Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sport (by Maurice Samuel)

From the book: "You Gentiles", Maurice Samuel, 1924. 

THE most amazing thing in your life, the most in contrast with ours, is its sport. By this I do not mean simply your fondness for physical exercise, your physical exuberance, but the psychological and social institutionalization of sport, its organization, its predominant role as the outlet and expression of your spiritual energies.

I will not go into the history of sports among you, contrasting it with its absence from our records and emotions. But surely there is something of extraordinary significance in the predominance of sports in your first high civilization, their religious character and their hold on the affection and attention of the masses. That the overwhelming significance of this manifestation of life has been ignored is due essentially to the pomposity of historians, who care for dignity and "scholarship" more than for truth, and who, often lacking the shrewdness, insight, cynicism, craftiness, vulgarity, affection and live-wireness, in brief, the worldliness, to understand what is going on around them in newspapers, politics and movements, think they can nevertheless understand history, which they seem to regard not as yesterday's acts of the people around them to-day, but as a detached and peculiar system, inaccessible to ordinary and uncultured intelligence. I need not go to ancient history. When I read "serious" accounts of the history of our own times, and see in what a seeming conspiracy of stupidity our historians ignore the most potent manifestation of modern life sport, football, baseball and concentrate almost exclusively on such trivialities as politics, which no one takes seriously, I am filled with astonishment and despair. Such men cannot write true history. But some records there are, and however small the attention which "serious" historians have given to this, we must feel that the chief free passion, that is, the chief passion not inevitably aroused by the struggle for existence, the chief spiritual passion, was sport: witness the elaborate religious celebration of sporting events built on athletic contests: witness the adulation, the love, that was poured out to athletic prodigies; witness the dedication of the highest, most inspired talents, to their glorification: witness the tremendous mass passions enlisted in sporting events in Athens, in Rome, in Byzantium and elsewhere.

But in this regard, as in most others, history is by far less important than contact with life. I need not study history or read books to know what sport means to you. I have only to feel the emotions around me, read your newspapers, watch the records of your universities. The most certain, the most consistent, the most sustained and intense free emotion in your life is sport. And when here in America (as, indeed, elsewhere too) some of your professors and educationalists deplore and condemn the preponderating role of sport in the schools, they fail to understand your spirit. Your spirit is sport: particularly your young men, who are not yet absorbed in the struggle for existence, and whose emotions are therefore for the largest part free, must find in sport, in games, in contests, the most satisfactory expression of their instincts.

For the most part, of course, both professor and public, despite occasional jokes at their own expense and at the expense of the institution, sympathize with the attitude of the young and encourage it not only by their energetic interest in organized sport outside, but by the passionate attention with which they follow the sporting records of the colleges. It is a commonplace that the scholastic achievements of the universities are both unintelligible and uninteresting to the vast mass of graduates, and that academic work can in no wise compete with athletic achievement in taking the heart and interest both of these and of the general public. And even those who can understand the content of scholastic achievement are also drawn more powerfully toward sporting achievement.

I do not agree at all with the few critics of your universities who see in this state of affairs the decline of the spirit of the country and of its educators. This state of affairs is not decadence, but the full and vigorous blossoming of your spirit. This is your way of life.

The contention of the majority of your educators, that the moral instinct is trained on the football and baseball field, in boxing, rowing, wrestling and other contests, is a true one, is truer, perhaps, than most of them realize. Your ideal morality is a sporting morality. The intense discipline of the game, the spirit of fair play, the qualities of endurance, of good humor, of conventionalized seriousness in effort, of loyalty, of struggle without malice or bitterness, of readiness to forget like a sport all these are brought out in their sheerest and cleanest starkness in well-organized and closely regulated college sports. And on the experiences and lessons which these sports imply your entire spiritual life is inevitably founded.

It is therefore unjust to treat this aspect of your life flippantly: you yourselves often fail to recognize (except in unacknowledged instinct) how deeply it is rooted in your life. In having sundered it from the overt and organized homage which you pay to spiritual values (in the church, that is) you have split yourselves. Hence the comparative weakness of your organized churches, which are founded on a misconception. Sport is for you a serious spiritual matter. It is the proper symbolization, the perfect ritual, wherein your spiritual forces, finding expression, also find exercise and sustenance. They were cleaner-witted who, before the advent of Christianity, associated sport intimately with your religious life. To-day you are practising on a vast scale the troubled hypocrisy of unhappy converts who have been convinced in reason of a new religion, but whose proper and healthy instincts drive them to surreptitious homage to older gods. Were sport given its right place again in your acknowledged spiritual institution, the church you would be happier, cleaner, stronger.

For, the premise once granted that life itself is but a joyous adventure, a combat, a passage-at-arms, you cannot do better than symbolize this premise in your athletic contests, in Olympiads, with local worship conducted on the village green and in the athletic halls and academies of the cities. The rigor of the rules (or sacred rites) which attended the open association of sport with religion testifies to the profound inner compulsion which makes the two identical. Indeed, even when religion and sport have been sundered, there is more moral odium attached to bad sportsmanship (cheating in the game, cowardice, selling out, striking foul and so on) than to the contravention of a moral injunction bearing no sporting character. You cannot, therefore, do better, from your point of view, than instill into your young a keen love and admiration of right sportsmanship, and encourage their participation in sports governed by severe regulations. Trained with sufficient consistency, they will carry into their adult life an ever-immanent sense of right and wrong according to your lights. And no better training could be devised, of course, than that which is associated with your most powerful educational institutions.

It is true that the system, even when seen from its own point of view, has its potential evils. Partisanship may become so keen that it thwarts the purpose of the sport institution. The desire to win or to be on the winning side may become so bitter as to overrule the moral sense; and combats between champions (as once between the principals of opposing armies) may actually discourage individual participation. But every system, if it is a living thing, is subject to this danger. And even out of the evil side you may draw good. If millions watch with breathless interest the combat of champions, that combat, conducted under the truest sporting rules, becomes a great influence, and fine, gentlemanly athletes may become the teachers of the nation.

And again, seen within itself, sport-morality has as severe a discipline (if not, from our point of view, any spiritual sincerity) as a God-morality. It is as difficult and as exacting to be a gentleman as to be good. In many respects, of course, the two concepts overlap, though they are differently centered. Both call for restraint, for consideration of rules. Both are an advance on moral anarchy,

In thus characterizing your ethical concepts, I have already indicated the essential difference which separates them from ours. There is no touch of sport morality in our way of life, in our problems of human relationship. Our life morality cannot be symbolized in a miniature reproduction. We have no play-presentation of life. Our young, even like our adults, are referred at once to the first source, to the word of God, to the word of the prophet or teacher speaking in the name of God. Or, to secularize this statement, our young, like our adults, are imbued with a feeling of the absolute in their moral relations. Our virtues lack the flourish ano the charm of the lists: our evils are not mitigated by well-meant and delightful hypocrisies. Murder (except in self-defense) is murder, whether committed in a duel, with all its gentlemanly rules, or in unrestrained rage. When we are set face to face with an opponent, and one must kill the other, we proceed in the most effective way: we cannot understand the idea that rules of conduct govern murder. We cannot understand a man who, attacking another, insists that the other, in self-defense, shall strike only above the belt. That strange character, the gentleman thief, the gallant and appealing desperado, who recurs with such significant frequency in your fine and popular literature, perhaps points my meaning best. The idea of a "gentleman thief" is utterly impossible to the Jew: it is only you gentiles, with your idealization of the sporting qualities, who can thus unite in a universally popular hero, immorality and Ritterslttlichkeit, It is probable, of course, that the majority of your Robin Hoods and Claude Duvals were nothing but low ruffians, devoid even of chivalry: but their significance is not in what they were, but in what you make of them in worship. The persistence of the types is evident to-day as much as ever, when popular fancy is charmed and youth tempted into emulation by the "Raffles" and "Lupins" of the world of books. At no time have we Jews sympathized with this type. We are insensible to the appeal of "the correct" and the graceful as a substitute for our morality. Knightly or unknightly, courtly or uncourtly, sportsmanlike or the opposite in our real life mean nothing. We only ask: Is it right or is it wrong?

For the rules which you bring into life from the athletic field have no relation to the ultimate moral value of your acts and serve only to give you the moral satisfaction of having obeyed some rule or other while doing exactly what you want to do. Thus, grown and intelligent as you may be, you govern the hunting of animals with the most curious and seriously-taken regulations. You must not shoot a pigeon or a rabbit in sport unless such and such regulations are obeyed it is "unsportsmanlike." You make a great moral to-do about these regulations. But what, in God's name, has this to do with the right or wrong of killing defenseless animals for sport?

You have attempted to infuse into business, which you have made the stark translation into modern social terms of the old kill-and-be-killed chaos, an ineffectual gallantry which will again give you the sense of "playing the game" while giving free course to your worst instincts. I mean that, apart from the necessities of the law, you attempt to bring into the field of business the curious punctilio of the fencing master courtesies and pretenses, slogans and passwords, which mitigate only in appearance the primal savagery of the struggle. "Service," "the good of the public," "a square deal" all the catchwords of the advertising schools which give a flavor of gamesome friendliness to a world that is essentially merciless this is not intentional lying, it is not deliberate hypocrisy. You believe that homage to these forms constitutes a morality. It does constitute a morality of a kind. We, on our part, recognize no particular system that divides business from the rest of life. One is as honest in business as in anything else. For us business has not a specialized idealism or court etiquette, a particularized code of honor. We are honest and truthful or we are not honest and truthful: it has nothing to do with our being in "this game" or in "that game," a shopkeeper or a tailor or a banker. And because we cannot, by reason of our nature, follow you in these playful caracoles and curvetings, but drive straight to the purpose, using the plain common sense and honesty or dishonesty of the occasion, you are bound to regard us (as many of you do) as lacking in "etiquette" that is, in your morality.

A similar division in other essential opinions illustrates the primal difference between us. Your attitude toward combat (duels, wars) and all the virtues pertaining to it, is one from which we shrink. To you courage is an end in itself, to be glorified, worshiped, as imparting morality to an act. To us, courage is merely a means to an end. Hence your courage is combative, ours passive, yours offensive, ours defensive. Heroics play a great part in your idealism none in ours. To fight is never a glorious business to us. It is a dirty business: we perform it when we must (and I suppose there is very little to choose between you and us in the matter of courage), but we cannot pretend that the filthy necessity is a high virtue. "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" is not a Jewish sentiment: for it is not sweet to die for anything: but if we must die for it, we will.

Nor do we glorify the warrior as a warrior, despite occasional individual defections of ours from that view. If my brother goes mad and attacks me, and I must slay him in self-defense, how can I be happy over it? It is a cruel and miserable business, to be finished with as soon as possible, to be forgotten as soon as possible. This is essentially the Jewish attitude toward war and warriors. I do not find in the Bible delight in war and warriors. Our exultation in victory was not the glorification of the warrior, but only a fierce joy at having survived. We fought bitterly, vindictively, in order to kill: and our God was a God of war. But however this may be, I know with utter certainty concerning us as we are to-day that the conscious Jew, the Jew steeped in Jewish life, despises the fighter as such, abhors war: and though he can die for his faith as well as any one else, refuses to make a joyous ritual of combat.

For when you gentiles assert that you abhor war, you deceive yourselves. War is the sublimest of the sports and therefore the most deeply worshiped. Do you mourn when you must fight? Is a nation plunged into gloom when a declaration of war arrives? Do you search your hearts closely, cruelly, to discover whether you yourselves are not to blame that this monstrous thing has come to pass? Does a tremor of terror go through you "Perhaps we are guilty"? Do you clamor for the records of the long complications which have ushered in this horror? Do you go to your task of defense or offense darkly, grimly, bitterly? No, you hang out your most gorgeous banners, you play merry music, your blood runs swiftly, happily, your cheeks brighten and your eyes sparkle. A glorious accession of strength marks the throwing down or the acceptance of the gage. From end to end of the land the tidings ring out, and every man and woman of mettle every "red-blooded" man and woman, itches for a hand in it.

Let me say clearly that I do not think all of you are fighting heroes. I have no doubt that millions of you, in every country, went to war reluctantly. But this does not contradict my contention. It only means that millions of you are not capable of living up to the ideal morality which you cherish. But even the greatest coward, even the most unwilling conscript toys, in his emotions, with the adventures and triumphs of war. I speak, throughout this book, of the ideals to "which you aspire and from which you draw your moral inspiration. And it is certain that war itself, independently of all aims and justifications, is a prime necessity to you: and a declaration of war is the long-awaited signal of release, greeted with extravagant and hysterical joy. It is not love of country which induces this flood of happiness it is combat, the glory of sport, the game, the magnificence of the greatest of all contests.

Again, they were cleaner-witted, those of you who declared openly and frankly that war is the natural pursuit of noblemen and of kings. The highest and most life-passionate among you, the most exalted, were to be dedicated above all others to your way of life. Conversely, the basest among you were accounted as unworthy of admittance into the splendid company of warriors. The scullion must not dare to aspire to combative distinction. To-day, as of old, you have nothing but contempt (revealed in its true intensity in time of war) for the true pacifist. Your nature is to-day what it was a thousand years ago. "In the somber obstinacy of the British worker still survives the tacit rage of the Scandinavian Berserker." And vain and futile and foolish are all these efforts to dam up and to choke the extremest and most cherished outlet of your natural instinct.

But in war, as in all other games of life, you satisfy your morality by means of amazing punctilios. To kill thus leaves you clean: to kill otherwise is ungentlemanly. In a few of these fine points in the conduct of war and of duels there may lurk some true moral significance. But it amazes us that in the exercise of this punctilio you find sufficient righteousness to ease your conscience altogether.

Were you truly concerned with right and wrong instead of with the sporting "right thing," with honor, what a flood of horror and of pity and of prostration would follow each of your wars: with what frantic haste you would fly to the consolation of each other; with what tremors of moral terror you would examine again and again the catastrophic madness from which you have just emerged. Merciful God! You have just slain ten thousand, a hundred thousand men, fathers and sons: in the red rage of combat you have - disemboweled them, suffocated them, drowned them, torn them limb from limb, blinded them. A million loving parents, children, friends have wakened sweating in the night out of a terrible vision of last despairs, of contracted, screaming agonies. And now, when it is over, do you run to your churches, and with streaming eyes, fling yourselves at the foot of priest and altar, terrified lest the murder you have committed might have been avoided, lest at least some of the guilt rest upon your head? For surely if even the faintest stain of culpability, the minutest blot, a grain, an all but invisible fleck, an oversight, momentary impatience, pride, carelessness, leave you not utterly, utterly, utterly blameless, you have need of all the Divine Compassion, all the infinite forgiveness of God.

But your wars have never ended, since history records them, save with the same outbursts of pride and insolence as began them. Was there ever a Te Deum turned into a cry of Mea culpa? Was ever a war entered in a history book save as a glorious adventure, glorious in victory, glorious in disaster? And even if, after a hundred years, a historian here and there dares tarnish the stainless records of your purposes with a single plausible doubt, was there ever an awakening of guilt a thousandth part as strong as the awakening of pride and happiness which accompanies the recalling of the exploits of any war, however remote?

You have just passed through the wildest and most universal of all wars. Search your memories and your press well. Where was the hushed humility, the awe, the shuddering amazement which should have fallen on the world when the Armistice was declared? Did you not straightway send forth emissaries to bargain and barter, to accuse and to denounce? And above all to maintain your national dignity! What dignity, pray? What was left of dignity to a single one of you? What was left of decency to any who had joined in the furious and blasphemous revelries of those five years?

You hate war? Nonsense; you enjoy it. If, in the passing tiredness which follows the strenuous exertion, you pause awhile to reflect, you do not dare to think into the root-causes and evils lest indeed you make war impossible. You tinker with a few regulations, gas laws, Flaminenwerjer rules, armed and unarmed ships and similarly futile trivialities. You call each other "bad sports" and a day later you are prepared, if the occasion offers, to embark again on the exhilarating enterprise.

Yet, I say, for all this, you can never be guilty in your own eyes, not one of you. Denunciation can only come from one who does not share your morality. Your conscience cannot be seared, for you have done no wrong. War is the high-mark of your life, the true and triumphant expression of your instincts. And therefore, whatever church and religion may preach in the intervals between actual fighting, you remember all your wars with wistful and longing pride as the greatest events in your existence. The splendor cf war, in preparation and in action and in recollection, in the rhythm of training armies, in the frantic excitement of battle, in the glorious commemoration of monument and song and tapestry, is the flower of your civilization, material and spiritual. In nothing are you as efficient as in war; in nothing as true to yourselves. Strained to the utmost in this terrific game your splendid faculties find full and vehement exercise. And whosoever from under the shadow of God upbraids you and discourages you, is your eternal enemy.

I cannot undertake, while developing this theme, to answer all of the objections which occur even to me. In part, of course, some of these objections are unanswerable, and are, in my opinion, only overborne by counter-objections. In part they are futile objections. But in touching on some of them, I may make my viewpoint dearer. I shall be reminded that wherever war was declared we Jews have responded as readily and as eagerly as you gentiles. Statistics (which are quite reliable in such rule-of-thumb matters) bear this out. But I do not believe that we did so from motives that resembled yours. Many reasons compelled us, We are everywhere, to a large extent, aliens. A sense of inferiority in status drives us to extremes of sacrifice in justifying our claims to equality. More than that: we Jews are so frequently and so vigorously reminded, in all constitutionally governed and liberal countries, that we ought to be grateful for permission to live there, that we develop a gratitude which is not only disproportionate but occasionally grotesque. Our children, in schools and elsewhere, are taught, year in, year out, to contrast their present freedom and equality of opportunity with the oppression and bitterness which was the lot of their parents elsewhere. Frequently the contrast, as painted in their imagination, is not a duplicate of the reality. However this may be, these incessant and vehement reminders produce their effect. The child almost comes to believe that it was for the especial benefit of oppressed foreigners that America became a "free country" and, instead of accepting American forms of government level-headedly, with the proper degree of appreciation and criticism, he develops a suppressed hysteria of gratitude. This is not a healthy and natural feeling. Children should not be made to feel such things. And if it comes to the matter of contributions to liberty, we Jews have done as much for the enfranchisement of man as any other people. But the Jew, the oppressed par excellence, begins to look upon America's liberty as a personal favor. No wonder then that Jews will rush to fight for America. Yet, despite the contradiction of figures there is still a strong impression abroad that the Jews "failed in their duty," were "slackers." This feeling rises from an instinctive appreciation of that difference between us. We Jews don't like fighting. You gentiles do. Moreover, because you like fighting, you are much more skilful than we in hiding occasional reluctance to fight. Indeed, it is obvious that the more fearful you are of taking a hand in the combat, the more you will glorify and idealize it: while the Jew who is afraid adds actual and overt dislike to his cowardice.

But apart from this, we must not forget that with the schools of the Western world open to our children, your view of things is gradually being imposed on our alien psychology. Of the real and apparent successes of your effort I write elsewhere in this book. But here let me note that the Jewish child in your schools is made to feel that not to like fighting is a sign of complete inferiority. Determined to become your equal, he essays, often with success, to become warlike in his attitude. But it is an artificial success. He does from an imperious sense of duty what you do by instinct. He fights by forcing himself to it. He has not your natural gift and inclination for it.

Of course I shall be told, in establishing this distinction among others, that it is "dangerous to generalize." It is curious with what finality this commonplace is supposed to crush the generalizer. Suppose it is true that it is dangerous to generalize: are not many necessary things dangerous like bearing children and digging coal? A truth is none the less a truth because it is a dangerous truth i.e., open to easy abuse. Nevertheless, the most serious truths can only be stated as generalities. And this most serious truth is among them, this contrast in attitude toward war of Jew and gentile. And as long as the contrast exists, it will be stronger than will, stronger than reason. As long as we are at opposite poles, we shall have to make continuous and strenuous efforts to get on side by side.


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