. Let us be clear: games and sports, when competitively engaged, are displacements of violence. They establish, in entirely human ways, who is the alpha dog. By moving the internecine warfare of nature into the arena of play, civilized man found an analogue that allowed hierarchies to be formed without mortal wounds. Sport is, by definition, civilized. When bad losers get violent, or braggart winners laud their superiority, the very essence of the thing is contravened.

All of this is why I am highly and increasingly circumspect about professionalism. Once money is made the object of competition, the arena is made vulnerable to greed, cheating, underhandedness, and conceit. Do we wish to celebrate the best man or the richest man? In recent times we have seen the results, when we do not enquire about the substance of a man, of equating greatness with wealth: Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, a number of Pakistani cricketers, etc. I don’t propose to do anything about these problems except to place my attention elsewhere. Professional sport relies, completely, on our attention. If we concentrate instead on our own pursuits, on those of our cohort, and on those of our local amateur clubs and associations, then we shall be the better for it, and sooner or later the professionals will have to re-evaluate why it is they do that which they do.

The next time I meet you over the Scrabble board, or on one or another field of play, be assured that I shall be playing to win. But also be assured that win or lose, providing you meet me on the same terms and don’t pull your punches, we shall always part on good terms, with arms where they are meant to be.


  1. Doctor,

    check your assumptions again: civilization is perfectly compatible with slavery; slavery seems to be mandated by the various forms of separating the separate arts; and it was the original act of mercy, when the alternative was wholesale slaughter, a very popular ancient practice. Sports do not establish hierarchies; they merely prepare for them. Games tend to be war games and play in this sense is preparation for the real stuff. From a point on, play however becomes mindless. Watching the world champion in chess is a waste of time, because he is too stupid to understand war, and he literally plays with figurines on a quaintly painted surface; so with the world champion in football. Except that you shouldn't laugh in his face if you like your own... These activities are worthless without war. - Glad to see you're serious of a sudden - because nothing beats a prophet with arms.

  2. I'll follow you some of the way here. Games do not require war, and are not worthless without war. They perhaps require the idea of war, and are less without the idea. The wars that occur in our times have little to do with the kinds of qualities learnt on fields of play. Nevertheless, those qualities are still useful and, in an era where most of us will never fight a war, seem applicable to civic life such as it is. Perhaps hierarchy formation is too strong; but hierarchies can be confirmed through such actions, or at least, they were once.

  3. The reason I can not watch professional sports is the celebration over simply doing the job you're being paid an obscene amount of money to do. You are correct in your view of ignoring professional sports. However the general public seems to brighten their lives vicariously with the whole shtick. I suppose one must concede that it is simply entertainment and must , as a given, reflect society as a whole.

  4. Doctor, being playful can mean two different things. One of them is not being serious. So with mock - in one sense, to mock is to make fun of something.

    On the other side, to play is to imitate in earnest, as it were. Outside of preparation for war, pray tell, what in God's name is the use of the ludicrous things men do on the field of soccer? Is there anything admirable in running around for so long, without reference to the uses of such abilities - ultimately in war?


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