On Team Sports, Spectator Sports, Nascar, Desire Dynamics.
The Philosophical Research Group


Under the auspices of the Philadelphia Institute for Advanced Study, I began the Philosophical Research Group in 2007, as a phalanx focused on the analysis of everyday phenomena, objects, and actions. It begins with a given mundane topic, such as laundromats or parking tickets, and examines thoroughly its many meanings and possibilities, always with the hope of ultimately reorganizing its elements into a new Sublime.

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Well, the Team-Sports-and-Contingency topic seemed to be kindle enough for the first PRG. For those not there, here's a recap:

I had mentioned how, until relatively recently in my life, I had always contemptuously assumed that Sports Fans did not understand the contingency of sports practices— or the wild contingency, almost arbitrariness, behind their choice of favorite team. Free tickets to a Pirates game in Pittsburgh, with Willie Schenck, mended this opinion considerably. I realized that White Sox fans and Pirates fans revealed this understanding at the edges; with heckling and teasing and good-natured prodding followed by an otherwise neighborly rapport. These sports fans were willfully chosing their favorite team, despite its contingency, in order to participate more fully in the desire-dynamic of Sports Spectatorship. If they came to every game, indifferent to the outcome, saying "it's just a ball and a stick," refusing to cathect desire into the ball game, they would be missing the entire point of Spectator Sports. It's necessary to choose, by complete fiat if necessary, in order to really care, to feel the wondrous strength of a desire, that makes you forget the distinction between necessity and contingency. The love of your home team and the jeering hatred for the enemy.

At this, Nate disagreed, saying that the Sublime can be best achieved when a Sports Fan cannot admit, at the end of the ballgame, the contingency of his desires, and of his Team. This, he claimed, was true sports fanaticism.

Nate poses the heaviest question here
"Even if you can imagine, theoretically, that your beliefs and desires are contingent on some level, would true belief in the total contingency of your desires lead to a Death of Desire?"

Others rang in on other angles (I'll stop ascribing now, because I can't remember exactly who said what)

There was mention of the purposeful emptiness of sports patter— or if maybe not emptiness, then purposelessness. Two guys sitting in Grumpy's Tavern, running a bleary-eyed analysis on an Eagles game, are not likely to effect any real outcomes, but they are likely to become better pals. This also lead to discussion of the total accessibility of Spectator Sports, the welcoming and rousing call of spectator participation.
Nate had brought up a good point earlier, that I reiterated: the principles of fairness in the Sports World is absolute and sacrosanct. One, because sports, unlike almost any other sphere of culture or human endeavor, is necessarily fair. You can fake your way through the artworld or music industry, climb the political or career ladder through nepotism and connections, navigate academia through deft interdepartmental politicizing, but team sports— team sports will always come down to true performance. I think this Sanctity of Fairness explains a lot— its mythic role among the underprivileged, for instance. In this sphere, Sports, they can escape the flak and friction they would receive in any other sphere or ambition; for once, entering a fairgame in an injust world... almost to the point of being a form of revenge.

The Sanctity of Fairness also gives us perspective onto what otherwise might be considered an "hysterical" reaction to Cheating— doping, rigging, and so on. My initial impulse to methamphetamines in the Tour de France is "sure, why not, let them take whatever they will, in order to surpass their predecessors." But this misses the point entirely; it submerges Sports back into a form of economics and economic-thinking, rather than the sanctity of pure performance.

What, in Team Sports, means something other than Sports? What is it sublimating, replacing, symbolizing, indicating, suggesting, and exciting? It obviously has a War Impulse, but does it agitate or replace that War Impulse, making us more or less bellicose? Leslie asked whether Sports Teams had any correlation with the concepts of Nation, or maybe even the historical birth of Nationality in the past 200-300 years. Sports teams in the United States are usually totemic— having a mascot which unifies a team, as totems unified clans before and elsewhere. But why more so in the United States? Does this totem create differences that we cannot get through ethnicity or language, as would be possible in international soccer? Our mascot-totems create a sort of cartoon ethnicity, to create previously unknown clans and unities.

Most people have a myopic sense of desire. They imagine desire like this: first, there is a hole, a privation, or a lack. Then there is a something that will fill this hole, this lack, tab-in-slot. When we put the object in the hole, our desires are satisfied, fulfilled, and over until the next privation. We have an empty stomach, we put food in. We need air to breathe, we fill our lungs. The Penis goes in the Vagina, desire is fulfilled. We have a basket, we put the ball in, mission accomplished.

However, this is the smallest part of desire. Desires are actually part of large, interweaving, ill-understood desire-dynamics. For example, the desire-dynamic of basketball includes cheerleaders, teams, concepts of Sportmanship and Competition, mascots, jerseys, strategy, stadiums, jeering and heckling, coaches, childhood, and so on. Without which, the ball-in-hole desire does not exist. Imagine the difference between a professional player absently making freethrows, by himself, on his driveway hoop versus this same professional making a freethrow, after the clock has run down, in order to win a championship. It is the same action, ball-in-hole, totally different desires. Or compare these to someone walking past a trashcan with a balled-up hoagie wrapper, and tossing it in. Same action, again, different desire. So desire is, first of all, not merely about the satisfaction itself but everything that creates this ball-in-hole structure. Another example: food.

We imagine, in a simplistic way that the desire to eat is purely nutritive. Food=object of desire. Empty Stomach=Hole. Now imagine someone said "tell you what. I will give you a magic pill that will make you never crave food again. You will never want to eat again..." With this magic pill, you would walk into a supermarket and the food on the shelves would be mere neutral objects. They might as well be made of plastic and plaster. But this isn't what we want. We want to eat. We want to be really hungry and chow down on a huge platter of cheese fries. We want enjoy slurping down milkshakes and smoothies. We want to try different cuisines in different combinations. That is, we want hunger as much as we want food. In sex, we want frustration as much as we want satisfaction... Point being: desire-dynamics are extremely complex, and this obectt-in-hole motion is only one little piece, a piece that gets held up as the whole of desire.

Moving on, I suggested engaging in a Nascar experiment, where we— as total outsiders, ignorant of the game and its written and unwritten laws— get into racing. This way, we can see the process of cathexis in action. Nascar was also perfect, I thought, because it obviously carried a lot of para-sportive meaning. We could see to what degree politics, class, and other meanings were imported and translated into sports. We came up with an idea of finding the "darling of conservatism" within Nascar and publicly supporting him, thereby "disrupting the symbolic order," in order to find out what that symbolic order is. I will leave this Nascar experiment for another post or comment....