Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Explaining St. Crispain to the Program Director

I wanted to offer a tribute to those who didn't survive the newsroom battles. Rather than create a stink, I didn't dedicate it to: Tom, Leslie (I realize there were extenuating factors there, but she deserved the option of a leave of absence to attend rehab), Stuart, Jeramiah, Angela, Elaine, Beaver, Linda and anybody else I can't remember now. It was a lost cause, but not less honorable, just as Henry's cause was lost before the battle had begun. The carnage was intense; the pain very real and indelible. People still cry, when we discuss Renee's effect on us.
We who still darken the doors of KUNM bear our scars and remember the names of the fallen, even though our neighbors have forgotten.
Congratulations to management, if you've had any influence on Renee's decision to finally walk away from the destruction she singlehandedly caused to very good, hard working, decent people.
It's a shame she got sick during her probation period. Otherwise, she'd have shown her true colors soon enough to be let go, years ago.
I'm not blaming you, per se, or even Richard, for the misery that woman caused to many people. She's responsible for her own dysfunction. Unfortunately, as with so many dysfunctional people, she has left the overworked to clean up her messes.
But I can never trust a system that wouldn't or couldn't protect us from her, respect us enough to believe there was a genuine problem, and do something to heal it all.
I will never think of Renee with respect, but only with fear and grief, and neither will quite a few others, including the poor UNM maintanance guy who had to empty her trash.
I don't wish her harm. I just continue to wish her gone, as I have for 3 years now.
So, the reference to St. Crispain is an honorarium to those of us who struggled, and failed, against her totalitarianism, unpredictability and brittle ego.
I meant it to be obsure. Only those directly affected need to understand the tribute.

Peace Talks: Competition

You are reading http://rriverstoneradio.blogspot.com/

I just finished transcribing Paul's Peace Talks http://paulingles.com for May. I don't usually post these here, but this one's an exception, IMO. It's not just sports; it's academics, employment, class status..... Things that make me go puke.

This is the BEST analysis of why I have always hated sports that I've ever heard. I've often suspected someting like counter empathy, but had no language for it. It covers domestic abuse, too; people KNOW what hurts, and like to see others suffer.

INGLES: Your book, No Contest: The Case Against Competition, was first published in 1986. It begins with the sentence, “Life, for us, has become an endless succession of contests.” You wrote that over twenty years ago. I was thinking that the competition imperative has only been amplified over the last, twenty years. All you need to do is look at television, to see reality show after reality show, based on being chosen and beating – by hook or by crook – a field of competitors. I was thinking it might have you wishing for the good old days of the competitive environment of the 1980s. What’s been your reaction to this trend?

KOHN: It’s going to be discouraging for an author who hopes that his or her book will make some difference. I had no illusions that any book – mine or someone else’s – would instantly transform a culture that is marinated in the imperative to defeat other people. There are some encouraging signs, in some arenas. But you’re quite right. Competition is dug in, deep. Now, we get to watch, not only things like hockey and football, but poker and spelling bees. There’s no limit to our appetite to watch other people try to defeat one another.

INGLES: A lot of times people will say, “Let’s make it fun. Let’s make it a contest.” You’re suggesting that we be on the alert for that and say, “Do we really have to make a contest out of this?”

KOHN: Right. At the very least, the most moderate position here would be to say, “There are other ways to have fun, without all of the disadvantages attendant on a contest. The stronger argument would be that there is something decidedly un-fun, or twisted, warped, form of enjoyment in which I have to triumph over you. I spend a chapter, in No Contest, trying to dissect the ideas of fun, play and recreation, to show that competition actually gets in the way of enjoyment

INGLES: Let’s spend a few minutes, talking about sports in more detail. Some say, “Competition does prompt superior performance.” Speed records, performance records, all seem to fall as athletes compete to top each other. They would say, “The winners look so happy.” What do you say is missing from this picture that you’d like us to be conscious of?

KOHN: First, even the winners in a sports contest aren’t happy for long, typically. Mark Spitz, in the early ‘70s, who won an unprecedented number of gold medals for swimming in the Olympics, later told interviewers he didn’t know how far, how fast, you could fall. That’s typically true with competition. Even when you win, you feel great – for a while – you’re euphoric; you’re impossible to live with. Then, you come crashing down to Earth. You need more and more victories at more public events, in order to try to reclaim that same feeling. It gets increasingly impossible to do that. It’s like building up a tolerance to a drug. Meanwhile, you’ve got the “losers,” some of whom have spent their entire lives, preparing for this moment, utterly devastated now. From a psychological perspective, it’s completely unnecessary. Moreover, there’s evidence to show that, even with gross motor stuff, competition doesn’t always lead to better performance than other, alternatives. But let’s assume that I’m wrong here. Let’s assume that, if you didn’t compete, you wouldn’t have people reaching higher and higher levels of proficiency. I’m talking about the .001% of the population who are professional, or Olympic, athletes. They’re able to jump higher and run faster than ever. So what? Especially when you compare that, or contrast that, with the manifestly destructive effects of competition. The fact that we’ve got a lot of obese kids here – for many reasons – but, in part, because the only game in town is a competitive game. If you recoil from competitive sports as a child – and I think that’s a sign of health – that’s it. There are very few other, physical activities where you can really enjoy yourself and get all the other advantages, if it’s not about trying to step on someone else’s face. I’d gladly give up some Olympic record, in order to help our society re-conceive physical activity in noncompetitive terms.

INGLES: Even if it’s not about beating someone else, but it’s about beating a record . . .

KOHN: Well, that’s different. Beating a record is not really competition, unless you really stretch the word beyond a point of usefulness. I don’t object to the idea of trying to do better today than you did, last time. If I go swimming, I might try to swim an extra, couple of laps. You can get carried away, even there, where it’s not fun anymore.

INGLES: It depends on how you feel about that effort.

KOHN: That’s right. But let’s say we do it in a way that does provide challenge. Improvement, trying to improve my record since yesterday, I don’t find that objectionable, particularly. It’s a way of rescuing the idea of competition, by defining it so broadly that an innocuous example like that is used to try to justify the whole concept, including the real kind of competition, which is where I’m trying to beat you.

INGLES: But, if you feel like a loser, when you haven’t topped that performance. . .

KOHN: There are some people who will feel like “losers,” I suppose, even when there’s no real competition involved. I’m not suggesting that all psychological problems and deficiencies and self-esteem can be laid at the feet of competition – just a lot of them.

INGLES: Let’s go back to the source of this. There’s a point, in almost everyone’s childhood, when you cross a line, I think, from playing to play and playing to win, from playfulness to competitive sports. It’s when the parents ask the question, “Do you want to join the soccer team? Do you want to play on the football team?” Playfulness and competitive sports, you say, are two, very different things. I’m guessing you see that as a sort of developmental fault line that might be a way to raise parents’ consciousness about this transition, or this opportunity.

KOHN: I think we can raise parents’ consciousness from the time they’re thinking about having children, not just when their kids go from bouncing around on the trampoline to have fun to a point where they’re told, “If you want to stick with this, you’ve got to get serious, and that means being a competitor in tournaments.” What a sad, sad thing that is. There’s no way to be good without being better than others, or trying to do so and, maybe, even failing. Parents need to think about that, well before that age is reached. They need to think about it when they’re starting to have kids. They need to be encouraged to think about their own experiences: the ways, perhaps, their parents drove them into competitive sports, taking a vicarious satisfaction: “My kid is a winner. Therefore, I’m a good parent.”

INGLES: Can we talk about the “us versus them” paradigm that is endemic to sports, even outside of the competitors? It seems pretty common to have kids, absorbing their parents’ ideas about all kinds of preferences, whether it’s Ford over Chevy or the Red Sox over the Yankees. People say, “I’m a Denver fan; I hate the Cowboys. I’m a Red Sox fan; I hate the Yankees.” You go to a pep rally and they’re burning the other team in effigy. Many would look at those kinds of scenes and laud it as great fun. School spirit is good. But it feels like there’s an ugly side, as well. Where’s the rub that relates to some of your research?

KOHN: If we look at participants in sport, there’s research showing that moral judgments have become less sophisticated in a competitive context. It actually retards ethical development, to put people in a situation where they are trying to beat someone else. Other considerations then become secondary. Sometimes, they’re pushed out of the picture, entirely. You learn to hate other people or, at least, talk yourself into that, because the goal is pretty much at the bottom of any sort of hierarchy: it’s just to see other people as a means to your success. When you watch this, there is often a very, as you say, “ugly” kind of dynamic that is created. Social psychologists call it, “B.I.R.G.,” which stands for, “Basking In Reflected Glory:” I have a little bit of spark in my own life – not because of anything I’ve done, but because a bunch of athletes who, probably, aren’t even from my town, are triumphing over their counterparts in another sports franchise. It’s a pretty sad reason to be excited about a school – or a city – when you think about it. And it carries dark, dark echoes of far more violent “us against them” situations. It’s not innocuous and it’s not an alternative to primitive impulses; it’s a replaying and a reviving of those impulses. And it’s not the way I think we ought to be socializing our children.

INGLES: I played high school basketball. I heard the old saw, back then, that “You have to want it more than the other guy. The other guy only wants to make you look bad. The other team is worthy of derision. There’s little or no honor in a loss.” The fans adopt all this, too. When you step back from it a little bit, sometimes, it can look real ugly: whether it’s the cruelty of the wildest, student sections at a high school or college game or stories of individual athletes who keep ramping up the “us versus them” philosophy. Here’s an example. It’s a piece on NFL linebacker, Bill Romanowski, who was on “60 Minutes” a couple of years ago. He played for 16 years and lead defenses to four Super Bowl wins. He also admitted to taking steroids, to extend his career. Here, he’s interviewed by Scott Pelley of “60 Minutes.”

ROMANOWSKI: “I felt I could take myself to a place where other guys weren’t willing to go. ‘cause, come Sunday, after a game, I already started hating the next opponent. I started hating the guy I was going to go against. I hated their coaches. I hated their fans. I hated their families. You name it. By the time I got on to that field, come Sunday, watch out, because there was rage.” [Sounds of players tackling, grunting, growling, as crowds cheer]

PELLEY: “Number 53 rode that rage to become one of the most feared linebackers in the NFL.”

INGLES: Most sports fans would say that Romanowski is sort of an exception, that he’s an extreme example, that most players aren’t so hell-bent on hate. Is there a cautionary tale in a case like Bill Romanowski ?

KOHN: Think of it in concentric circles. In my book I quote another football player, who talks in almost exactly the same way about that drive, that hatred, which fuels the victory. But go a step out. It’s about football, itself, not just about the most extreme players of that game. But it’s not just about football; it’s about sports. And it’s not just about sports. It’s about competition. And I mean all sorts of competition. It doesn’t always manifest itself in these egregious terms, of people saying, “I hate him; I want to kill his family.” There’s been social psychology evidence now, for some time, suggesting that, if you take ordinary people, and you put them in a situation where they’re told they’re going to compete against somebody else – at some kind of game, not even a physical sport – people develop something. Psychologists had to invent a new word for it. They call it, “counter empathy.” Ordinary people, put in a competitive situation, begin to take pleasure in the distress, or failures, of those who have been arbitrarily designated as their adversaries – in some temporary game – and to be saddened, or upset, by the successes of these people. These are people they never knew before. The problem is not with individual psychopathology. It’s not just the guy who rips the leg off someone else, the guy who breaks the rules. It’s not just about the aggressors and cheaters. We love to do that in our culture, to blame the individual, so we can keep the structure intact. It’s about competition, itself, as a system, which plays itself out in different ways on our playing fields and battlefields, but also in our workplaces, our classrooms, and even our families. Whenever you set up an arrangement where I have to try to make somebody else lose, that, necessarily, brings out the worst in people. We start to envy winners, to have contempt for losers, and to lose our natural, human connection to just about anyone who can be defined as a “competitor.”