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Ovi Symposium; Thirtieth Meeting Ovi Symposium; Thirtieth Meeting
by The Ovi Symposium
2014-07-18 13:50:50
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Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Drs. Paolozzi, Paparella and Mr. Rywalt
Thirtieth Meeting: 17 July 2014

symposium01

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Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order):

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

rywaltEdwin Rywalt is a computer specialist living in Pennsylvania with his family. He is a talented and accomplished pianist with a college education from Columbia University and a life---long scholarly interest in the nexus between science, technology, and the liberal arts. Beginning in May 2014 he will be offering pro bono services to the Ovi Symposium with typo correction editing and other useful suggestions aiming at improving the overall format of the twice a month section of Ovi magazine. Perhaps in the future, if his commitments allow it, he may decide to join the Symposium’s ongoing dialogue.

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Sub-theme: Sport as a mirror of life

Indirect Participants at this meeting within the “Great Conversation” across the Ages (in the order of their Appearance): Kant, Levi, Masullo, Lanfranchi, Nicolaus, Gembillo,

Aleo, Hegel, Heidegger, Biscardi, Borker, Pascal, Maldonado, De Miranda, Spinoza, Van Basten, Homer, Plato, Virgil, Freud, Socrates, Confucius, James, Marcuse, Paul, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Francis I.

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Table of Contents for the 28th Session of the Ovi Symposium

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator

Section 1: “Maradona, Pelè and Philosophy.”  A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi

Section 2: “Is Sport a Metaphor for Life or mere Reductionism?” A Presentation by Emanuel  L. Paparella

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World Cup held in Brazil in 2014
And the winning team is?

Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

It is fitting and proper that in Summer 2014 we commemorate and reflect upon the centenary of World War I and nationalism which seems to be resurgent in the West, and the geo-political implications of these phenomena. Presently, however, there is another event which is attracting world attention as we meet for this session of the Ovi symposium: the Soccer World Cup of 2014. By the time this session appears in print we will know who the winners are.

For a whole month between June and July millions upon millions of people were glued to their TV-set to watch this sports’ event as it unfolded in all its drama in Brazil. We have been daily flooded by images from beautiful Rio de Janeiro, or Brasilia, the capital, in the  middle of the Amazon jungle where some games were played, or Porto Alegre, or Sao Paolo, or Salvador, or Fortaleza, and so on. We saw the spectacle of several excellent European teams (Italy, Spain, the former world champs) eliminated and sent home on the first round, others like Greece, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland  and Belgium, moving on to the quarter final round which began on June 28 and then suffering agonizing defeat. Surprise of surprises, USA, usually ridiculed and not taken very seriously in soccer circles, was one of the teams which moved on to semi-finals but then lost to Belgium on the first of July, thus earning respectability if not the cup itself. On the 4th of July Brazil beat Columbia, by the skin of its teeth, and moved on to the semifinals. Perhaps not very surprising but surprises may still be in the making. Five days later came the great consternation of the Brazilian team, which lost to Germany 7 to 1; all to be expected given the disorganized game they had played against Columbia, then came the defeat of the Netherlands by Argentina; there are two teams left: Argentina and Germany. By Sunday the 13th of July there will be only one, the winning team. By the time this session of the symposium comes out we will know who the final winner of the World Cup 2014 is. Will it be a European team which wins on Latin American soil for the first time in the history of soccer? That may be a bit of a surprise, but not so much; victory in sports often belongs not to the most talented and skillful team but to the better organized and strategically astute one. On the other hand discipline and organization without imaginative strategizing makes for a boring team which may win all the battles and ultimately lose the war. It remains to be seen. In any case, these are lessons to be pondered by “brilliant” and “disciplined” soccer teams alike. Professionalism or brilliance by themselves do not deliver victory: a dialectical synthesis of the two may. And then there is luck, the imponderable in all human affairs.

We ought not forget the semi-humorous vignette of two Popes at the Vatican watching their respective teams play the final game on Sunday the 13th of July 2014. Benedict XVI is not known to be much of a soccer fan as Francis is; that’s why Paolozzi and myself have written these articles on “philosophical soccer”: to encourage intellectuals, the likes of Benedict XVI, more prone to contend with intellectual contests than physical ones, to peruse the subject of sports vis a vis life. See the humorous philosophical game between the ancients and the moderns played on U-tube with Confucius as referee and Socrates delivering victory: click on the link below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ur5fGSBsfq8

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Socrates playing on the U-tube World Cup game

One modest suggestion is that both Popes head the two teams as they enter the stadium, celebrate Mass together, and then proclaim that from now on Mass will be celebrated on Sunday before each soccer game. The religion of soccer would then be synthesized to that of Christianity, two obligations would be fulfilled at the same time on Sunday. We are confident that this proposal, if implemented, could solve the problem of the rampant radical secularism and paganism of Western Europe, disdainful of its Christian cultural background, which leaves churches near empty on Sunday. We are not holding our breath, nevertheless we hope the two Popes will at least consider the proposal. After all, St. John Paul II, when he was cardinal in Poland and was forbidden to build new Churches, began celebrating the Eucharist in public parks proclaiming that the Church is not the building of the Vatican, but the mystical body of Christ. A thought worth pondering!

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But enough of World Cup analysis and speculations on Church soccer affairs. After all neither Paolozzi or myself are soccer experts or theologians. We are mere “aficionados” or passionate amateurs of a passionate sport. However, the theme of this symposium meeting may also give some pause to our aficionados, the symposium readers. They may be surprised that a cultural program dedicated to the promotion of philosophy, the liberal arts, and humanism, should dedicate a whole session to sports in general and soccer in particular. Have we degenerated to the level of a mere sport’s chronicle or perhaps a culinary epicurean guide to exotic delicacies parading as ultimate solution to the economic and existential problems of humankind?

Not exactly! What we are exploring in this issue is the nexus between sports and life. We will place sports, and soccer in particular, under the light of reason, and then ask some crucial philosophical questions such as:  Do sports mirror life? Can sports be a substitution for some negative aspects of the human condition, or is such an operation a mere reductionism? Can we sublimate our seemingly natural aggressive and fiercely competitive behavior via sports, or are those mere distractions from the more serious and meaningful aspects of our lives? Can a game well played be considered a work of art aesthetically pleasing to the spectators? That is to say, can sport exercise a civilizing humanizing influence on those who practice and view it? Can soccer, for example, be a cultural cement for a whole body politics such as the European Union or is it a mere panacea to entertain and distract the restless masses? Did not some of the Roman Emperors quip about the  populace’s entertainment: give them plenty of bread and games and there’ll be peace in the city.

Moreover, is the politicizing of sports an undesirable phenomenon in as much as it reinforces a misguided regionalism, even nationalism? Is unbridled nationalism synonymous with patriotism or with fascism? These are not easy questions to answer but they are necessary in order to clarify the essence of sport.

For example, here in the United States we have a right-wing Tea Party fanatic, Anne Coulter, who recently wrote a newspaper article on the sport of soccer portraying it as a boring, alien, foreign phenomenon, not to be patronized by any truly patriotic American. It appears that any sport born abroad makes it automatically “un-American” and not worthy to be patronized by Americans. One may laugh this off, but let us remember that the same lady has previously denied global warming since ideologically she is totally against any sort of government control and regulations interfering in any way with profits and the individual’s accumulation of wealth, therefore global warming is a government conspiracy. Not very logical, of course, not even commonsensical, but to her mind “politically correctness” trumps even science.  As the reader can well surmise, she is also a great fan of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and her philosophical musings in her “The Virtue of Selfishness.” Indeed, how is one not to suspect a misguided connection between sports and politics. In America one is entitled to one’s ignorance or one’s knowledge, as the saying goes and any opinion is as good as any other, never mind that eventually one gathers the whirlwind of sheer ignorance and poor planning. Here again the lesson of Brazil’s ultimate defeat at the World Cup 2014 is instructive.

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Barak Obama playing soccer on the global stage. He too was recently afflicted by soccer
fever, thus showing, as per Anne Coulter, that he cannot possibly be American born

Come to think of it, did not Stalin incur into the same intellectual aberration when he re-wrote the Russian Encyclopedia according to Communist ideology? Are we in the West, so proud of our scientific heritage, close to doing the same thing, by challenging the findings and the methodology of science according to right-wing ideology? It would therefore appear that the politicizing of sports is not so desirable after all, at least in the hands of ignoramuses who wish to impose their ideology on others. But we will explore those issue further down in the presentations.

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Fans rooting for the USA team at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. An unpatriotic performance?
(the USA advanced to semi-quarters but failed to qualify for the finals)

At this particular world cup event, however, the sublimation of aggressive instincts with sports proved to be a bit problematic. A player from one team, the Paraguayan Luis Suarez, actually bit another player, from the Italian team), Giorgio Chellini. In evolutionary terms, that is a regression of not hundreds, but of thousands of years, back to the times of cannibalism. So it also appears that sublimation in sports works only up to a point. Sports too can digress to barbarism as when fans confront and even kill each other at soccer games, as it has unfortunately happened occasionally.

In Florence they still re-enact annually the original Renaissance soccer game which consisted of a free for all grabbing of the ball by any means: push, shoves, punches, elbow kicks, snatching, playing in mud. The players carry the ball in their hand and hit and helbow each other in the sheen and any other part of the body, a sort of survival of the fittest. It is more like rugby or football than soccer. Many sophisticated Florentines attend such a re-enactment pandering, it would seem, to some of their worst aggressive instincts as allegedly sublimated through the game. It is interesting to consider that the word for the sport of soccer in Italian is “calico” which means kick. One would kick, not the ball so much but the other players, or perhaps bite them; one carried the ball in one’s hands. So much for the civilizing function of sports conceived as art! Since the game resembled football more than soccer perhaps Anne Coulter would have to reconsider calling “football” a quintessentially American sport.

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Yearly re-enactment of Renaissance “calcio” or soccer, in Florence

After all, did not the ancient Romans call what was going in the Coliseum ” the games?” Those games, so called, were neither very pretty nor very civilized, it gave the lie to the civilizing “Pax Romana”, for, if truth be told, they glorified violence and savage competition, albeit some have misguidedly called them a sublimation of the propensity to resolve problems by war and an attempt to contain the violence within the walls of the Coliseum. So, again the question arises: is war part of our genetic make-up naturally spilling over and sublimated as sports, or is the aggressive instinct exemplified by war an acquired cultural trait; a sort of bad habit acquired over many centuries of incessant conflicts of which we can ultimately disabuse ourselves by cultivating the finer things of life such as art and poetry? Is this disabuse in fact necessary for our very survival? So we are back to the old debate on “nature vs. culture.” The issue remains open-ended.

In an attempt to clarify it a bit, In section one, Ernesto Paolozzi offers us a sort of tongue-in-cheek semi-humorous piece  Titled “Maradona, Pelè and Philosophy” which was originally written for a local newspaper (Il Corriere  dello Sport in 2008). It is in the guise of an actual philosophy conference that took place in the city of Matera in 2008 exploring  the theme “The Invention of Truth.” Paolozzi  transforms it  into a soccer game played by two teams of player-philosophers. The opposing teams are Pele’s followers: the “idealists” or the Kantian school emphasizing pure reason and perfect rational ideas and the Maradona’s followers: the Vichian-Crocean-Pascalian school emphasizing the heart and the poetical and the fragility of human nature, among which we find Paolozzi himself. We will present a photo of some of those players  so that readers can better decide which “teamr” deserves their support as they watch the virtual philosophical game from the virtual internet stands. Undoubtedly, they will find the piece and the game amusing as I did. We’ll leave it up to them to judge which is the winning team for this unusual soccer match.

What I find personally quite intriguing is that the soccer fans who must have read this unusual recounting of a philosophical soccer game must  have found the obvious  allusions to philosophical trends quite appealing or at the very least interesting, which initially says something about the popular interaction of sport and philosophy among ordinary people. It is my guess that it is probably underestimated, given that the common sense of the people is often held in contempt by the supercilious intelligentsia.

Be that as it may, in section two Emanuel L. Paparella follows up with some further probing musings on the nexus between philosophy and life and examines the thought of some ancient and modern philosophers on the theme of human aggression and competition, war and peace, civilization and repression, and the sublimation of aggressive instincts. He takes a brief look at the likes of Homer (the father of Western poetry and creator of the Iliad and the Odyssey), Plato (The father of Western Philosophy who via Socrates reflects on the outcome of the Peloponnesian war), Vergil (the poet of the Romans and author of The Aeneid) Freud (author of Civilization and its Discontents), James, (author of the essay “The Moral Equivalent of War”) Herbert Marcuse (author of “Eros and Civilization”) and then asks the above mentioned question: Are sports a desirable substitute for war and aggression or a mere game, a reduction and simplification of the complexity of life meant to distract and entertain us for a while? We trust, in any case, that the readers will enjoy this session dedicated to the exploration of the nexus between sports, philosophy and life.

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1

Maradona, Pelè and Philosophy
A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi
(Translated from the Italian: Corriere dello Sport, 2008)

Not just soccer. Who is better Pelè or Maradona? Kant will arbitrate.

As disputation among philosopher: “The Brasilian Pelè is an ethical rational model”  “Maradona is emotions.” Kant will arbitrate.

Not just soccer: Who is better Pelè or Maradona? Kant will arbitrate.

The Philosophical Profile of the Philosophical Soccer Players

The Pelè Team: Giuseppe Gambillo (captain), Salvatore Aleo, Immanuel Kant, The Olympian gods, Spinoza, Marco Van Basten.

The Maradona Team: Ocar Nicolaus (captain), Ernesto Paolozzi, Hegel, Martin Heidegger, Aldo Biscardi, Vujadin Boskov, Blaise Pascal.

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Report on the Philosophical Game by Ernesto Paolozzi

Pelè at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico: Italy vs. Brazil: 1-4

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Pelè at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico won by Brazil (Final match vs. Italy: 4-1)

Truth does not exist. Truth is a game, and if this concept is valid for objective truth, then it can be applied for the following dilemma, as little as this is debated within Western Civilization: was Maradona really better than Pelè? This issue is not insignificant and therefore one of the last round tables of International Week for Research organized at Matera is this year dedicated to “The Invention of Truth.” Let’s try to resolve it. We do this to benefit those who hope to find in these line the definite answer which every soccer fanatic has asked at least once in his life. Technically speaking it was a tie. The whistle to initiate the game was for 3PM, in the Carlo Levi hall of the Lanfranchi Palace. In between a symposium on “Truth, Relativism and Pluralism” there was in the official program  a lectio magistralis of the philosopher Aldo Masullo on “civil discourse and savage intuition;” also the debate on “God’s Providence.” On one side of the table there were the sociologist, professor and researcher Oscar Nicolaus, known also for having founded the committee “Te Diegum” [for Diego Maradona], and the Neapolitan philosopher Ernesto Paolozzi. On the other side of the table, champions of the arguments of Edson Arantes do Nascimento, otherwise known as Pelè, we find the Sicilian philosopher Giuseppe Gembillo, who teaches at the University of Messina, and also Salvatore Aleo, a lawyer and a professor of penal law at Catania.

Maradona at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico: Argentina vs. England: 2-1

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Maradona at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico won by Argentina
(Final match vs. Germany: 3-2)

Which is to say, we were flying pretty high but also pretty low, as it must be for a philosophical discussion, soccer style. Gembillo began the midfield attack immediately, using arguments redolent of Kantian idealism: “Aside form quantitative facts, which place Pelè in first place, your Diego being only at the 97th place…, if God’s Providence does indeed exist it is only because of the devil misperception placed within the vision of the referee. In what you see as insignificant one can discover the difference between the two personalities.”

Nicolaus was visibly shaken by those words, and after a brief running after the ball, launched a tackle, accusing the Brazilian-Sicilian colleague of nothing short than a betrayal of Hegel, all in the name of an obtuse rationality. In order to dismantle the Gembillian thesis on that famous irregular goal against England, he quoted two great contemporary philosophers. The first one was Martin Heidegger, the theoretician of the great radical transcendence of Being and great sport’s fan, that at one time said this of the German national team: “Soccer is pleasing because the ball is round.” A truth that, with all due respect, had already been discovered by Aldo Biscardi. The second quoted philosopher was Vujadin Boskov, who pronounce the immortal: “penalty is when the referee blows the whistle.” This is to point out that the four referees are part of the game due to its imperfect nature. And he inveighed against the Kantians who are always dreaming of an ideal of purity, forgetting that a pure game is unimaginable. Those who oppose the social perfection of Pelè to the imperfection of Maradona are returning to the Western dichotomy between reason and emotion.”  

A double defensive marking arrived punctually from the philosopher Paolozzi who quoting Pascal said that “Maradona has the reasons of the heart that reason knows not,” and then he eulogized Pibe as a soccer player of complexity: “With his human frailty Diego Maradona allows the reality of life to win over a mathematical-geometric conception of soccer.” From the side arrived the incursion of Aleo, faithful to an ethical vision of soccer. “Maradona has been a catastrophe for soccer outside of the soccer stadium. In our modern world soccer has substituted the gods of Mount Olympus. That is why it is devoid of noble divinities.”

At that point the teams had mixed it up, gone over limits and it became futile to give the impression of any kind of schematic order. Confusion seemed to reign, with Mr. Mauro Madonado, a psychiatrist at the University of Basilicata and scientific director of the conference attempting unsuccessfully to control the conference. Paolozzi attempted a last counterattack: “The true example is that of the one who falls but gets up again, like Maradona, and not that of he who never falls. The prizing of purity is more harmful than that of human fragility.” Gambillo countered wtth a rapid Kantian maneuver: “The ethical example is important, this truth cannot be overlooked in your gread admiration for Maradona.” Nicolaus made the last hit: “I dare say that Maradona the man is even better than Maradona the player. When the referee signaled the end of the game a veritable shower of questions rained down. A need was felt for over-time given that the discussion was attractive and enjoyable. But the magisterial lesson of Danilo Santos De Miranda, general director of the SEAC of Sao Paolo, a Brazilian but not a soccer player, could not be kept waiting. In any case, excursions were not allowed: “It is either Maradona or Pelè, Nicolaus and Gembillo intimated in a final appeal to fair play. Somebody brought into play, with a painful quote from the Dutch Spinoza asked if it was not the case to consider Marco Van Basten as a possible substitute. The article you are now reading is the shining proof that the person who made this inopportune request was at the very least spared his life

The Philosophical Soccer Players’ Photos

 Referee: Mario Maldonado

The Pelè Kantian “Idealistic” Team

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Prof. Giuseppe Gembillo, Captain of the Pelè side

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Prof. Salvatore Aleo

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Prof. Aldo Masullo

 

The Maradona Vichian-Crocean-Pascalian Team

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Prof. Oscar Nicolaus (captain)

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Prof. Ernesto Paolozzi (mid-field attacker)

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Prof. Mauro Maldonato (referee)

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Prof. Danilo Santos De Miranda (amused spectator)

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2

Is Sport a Metaphor for Life or mere Reductionism?
A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

“Imagine people amusing themselves in a field by playing with a ball. Throwing the ball aimlessly into the air, chasing one another with the ball. The whole time they are playing and following definite rules. Is there not also the case where we play and make up the rules as we go along?”
                                                             --Ludwig Wittnenstein, Philosophical Investigations

Can sports ever be a worthy metaphor for life? People who think the question worth debating generally fall into two camps: The first camp consists of people who think that comparing “real existentially messy life” consisting of family, friends, career, health, happiness, to a game played by a bunch of overpaid overrated guys in uniforms throwing a ball around, shoving, even biting each other is a ridiculous, even offensive idea. It is an oversimplification of life, a sort of reductionism.

The second camp consists of people who find the comparison perfectly valid, and see sports not as a sideshow to "real life" but as life stripped down to its basics, with the same human qualities -- confidence, fear, luck, determination, teamwork, grace under pressure (or the lack thereof) and the like -- on display to be marveled at, cringed at, and sometimes even measured. The philosopher of language Wittgenstein, for one, utilizes the metaphor of a soccer game to describe the nature and structure of language, comparing language to a soccer game that leaves the players free to improvise and be spontaneous on the field, while at the same time holding on to rigorous rules of the game (hence the importance of the punishing and disqualifying referee).

And so, willy nilly, those two opposite philosophical camps with opposite views on sports also suggest a soccer game to be played in the field of ideas. Let’s play, but let us please refrain from biting each other by descending to unseemly ad hominem arguments, unworthy of true philosophy, at the risk of receiving a red card by Confucius, the referee.

Perhaps we can initially agree that good athletes, those who play a sport for the sheer love and joy of the game, can often inspire us to imagine ourselves anew, to reach for new vistas and visions, to aim high for worthy goals.

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Sports and war games around Troy in the Iliad

With this initial premise, let us begin with the fathers of Western poetry, Homer and his  Iliad and the Odyssey, the 8th-century B.C. epic poems about the Trojan War and the Travels of Ulysses in the Mediterranean sea, and Virgil’s Aeneid, the epic poem celebrating the founding of Rome. In the first poem we find a description of the so called funeral games for Patroclus, the fallen comrade of the hero Achilles.  Achilles, broken with grief, sets out prizes for those who will compete for glory -- a pause in the midst of the war for the sake of sport. Later he challenges Hector to a duel and having killed him, as a spectacle, drags  his body attached to his chariot around Troy.

In the second epic poem, the Odyssey, Homer returns to the theme of sporting games by describing his hero Odysseus competing against much younger men upon his return to Ithaca twenty years later, as a way of showing the hero's stature, even amidst the vagaries and vicissitudes of his ten-year voyage home from the ten-year war of Troy. 

In some of Plato’s dialogues, we have Socrates reflecting on what was it exactly that Athens got wrong in the war against Sparta. Obviously the Spartans had a superior system when it came to the education of the young for winning in competitions and war. This is always a crucial issue for the losing side of a war.  

Some six centuries later, the Roman poet Virgil, returning to the scene of the Trojan War in his Aeneid, describes games in honor of Aeneas' father Anchises: there are rowing races, footraces, javelin contests, and boxing.  These games, like those described in the Iliad, represent a peculiar detour amidst a larger divinely-inspired mission.

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Do Sports’ games imitate the struggles of life?

Why do these epics, these towering stories of great men accomplishing great things, grind to a halt in order to describe sporting contests?  The short answer may be that sport was for these authors, and those whose stories they told, a microcosm of life.  Certainly in the Greek world -- and by extension, the Roman world, physical prowess was integral to manhood. 

The painting and sculpture from at least the late 6th century B.C. idealized the athletic male body, perhaps because of the need to promote the skills for warfare and manhood, designed to inspire young soldiers to strive for glory. Even a Renaissance sculpture like Michelangelo’s David has a beautiful athletic body. Undoubtedly Michelangelo shares that aspect of sculpture with the Greeks. The distinction in his particular sculpture lies in the face of David which has a spirituality lacking in Greco-Roman statues. Let us not forget that this is a Biblical scene depicting an act of war as well as physical prowess and skill.

One may well ask What are the skill exhibited in the driving of a drone to its target as it is now practiced in modern warfare? I suppose an answer, as absurd as it may sound, is that now one also requires computer skills to play the video game called war. Paradoxically, in our modern times war seems to have been reduced to a video game, albeit a very lethal and destructive one. But the question persists: do these “war games” show true heroism, as shown by King Leonidas at the Thermopile?  

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Michelangelo’s David preparing his sling against Goliath

Are these ancient depictions of sport then mere martial propaganda?  Saint Paul, writing only a few decades after Virgil, used athletics as a metaphor for the discipline of the good life: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

For Paul, as for Homer, Plato, and Virgil, sport was the most apt metaphor for life itself.  In sport, one must practice discipline for the sake of a higher, more distant good.  The wreath that Paul mentions is a clear reference to the laurel branches given to the victors of Greek games. The discipline of sport reminds us that pleasure is temporary, that suffering can yield greater glory, that our opponents can become friends, that even at our best we are radically dependent  on others, that our limits can be surpassed and sometimes obliterated, that our minds can overcome what seem to be insurmountable hurdles. There is the ecstasy  of victory and the agony of defeat. Just as in life, those are real in sports and teach us a valuable lesson.

Sport is life because in sport we undertake a kind of spiritual discipline: a way of imagining ourselves in the world, of taking stock of the kinds of human beings we are created to be in relation to others. It would appear that for all the above mentioned authors, sport can be the discipline needed to face the tests of life, for indeed performance on the field exemplifying courage and virtue is what we are called to undertake in life.

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World Cup 2006 in Germany won by Italy (Final match vs. France: 5-3)

This leads to even a more crucial question: can sport be used as a substitute, a sort of sublimation for our aggressive instincts, even a substitution for war? Would it not be more reasonable in fact to resolve our disputes on a soccer field? This may sound a bit preposterous, even silly, but there were three philosophers who actually dealt with this idea. One is William James in his famous essay The Moral Equivalent of War. This classic essay was published in 1910, and was based on a speech he delivered at Stanford University in 1906. James considers there one of the classic problems of politics: how to sustain political unity and civic virtue in the absence of war or a credible threat. The standard solution for the problem of sustaining political unity and civic virtue has been either war or a credible external or internal threat, and to make the threat credible it has often been necessary to actually go to war. As Machiavelli and other political scientists surmises: war is merely a continuation of politics by other means and can unify nations. Moreover, the actions taken by nations to create credible threats has often led them to be attacked by others, or to stumble into wars no one wants. World War I was to become the classic example of this tragedy, and this essay by James can be read as anticipating that conflict.

It can also be read as anticipating the use by political leaders of imagined internal or external threats to achieve and maintain their power and political unity and thus discourage any opposition. The twentieth century was to see not only internecine international wars, but genocidal civil wars, pogroms, the Nazi, Armenian and Cambodian holocausts, and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, just to mention a few such nefarious Machiavellian power stratagems.

The traditional way in the United States and a few other countries like Switzerland to achieve and maintain civic bonding was the militia system, but by 1906 this traditional institution had declined in the United States for lack of external or internal enemies. The institution had suffered a critical setback from the Civil War, because the core of the militia traditionalists had been killed, wounded, or demoralized during that conflict. In contemplating a system that would function like the militia to foster social unity, James, a strong opponent of war of any kind, sought an alternative that would function like a militia but be motivated by threats of an impersonal kind. This led him to propose a form of national service that would conduct "warfare against nature".

This concept is regarded by some as the origin of the idea of organized national service. The line of descent can be traced directly from this address to the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, to the Peace Corps, VISTA, and AmeriCorps. Though some phrases grate upon modern ears, particularly the assumption that only males can perform such service, several racially-biased comments, and the now discredited notion that "nature" should be treated as an enemy, it still sounds a rallying cry for service in the interests of the individual and the nation.

The solution to the problem remains an open question, now that it is no longer politically correct to regard "nature" as an "enemy". We are beginning to recognize that the real "enemy" may be our own darker human nature, and no one has found a good way to oppose that without slipping into opposition to individuals or groups seen as embodying that darker nature, the sort of demonizing which Jung calls projection. It would appear that the traditional militia system remains the best solution anyone has found, provided a way can be found to revive support for it, when the main remaining threats are crime, governmental abuse, and natural or manmade disasters. But of course sports as sublimation of instincts is not removed from the table by James. Anything is ultimately preferable to war, short of ignominy and dishonor.

The other author is Freud who dealt with those issues in his Civilization and its Discontents where he postulates that in order to sustain civilization one has to learn to channel one’s impulses and desires which tend to maximize pleasure and minimize pain for oneself. Back to the Epicureans, but the Epicureans prioritized pleasures into physical and intellectual and considered the latter superior. But a certain amount of repression by society at large seems necessary to sustain civilization and mitigate the effects of a materialistic hedonistic life.

Freud’s thesis was challenged by one of his disciples, our third author Herbert Marcuse, in his famous book, read by many college students in the 60s, Eros and Civilization: a Philosophical Inquiry into Freud. The book appeared in 1955 and was essentially an attempt at  a synthesis of Freud with Karl Marx. Marcuse emphasized the non-repressive society, so in a way he challenged his master, Freud, but also Marx in as much as he sees history not as a class struggle but a fight against repression of our instincts. He argues that modern capitalism prevents us from reaching a non-repressive society “based on a fundamentally different experience of being, a fundamentally different relation between man and nature, and fundamentally different existential relations.” Which is to say, Eros is a liberating and constructive experience and calls for the abolition of repression.

 im066

Herbert Marcuse, author of Eros and Civilization

Marcuse starts with the conflict described by Freud in Civilization and Its Discontents - the struggle between human instincts and the conscience of repression (the superego), which is self-repressing trying to follow the mores and norms of society. Freud claimed that a clash between Eros and civilization results in the history of humanity being one of its repressions: “Our civilization is, generally speaking, founded on the suppression of instincts. Sex produces the energy, and it is repressed so the energy can be channeled into progress - but the price of progress is the prevalence of guilt instead of happiness.” "Progress", for Marcuse, is a concept that provides the explanation and excuse of why the system has to continue; it is the reason the happiness of people is sacrificed.

Marcuse argues that the irreconcilable conflict is not between work (reality principle or life without leisure) and Eros (pleasure principle - leisure and pleasure), but between alienated labor (performance principle - economic stratification) and Eros. Sex is allowed for 'the betters' (capitalists...), and for workers, but only when not disturbing performance. Marcuse believes that a socialist society could be a society without needing the performance of the 'poor' and without as strong a suppression of our sexual drives: it could replace 'alienated labor' with "non-alienated libidinal work" resulting in "a non-repressive civilization based on 'non-repressive sublimation'" Most important to our concerns here, Marcuse also believes that the society of the future will replace war and strife with sports. Is it any wonder that the hippy movement and the flower children vehemently opposed the war that came about in those years soon after the book came out, namely the war in Vietnam? Many communes, so called arose, in which non-repressive ways were established, whose motto was “make love not war.” Interestingly, most of them failed, except for those who had some religious or ethical underpinning and principles. The moral of the story is that perhaps sports are not part of the pleasure principle but part of the reality principle in as much as they teach us discipline and self-control, two necessary ingredient of a successful ethical life. Without discipline one will not be successful in sports either. Back to the lesson of Brazil’s defeat. Not many hippies were subjecting themselves to the rigors and discipline of sports in those days. They preferred “free love,” so called.

Marcuse’s argument seems to depend on the assumption that instincts can be shaped by historical phenomena such as repression. Marcuse concludes that our society's troubles result not from biological repression itself but from its increase due to "surplus repression" which is the result of contemporary society.  The result is an 'eroticized Marx'.

The question persists: can sports substitute for war and sublimate our instinctual aggressive instincts? I suggest that what perhaps is ultimately at play here are a few equivocations rooted in semantic definitions. One of them could be this: is fierce and savage competition required to achieve excellence in any field? Have we confused savage competition (the games of the Coliseum) for excellence, what the Greeks called arête? Take the sport of soccer: unless a team can work together as a team of eleven players and each knows his precise function in the game and is willing to sacrifice his ego, the team will not be very successful. Even the lone star of the team, a Pelè or a Maradona, or a Messi, let’s say, will have to subjugate his ego to the interests of the team. The star is needed as an example of discipline and long-suffering, not one of narcissism. Even philosophers at a conference need a modicum of cooperation and discipline as they debate and argue a hot philosophical topic, as Paolozzi has aptly and humorously described in the above presentation.

The most recent archeological and evolutionary evidence points to the fact that co-operation is at least as important as competition to insure the survival of a species. That even martial skills have to become martial arts with some rules and regulations, if they are not to degenerate in sheer barbaric violence. The social Darwinists among us, usually on the right of the political spectrum, seem to ignore that for at least the first six or seven years of their own lives they were completely dependent on their parents; that cooperation and solidarity is at least as important as competition; it may in fact be more important. Even the orphans Romulus and Remo, needed a she-wolf to nurse them in their infancy and ensure their survival. Perhaps our survival as a species will only be assured when we realize that the era of growth and savage capitalism is ultimately unsustainable and will only ensure our doom, despite what the entrepreneurs of our brave new world, still encouraging growth and the expansion of the overall economic pie would like us to believe. Aristotle had a better idea:  individuals ought to fulfill the essential needs of human nature (which are not only physical but also intellectual and spiritual) to arrive at “eudemonia” or happiness. Marx had a similar idea: “each according to his talents, and to each according to his needs,” which in no way means dividing everything equally.

What remains to be imagined is an era of cooperation and solidarity where cooperation and the common good reign supreme. One may call it Utopia, but so was Plato’s Republic. It was Ideal and perhaps too theoretical, but it certainly was not Machiavellian, but then again, Plato would remind us that putting the practice before the theory is like putting the cart before the horse. Will we dare to imagine the new, or better, a novantiqua Renaissance of the Liberal Arts and the humanities, a third culture consisting of a synthesis of the humanistic and the scientific, which in some way has always characterized a Western Civilization punctuated by various cyclical resurgences and renaissances. History will certainly render its final verdict but we cannot meanwhile escape our destiny, which is the destiny of being free to choose one way or the other. Apathy is no solution either, for the refusal to choose is also a choice. The escape from freedom is a delusion. As Eliot best renders it: we shall return to the place we started from and know the place for the first time. Meanwhile sports can be a guiding light if we are wise enough to envision them as a mirror of life rather than as mere distractions from our life-appointed duties and goals.

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 END  OF 30TH SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (17/07/2014)

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Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

16th Meeting - 17th Meeting - 18th Meeting - 19th Meeting - 20th Meeting - 21st Meeting -

22nd Meeting -23rd Meeting - 24th Meeting - 25th Meeting - 26th Meeting - 27th Meeting -

28th Meeting -29th Meeting - 30th Meeting -

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Emanuel Paparella2014-07-17 16:23:02
Correction by the author: the biting player was not Paraguayan but Uruguayan.


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