Since we recently had a post by Deane on the idea that sports can serve as the “opium of the masses“—prompted in part by a quote from Terry Eagleton’s 2007 volume The Meaning of Life—I was intrigued when I saw a thoughtful response to Terry Eagleton’s recent editorial on the subject by Luke Roelofs over at Majestic Equality. Luke kindly gave us permission to share his post, which originally appeared here.
There’s an idea that floats around occasionally in socialist-and-similar ideology that ‘sport is reactionary’ because, like alcohol or religion, it distracts people from Pressing Social Problems and deflects their desires for Solidarity and Meaningful Struggle into the form of 22 men on a field chasing a ball (e.g. here).
I recently came across the following news stories: Libya and Algeria have both cancelled all soccer matches, out of fear of anti-government protests. I’ve also seen claims that Egyptian soccer fans are ‘playing a key role’ in the protests there.
In short, in precisely the situation where ‘genuine’ feelings of social solidarity and collective agency and whatnot are called for, organised sport is turning out to be a very helpful way to get groups of angryyoung people together and ready to act.
There’s two lessons you could draw from this.
Firstly, you might infer that when an activity provides people with something in an ‘escapist’ way, it does as much to develop, nurture, and amplify their desire for that thing as it does to ‘satiate’ it.
Secondly, you might infer that for most causal stories that you can come up with (football supports the political status quo because x y z), you can equally well come up with an opposite one (football undermines the political status quo because u v w).
Consequently, one should be cautious in the absence of empirical data, and should operate with a strong bias to the effect that if something makes people happy, it’s probably ok. There are, after all, plenty of things to criticise that make people unhappy.