|Work and Wealth|
CHAPTER XI: SPORT, CULTURE AND
§1. It is no mere chance that makes sport the special field for
the attainment and display of personal prestige among the well-to-do classes.
Primitive man in his early struggle for life had to put all his powers of body
and mind, all his strength and cunning, into the quick, sure, and distant
discovery of beasts or other men who would destroy him. He must pursue and kill
them, or successfully avoid them. He must seek out animal or vegetable foods,
tracking them by signs and snares, rapid of foot, keen of eye and scent, quick,
strong, and accurate of grasp. To run and spring, to climb and swim and strike
and throw were necessary human accomplishments. They had a high survival value.
Nature had to evolve and maintain a man who had the capacity to do these things
well, and who was willing to undergo the necessary toil and pain of acquiring
and exercising these arts and crafts. To ride, to shoot, to manage boats, were
occupations of prime utility. Successful mating was also necessary for survival,
and so the arts of courtship, dancing, music, decoration, and various displays
of grace and vigour were evolved. The simple activities that were elaborated
into these arts of hunting, fighting, mating, were instinctive, and strong
feelings of pleasure were attached to them, as Nature's lure. When reason, or
conscious cunning, came to cooperate with instinct, complicating and refining
the useful arts, the specific pleasures of instinctive satisfaction were
accompanied by a general sense of personal elation or pride. Now, in man, as in
other animals, practice was needed for the successful performance of these
useful activities. This practice takes the form of play, a more or less
realistic simulation of the practices of fighting, hunting, courtship, in which,
however, considerable scope exists for variations and surprises, the survival
value of which is real, though indirect. Since these forms of play appeal to and
exercise the same activities as are involved in the serious affairs of life, the
same sorts of satisfaction are attached to them. The natural meaning of play is
that it is a preparation for work, i.e., for the arduous, painful, and often
dangerous tasks involved in 'the struggle of life,' and the pleasure of play is
the inducement to the acquisition of this useful skill.
§2. If this be so, it may be possible for some men to suck the pleasure from the play without performing the useful work for which it is a preparation. The play instincts can be made to yield a desirable life of interest and pleasure to any class of men who are enabled to get others to perform their share of useful work, and thus to provide them with the time, energy and material means for the elaboration of the play side of life. Such is the physical explanation of the sportsman. The play which Nature designed as means to life, he takes as an end, and lives 'a sporting life'. Some of his sports bear on the surface few signs of biological play about them. The manual and mental dexterity of such indoor games as bridge and billiards, appear quite unrelated to the arduous pursuits of mountaineering or big-game hunting. Between these two lie the great majority of active sports, such as shooting, racing, and the various games of ball. No one who analyses carefully the feelings of pleasure got from a boundary hit, a run with the ball, a neck-to-neck race, or any other athletic achievement, can doubt their nature.
Fighting, hunting, fishing, climbing, exploring, reduced to sports, contain just as much 'realism' as is needed to evoke the pleasurable excitement which sustained these skilful efforts when they belonged to the struggle for life. Some of the imitations may be so close to reality as to recall in almost its full intensity the primal thrill, as in tiger-stalking, in boxing, or rock climbing. In ball-games the fictitious circumstances call for more imagination, though the pleasure of the actual stroke is chiefly a race memory of a blow struck at an enemy or of a blow warded off. No one can doubt the nature of the fierce pleasure of the football scrimmage with its mortal make-believe.
Although in many sports some element of physical risk is needed to sustain the realism, it is usually reduced to trifling dimensions. This is also true of the painful endurance incidental to the primitive struggle. The modern sportsman or explorer commonly devises ways of economising both his personal risk and his personal effort. Beaters find the animal or bird for him to shoot; native porters and guides carry food for him, and ease his path. His object is to secure the maximum pleasure of achievement with the minimum risk and effort. Perhaps the most highly-elaborated example is the playful revival of the migratory and exploring instincts, from the picnic to the world-tour, with the complex apparatus of pleasure-travel which occupies so large a part in the life of the well-to-do classes. The luxurious life of travel in which the motor-car, the train de luxe, or the yacht carries men and women from the gorgeous hotel of one beauty spot to that of another, is made pleasurable or tolerable by waking up the dim shadow of some wandering ancestor, whose hunting or pastoral habits required some satisfaction to evoke the life-preserving effort. Camping-out and caravanning are somewhat more realistic reproductions, bringing in more of the gregarious or corporate instinct of the tribe.
How subtle are the artifices by which human cunning seeks to exploit the past is best illustrated, however, in the purely spectatorial or sympathetic surroundings of sport. To play football is one remove from battle, to watch the game is two removes, to watch the "tape" or follow the scores in the newspapers is three removes. Yet millions of little thrills of satisfaction are got from this simulation of a simulated fight. Blended in various degrees with other zests, of hazard, of petty cunning, and avarice, where betting enters into sport, the sporting interest ranks highest of all in the scale of values among the able-bodied males of all classes in English-speaking peoples.
Added to the pleasure from the output of strength or skill in sport is the general sentiment of exultation, the sense of glory. To what must that be attributed? Not to the magnitude of the strength or skill. A navvy may display greater strength or endurance in his work, a trapper or a common fisherman a finer skill in catching his prey. But the true glory of sportsmanship is denied them. Why? Because their work is useful, and they are doing it for a living. The glory of the successful sportsman is due to the fact that his deeds are futile. And this conspicuous futility is at the root of the matter. The fact that he can give time, energy, and money to sport testifies to his possession of independent means. He can afford to be an idler, and the more obviously useless and expensive the sport, the higher the prestige attaching to it. His personal glory of strength, endurance, or skill is set in this aureole of parasitism. The crucial test of this interpretation is very simple. Let it turn out that a Marathon winner, who seemed to be a gentleman, was really a professional, what a drop in his personal prestige! The professional is a man who has to earn a living, his reputation as a sportsman is damaged by that fact. Can there be any more convincing proof that the high prestige of sport is due to the evidence of financial prowess which it affords?
The hunting and the fighting instincts evidently underlie the pleasure of nearly all the exclusively male sports. Doubtless other instinctive satisfactions enter in, such as the gregarious instinct with its conscious elaboration of esprit de corps. Whenever any game or sport brings the sexes into relation with one another, the mating instincts are evidently involved. The crossing of war with sex in the theory and practice of chivalry was a conscious and artistic blending of these pleasure motives.
But this treatment of sport as a frivolous pursuit of pleasure ignores one important aspect. Sport, it will be urged, after all has health for its permanent utility. It is exercise for the body and diversion for the mind. It wards off the natural consequences of the purely parasitic life, which a private income renders possible, by providing work-substitutes. The primal law, 'in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,' is gracefully evaded by games that include a gentle perspiration. Golf may take the place of spade-labour to win appetite and digestion; bridge will save the brain from absolute stagnation. So Nature's self-protective cunning elaborates these modes of sham-work.
§3. The social condemnation of a sporting-life is two-fold. In the first place, it diverts into lower forms of activity the zests and interests intended to promote a life of work and art. The sporting-life and standards choke the finer arts. The sportsman and the gamester are baser artists choosing the lower instead of the higher modes of self-realisation in manual and intellectual skill. This maintenance of barbarian standards of values by the classes possessing social prestige is a great obstacle to the development of science, art, and literature. In the second place, sport spoils the spontaneity and liberty of play, which is a necessity of every healthy life. It spoils it for the sportsman by reason of its artificiality and its excess. For the sporting-life does not satisfy those who practise it. It carries the Nemesis of boredom. The sense of triviality and of futility gradually eats through, and the make-believe realism, when confronted with the serious values of life, shows its emptiness. A heavier social damage is the economic cost which the expensive futility imposes. For sport involves the largest diversion of unearned income into unproductive expenditure. Not only does it dedicate to extravagant waste a larger share of the land, the labour, and the enterprise of men than any other human error, unless it be war itself, but it steals the play-time of the many to make the over-leisure of the few. If the parasitic power which sustains the sporting-life were taken away, the world would not be duller or more serious. On the contrary, play would be more abundant, freer, more varied, and less artificial in its modes.
The identification of a sportsman with a gentleman has carried great weight in the unconscious settling of social values, and in England has been subtly serviceable as a sentimental safeguard against the attacks upon the economic supports not only of landlordism but of other wealth which has covered itself with the trappings of sport.
The relative prestige of other occupations is determined to a considerable extent by their association with the sporting-life or with the original activities which sport reproduces. Not only the idle landowner, but the yeoman, and in a less degree the tenant farmer, enjoy a social consideration beyond the measure of their pecuniary standing, by virtue of the opportunities for hunting and other sport which they enjoy. Part of the reputation of the military and the naval services is explained by the survival of the barbarian feeling that a life of hazard and rapine contains finer opportunities for physical prowess than a life of productive activity. Though a good deal of this prestige belongs to the glory of 'command' and extends even to a great employer of labour, the glamour of the soldier's, hunter's, sportsman's life hangs in a less degree about all whose occupations, however servile, keep them in close contact with these barbarian activities. A publican, a professional cricketer, a stud-groom, a gamekeeper, enjoy among their companions a dignity derived from their association with the sporting-life.
§4. If physical recreations thus carry prestige, so in a less degree and in certain grades of society do intellectual recreations. Once a sportsman alone had a claim to be regarded as a gentleman. Only in comparatively modern times did the association of 'a scholar and a gentleman' seem plausible. Even now prowess of the mind can seldom compete in glory with prowess of the body. The valuation of achievements current in our public-schools persists, though with some abatement, among all sorts and conditions of men. But as mental skill becomes more and more the means of attaining that financial power which is the modern instrument of personal glory, it rises in social esteem. As manners, address, mental ability and knowledge more and more determine personal success, intellectual studies become increasingly reputable.
It might appear at the first sight that the highest reputation would attach to those abilities and studies which had the highest mediate utility for money-making. But here the barbarian standard retains a deflecting influence. To possess money which you have not made still continues to be far more honorific than to make money. For money-making, unless it be by loot or gambling, involves addiction to a business life instead of the life of a leisured gentleman. So it comes to pass that studies are valued more highly as decorative accomplishments than as utilities. A man who can have afforded to expend long years in acquiring skill or knowledge which has no practical use, thereby announces most dramatically his possession, or his father's possession, of an income enabling him to lead the life of an independent gentleman. The scale of culture-values is largely directed by this consideration. Thus not only the choice of subjects but the mode of treatment in the education of the children of the well-to-do is, generally speaking, in inverse ratio to their presumed utility. The place of honour accorded to dead languages is, of course, the most patent example. Great as the merits of Greek and Latin may be for purposes of intellectual and emotional training, their predominance is not mainly determined by their merits, but by the traditional repute which has made them the chosen instruments for a parade of 'useless' culture. Though some attempt is made in recent times to extract from the teaching of the 'classics' the finer qualities of the 'humanities' which they contain, this has involved a revolt against the pure 'scholarship' which sought to exclude even such refined utilities and to confine the study of the classics to a graceful, skilful handling of linguistic forms and a purely superficial treatment of the thought and knowledge contained in the chosen literature. It is significant that even to-day 'culture' primarily continues to imply knowledge of languages and literature as accomplishments, and that, though mathematics and natural sciences enter more largely into the academic curriculum, they continue to rank lower as studies in the education of our wealthy classes.
Most convincing in its testimony to the formation of intellectual values is the treatment of history and modern English literature. Although for all purposes of culture and utility, it might have been supposed that the study of the thought, art, and events of our own nation and our own times, would be of prime importance, virtually no place is given to these subjects. History and literature, so far as they figure at all, are treated not in relation to the life of to day, but as dead matter. Other subjects of strictly vital utility, such as physiology and hygiene, psychology and sociology, find no place whatever in the general education of our schools and universities, occupying a timid position as 'special' subjects in certain professional courses.
Pedagogues sometimes pretend that this exclusion of 'utility' tests for the subjects and the treatment in our system of education rests upon sound educational principles, in that, ignoring the short-range utilities which a commercial or other 'practical' training desiderates, they contribute to a deeper and a purer training of the intellectual faculties. But having regard to the part played by tradition and ecclesiastical authority in the establishment of present-day educational systems, it cannot be admitted that they have made a serious case for the appraisement of studies according to their human values. Probably our higher education, properly tested, would be found to contain a far larger waste of intellectual 'efficiency' than our factory system of economic efficiency. And this waste is primarily due to the acceptance and survival of barbarian standards of culture, imperfectly adjusted to the modern conditions of life, and chiefly sustained by the desire to employ the mind for decorative and recreative, rather than for productive or creative purposes. Art, literature and science suffer immeasurable losses from this misgovernment of intellectual life. The net result is that the vast majority of the sons and daughters even of our well-to-do classes grow up with an exceedingly faulty equipment of useful knowledge, no trained ability to use their intellects or judgments freely and effectively, and with no strong desire to attempt to do so. They thus remain or become the dupes of shallow traditions, or equally shallow novelties, under the guise of scientific, philosophic, economic or political principles which they have neither the energy of mind nor the desire to test, but which they permit to direct their lives and conduct in matters of supreme importance to themselves and others.
As education is coming to take a larger place as an organised occupation, and more time, money and energy are claimed for it, the necessity of a revaluation of intellectual values on a sane basis of humanism becomes more exigent than ever. For there is a danger of a new bastard culture springing up, the product of a blending of the barbarian culture, descending by imitation of the upper classes, with a too narrowly utilitarian standard improvised to convert working-class children into cheap clerks and shopmen. Our high-schools and local universities are already victims to this mésalliance between 'culture' and 'business', and the treatment of not a few studies, history and economics in particular, is subject to novel risks.
§5. Dilettantism is the intellectual equivalent of sport. What is the moral equivalent? The sporting-life has an ethics of its own, the essence of which lies in eschewing obligations with legal or other compulsory external sanctions, in favour of a voluntary code embodying the mutual feelings of members of a superior caste. In an aristocracy of true sportsmen honesty and sexual 'morality' are despised as bourgeois virtues, while justice is too compulsory and too equalitarian for acceptance. Honour takes the place of honesty, good form of morals, fair-play and charity of justice. It is the code of the barbarian superman or chieftain, qualified, softened and complicated to suit the conditions of the modern play-life. Courage and endurance, fidelity, generosity and mercy are his virtues: temperance, modesty, humility, gratitude, have no proper place in such a code, which is indeed based upon a free exercise of the physical functions for personal pleasure and glory.
The hazard belonging to a sporting life makes for superstition. Nobody is more crudely superstitious than the gambler, and everybody to whom life is primarily a game conceives of it as proceeding by rules which may be evaded or tampered with. This aspect of the sporting character gave the priestly caste its chief opportunity to get power. So pietism was grafted on the sportsman and the fighting-man, and religion kept a hold on the ruling and possessing classes, adapting its moral teaching to his case. The wide divergence of British Christianity from the teaching of the gospels finds its chief explanation in this necessity of adaptation. Its doctrines and its discipline had to be moulded so as to fit the character and conduct of powerful men, who not only would repudiate its inner spiritual teaching, but whose lust, pride, cruelty and treachery, the natural outcome of their animal life, were constantly leading them to violate the very code of honour they professed. As industry and property, peace and order, became more settled and wide-spread, there came up from below a powerful commercial class, whose economic and social requirements evolved a morality in which the so-called puritan virtues of industry, thrift, honesty, temperance, sexual purity, prevailed, and a Christianity designed primarily to evoke and to sustain them. Just as the intellectual culture of the aristocracy came to clash with the utilitarian education of the bourgeois and to produce the confusing compromise which at present prevails, so with the differing ethics of the same two classes. The incursion of the wealthy tradesman into 'high life' and of the landed gentry into the 'city' has visibly broken down the older standards both of morals and of manners. The prestige of the sporting virtues has played havoc with the simplicity and austerity of the puritan morals and creeds, though it may fairly be maintained that the saner utilities of the latter have tempered to a perceptible degree the morals and manners of the sportsman. Luxuries and frivolities of a more varied order have largely displaced the older sporting-life, introducing into it some elements of more intellectual skill and interest, though it remains primarily devoted to the pursuit of pleasurable sensuous futilities.
But, though the modes of the leisure life are shifting, the definitely parasitic attitude and career which it embodies remain unchanged. The sense of justice and of humanity among its members is as defective as ever. This truth is sometimes concealed by the change in social areas that is taking place. Class honour and comradeship have a somewhat wider scope as the range of effective intercourse expands, and classes which formerly were wide apart come partially to fuse with one another, or are brought within the range of sympathy, as regards their more sympathetic members. So intercourse upon a fairly equal basis can take place in such a country as England between most persons who have reached a certain level of refinement of living. This certainly implies some transfusion of moral standards, the union of common sentiments regarding industry and property with the downward spread of a modified conception of a sporting life. Indeed, imitation has gone a certain way towards infecting all the stabler grades of the working-classes with this blend of barbarian and puritan valuations. While the larger pecuniary means and leisure which they possess has introduced into their standard of life sporting habits largely imitative of the fully leisured aristocracy, it has implanted habits of 'respectability' as the contribution of the bourgeois type immediately above them in the social scale.
§6. But when we dip down below the bourgeois and the regular working-classes which he has drilled in industry, we find a lower leisure class whose valuations and ways of living form a most instructive parody of the upper leisure class. Both in country and town life these types appear. They include 'gypsies', tramps, poachers and other vagabonds, who have never been enlisted in the army of industry, or have deserted in favour of a 'free' life of hazard, beggary and plunder. In towns natural proclivities or misfortune account for considerable groups of casual workers, professional or amateur thieves and prostitutes, street-sellers, corner-men, kept husbands, and other parasites who are a burden on the working-classes. Alike in country and in town, these men practise, so far as circumstances allow, the same habits and exhibit the same character as the leisure class at the top. The fighting, sporting, roving, generous, reckless, wasteful traits are all discernible, the same unaffected contempt for the worker, the same class camaraderie, often with a special code of honour, the same sex license and joviality of manners. Even their intelligence and humour, their very modes of speech, are the half-imitative, half-original replica of high life as it shows in the race-course, in the club smoke-room, or the flash music hall. Often the parasites and hangers-on to upper-class sports and recreations, these form a large and growing class of our population, and their withdrawal from all industry that can be termed productive, coupled with the debased mode of consumption which they practise, count heavily in the aggregate of social waste.
§7. As the opportunities of leisure and of some surplus income beyond the current accepted standard of class comfort become more general, this sympathetic imitation of recreations, education and morals, undoubtedly makes for a national standardisation of life, though the enormous discrepancies in economic resources greatly limit the efficacy of such a tendency to unity. But the apparent gain in humanity thus suggested is largely counterworked by the stronger sense of national and especially of racial cleavage which has come with modern world intercourse. If class barriers of conduct, education and feeling are somewhat weakening in the foremost European nations, a clearer and intenser realisation of national and racial barriers takes their place. Every modification of class exclusiveness, and of economic plunder, upon the smaller scale, is compensated by this wider racial exclusiveness, with its accompanying parasitism. The civilised Western world is coming more consciously to mould its practical policy, political and economic, and its sentiments and theories, upon a white exploitation of the lower and the backward peoples. Imperialism is displacing, or at present is crossing, class supremacy, and is evolving an intellectualism and a morals accommodated to the needs of this new social cleavage. It is moving towards a not distant epoch in which Western white nations may, as regards their means of livelihood, be mainly dependent upon the labour of regimented lower peoples in various distant portions of the globe, all or most members of the dominant peoples enjoying a life of comparative pleasure and leisure and a collective sense of personal superiority as the rulers of the earth.
That standards of recreation, education and morals, thus formed and transformed, are likely to contain enormous 'wastes' in their direct and indirect bearing upon economic life, is obvious. How far this waste is to be imputed to imitation of the prestige-possessing habits of 'the leisured class', how far to 'original sin' or the errors or excesses natural to all sorts and conditions of men, it is not possible to ascertain. But it will be evident that in these higher satisfactions, to which an increasing 'surplus' of wealth, leisure and energy can be devoted, will be found the largest wastes. For the conventional expenditure embedded in these strata of the various class standards will be largely directed by motives which are very loosely related to any real standard of organic welfare. One need not exaggerate this expenditure of time or money, or deem it wholly unproductive. It may even be conceded that few of the pursuits of pleasure are wholly destitute of benefit, nor are prestige and the imitation it engenders wholly valueless. But such practices contain much that is obsolete, incongruous or indigestible, much that is actively injurious, both to the individual and to society. Regarded from the standpoint of pecuniary expenditure, the misdirection of the surplus income into empty or depraved modes of recreation, culture, religion and charity is the largest of all economic wastes. Could it be set forth in veracious accounts, its enormity would impress all reflective minds. How small the total yield of human welfare or even of current pleasurable satisfaction from the idle travel, racing, hunting, motoring, golfing, yachting, betting and gambling, in comparison with the human gain from the work and arts of which they are the futile substitutes! Consider the damage to agriculture, the sheer loss of human energy, the selfishness, sensuality and brutality incidental to many sports, the empty-mindedness, obtuseness of intelligence and insensate pride, the shutting of the senses and the emotions to most of the finer and nobler scenes in the spectacle of nature and the drama of humanity, that are the natural and necessary consequences of 'a sporting life.' Or could one accurately analyse the costs of dilettantism, sham culture, with its monstrous perversions of productive energy in the fields of pedagogy, art, science, and literature, in a descending scale of frivolousness or depravity, as they seize by imitation the awakening mind of ever larger strata of our populations! But even worse than sham intellectualism is the sham morality which tricks itself out in pietistic formulas and charitable practices, so as to evade obedience to the plain laws of human brotherhood and social justice in this world.
The widest and deepest implications of this parasitic life of luxury and leisure, the substitution of recreation for art and exercise, of dilettantism for the life of thought, of pietism, and charity for human fellowship, lie beyond the scope of our formal enquiry. We are concerned with them primarily as affecting economic production and consumption. Sport, dilettantism and charity are for us characteristic products of mal-distribution seizing that surplus-income which is the economic nutriment of social progress, and applying it to evolve a complicated life of futile frivolities for a small leisured class who damage by their contagious example and incitement the standards of the working members of the society in which they exercise dominion.