Sunday, January 5, 2020

religion by other names

Sravani and I went to see professional sport, A-league football and ATP Cup tennis, in the last few days and I've been thinking about a few things. Broadly:

1. How have we let corporations take over communities? In one of the essays in The Blizzard, I read about how in it's initial days Bundesliga brought people together. Players and supporters belonged, generally, to the same villages/ towns and often knew each other. What motivated the players to give their best was not money, because they hardly made any and were happy with free beer, but pride in representing their people. Fans literally built the stadiums, by providing both money and voluntary work, and treated the players as their own. Yes, it sounds too Utopian now, as if they were waiting for money to come in and pollute everything, but that idealism seems like a natural part of every human being as much as I guess the temptation of power that makes them give up on their ideals is. A lot of teenagers are idealistic until they're told repeatedly by the grownups that that won't work because the world is a harsh, cruel place. And I guess the human tragedy is that it is true but to give up on even trying to imagine a better alternative is accepting easy defeat.

These days, the stadiums are named after corporations, the jerseys are filled with logos of sponsors, players are bought and sold in a marketplace to the highest bidder as if the only parameter is money. Despite that, people go to stadiums to support their teams and I find it embarrassingly funny. Your only participation with the team is as a consumer and their only allegiance to you is to justify the money you've paid for them. And what's worse is that even this relationship is not direct, it is mediated by corporations- A group of people who's only motivation to come together and build things is money. How did we let this happen? How did we let money become the blood of the social organism? It is not sufficient to detest it and wish for an alternative. It is important to learn how we came to live in this world, why we wish we lived in a different world and how we can start walking towards that.

Also we have created players into these hyper specialised beings, which I think is as true for all the workers in this society, that they seem to have lost other essential aspects of their personality and have turned into automatons. Which is why we find it so refreshing to find celebrities who are vocally political because so many of them are uninterested or scared for the impact opinions might have on their primary identity.

2.  This is a banal observation, voiced since the era of McLuhan and Postman, but TV indeed does turn everything into a decontextualised spectacle of sights and sounds. In the stadium, its just a bunch of guys playing a game. Yes, their athleticism is rare and beautiful, but it still stays in its human context. In TV, it turns into a hyperdramatic event, egged on by the commentators with their hyperbolic language trying to make the audience feel that what they're watching is a life-changing event, the slow motion replays giving every move unnecessary importance, the flipping of channels from sitcoms and music videos raising sport, or even news, to a realm of artificial emotionality.

3. It is so hard to watch sport without picking a side. I've always claimed that I watch it for the beauty, as if I'm placing myself above the hoards of people with their more baser instincts of the modern practice of transplanting deities with their favourite players, but jaw-dropping beauty is as rare in sport as it is in life, which is probably why we turn to art, and it becomes imperative to support one side to participate in the game.

The fervour involved in supporting a team got me thinking if its possible to function in a world devoid of religion. It doesn't have to deal specifically with gods; atheism, agnostism, capitalism, communism, nationalism,for that matter, Pawanism, are also religions. By religion I mean the basic set of assumptions we have about the world on top of which we can stack everything. I would call myself a Western style liberal which basically means I believe in the religion of individual rights and pray at the altar of the human mind. I don't claim it has the capacity to be any less evil that what other religions have done, and it might not solve all the problems of the world, but in my experience it is better for me to hold an individual responsible for his or her actions than transfer that burden to a god, a book or an ideology. Tomorrow, something could come up which would be more evolved than this and I might embrace that.

But the more interesting question is, what are these axioms standing on? How is my belief in this nouveau religion any different from that of an Islamic or Hindu Fundamentalist, or a proud Capitalist, who is so convinced by the Truth in his ideology that he wants to impose that on the world? Postmodernism taught me this. If modernism said yours is a stupid belief system and mine is thought through rationality, postmodernism said what if your rationality is also just a religion. Then instead of having to carry the white man's burden, you are paralysed by self-doubt in the quagmire of trying to understand your motivation. Is that also one of the reasons religion has made an unexpected comeback in public life in the last few years because constantly having to reassess our basic assumptions can be so exhausting. Better to use the one tool you hold and use it for everything from trying to understand why you didn't get the promotion you so deserve to who's to be held responsible for deaths of people.

At this point I'm not concerned with spirituality as much as religion as a way of organising society. And that's the topic these questions are trying to explore.

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