Canadians harbour three sacred cows they would do well to put out to pasture.
The largest is professional sports. The second is gambling, the third charity.
Since this may be a surprising proposition, I will sketch how sports, gambling and charity have been contributing to the diminution of the middle class and an increasingly vicious attack upon poor people.
I will begin with sports and an undisputed fact. However enthusiastically they 'talk the talk', most North Americans are not active participants in sports. For the typical fan, life centers upon televised shows and forays to ball parks or hockey arenas. Any remaining energy is spent ferrying youngsters to practices and games followed by rehearsals of their exploits or shortcomings. For those without family or community sports connections, professional sports provides year-long around the clock opportunities to celebrate, agonize over or second-guess decisions by coaches and franchise owners.
All of this is deemed wholesome. Sports, it is said, underscores and develops camaraderie and teamwork. Life lessons abound: Sports teach that "playing the game is what it's all about." Such benefits may be occurring, but less desirable outcomes are never talked about. The most obvious is that professional sports – the catalyst and focus of whatever brief interest the young have in athletics – are restricted to a small tribe of extraordinarily talented athletes.
Yet everything we are learning about human well-being emphasizes the importance of life-long activity. If athleticism is portrayed as restricted to a few decades of a few lives, what about the 'remaindered' lives these narratives encourage?
The institutionalized indolence encouraged by professional sports is a self-fulfilling prophecy! A global pandemic of disease and obesity has direct links to millions of fans trooping to hockey, baseball and soccer stadiums when not watching televised games.
Children internalize powerful lessons when they see the important adults in their lives cheering and cajoling professional athletes. Youngsters carted to hockey practices or figure skating lessons by dutiful parents are especially at risk. They are seeing living proof that they too must soon put away dreams of life-long vigor to nurture similarly short-lived and perverse ambitions in their own children.
Even more worrisomely, sports activities, especially professional sports activities, perpetuate primitive ideas about competition, strategy, teamwork, us vs. them, the loss of personal identity in favour of the team .... These notions and experiences rationalize and legitimate sorting populations into winners and losers - a politically useful story when middle class well-being is disappearing and the wealthy already have more money than they can count.
More ominously still, the sports establishment sets the stage for military adventures and diminishes the likelihood of non military solutions. Sporting events involve toy wars. They celebrate winners and teach the grim lesson that most human beings are destined to be losers.
I get it that one takes pride that one's country has spawned 'world class' athletes. However, I have trouble understanding how people identity with teams whose membership is always changing. Canadians' ecstasy over Donovan Bailey's Olympic exploits in 1997 ... their shame when Ben Johnson was stripped of Olympic gold a decade earlier ... are mysterious to me.
In addition, most New World sports fans are the third or fourth generation spawn of immigrants. Of course, this could provide a way to rationalize international competitions such as the Olympics. Many nations could populate sports teams with athletes drawn from vanquished indigenous populations. For example, Canadians could deploy Inuit athletes. Americans have more choices because they could fill rosters from either Indian or Black populations.
This would be win - win for fans. If such teams fared poorly, citizens and fans would have no need to feel shame. These athletes are, after all, merely the spawn of their own already defeated indigenous groups.
On the other hand, should their Toy War, game of life proxies win, armchair heroes would have, for the first time, an actual reason to gloat. "Do you realize," they could say to disgruntled stakeholders in other nations, "our ancestors whupped the ancestors of the team that just whupped yours! Think what we could do to you!"
Time to move on. What is the connection between fandom, gambling and an attack upon ordinary well-being? Like vicariously celebrating sports achievements, gambling is especially appealing to poor, physically repressed or frustrated populations. Obesity, indolence, physical incompetence ... do not prevent individuals from sending 'fiscal avatars' to do battle – placing a bet or buying a lottery ticket.
The difficulty of prevailing in physical competition is analogous to winning a game of chance. Indeed, since 'time is money', gambling really does involve putting (a bit of) one's life on the line.
Capitalizing upon such psychological connections, government-sponsored lotteries, casinos, video lottery terminals ... are springing up everywhere. The fact that gambling has always been considered socially disruptive and psychologically addictive is deflected by channeling a percentage of gambling 'profits' into good works.
Not surprisingly, this ploy has occasioned a great deal of scorn. However, the arguments trotted out in defense of casinos and lotteries may be straw horses. The question that needs to be asked is "What are we being distracted from?" In the modern world - with the help of people-displacing technologies - companies have less and less need for sophisticated, well-paid employees.
Thus, we have the paradox of increasing productive capacity in the context of frozen, declining or vanished incomes. What does this have to do with athletics and gambling? Until recently, trade agreements and multinational corporations have been able to export the economic consequences of people-displacing technologies to third world populations. However, an explosive situation has been building up. Not only has the emerging nation well run dry, new technologies are snuffling up even the need to drive trucks and automobiles.
To make matters worse, the last two centuries has seen an evolution of personal rights claims. Western populations now have robust notions of what they are entitled to: Medicare, unemployment insurance, old age pensions and welfare. As information-processing and robotic developments marginalize individuals without sophisticated skills or shares in corporations, these complementary developments are increasingly unsupportable. In the context of declining economic opportunities for most, life-style expectations are politically volatile and have no economy-vitalizing relevance.
The alternative possibility, that general well-being will be funded by new taxes upon financial transactions or some version of a guaranteed minimum income, is not plausible. The wealthy own the world and control what is going on it. This is why public infrastructure is degrading, expenses are being downloaded to municipalities and health care is being clawed back. This is why there will be no global redistribution of wealth.
The impossibility of even developed nations finding money to carry on as usual explains governments' otherwise inexplicable love affair with charities, sports and gambling. Replacing actual well-being with spectator opportunities and possible windfalls are wonderfully appealing to sedentary, economically distraught and terrified populations.
Finally, channeling gambling profits into charitable activities is such an imaginative response that is clear evidence that people at the top are actively throwing the non-wealthy under the bus. Charities change the way individuals think about themselves and what is going on. There is an important difference between receiving funds to secure food and shelter as a right, and receiving the same number of dollars as a charitable handout.
In the first instance, money received is the person's due. In the second, it is a handout. In other words, the institutionalization of charities, the talking-up of volunteerism, the transmogrification of welfare into workfare ... undermine the rights claim civilized nations depend upon. The fact that charities are funded via casinos and lotteries patronized by those being gulled is merely an incidental delight.
As this process unfolds, we should expect an increasingly rapid degradation of ordinary well-being. The next generation will be organized into rich or poor populations. The only good news is that poor may not notice. After all, they will have 4' television screens and stupendous virtual lives.
Sports, gambling and charities: the cows of our apocalypse.
We didn't need a fourth. We didn't warrant horses.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED