The fact that it is now baseball season in the United States means little or nothing to me, however heretical that view is considered to be in this country. To be fair, I do not worship at the altar of baseball any more than I do those of most other athletic endeavors. That being said, this is one of those rare occasions when you will be able to read a sports-related post from me, in response to a deplorable event which took place over the weekend.
I suspect most of my readers are unaware of the fact that the annual event known as “The Boat Race”, between students from Oxford and Cambridge Universities, took place this past Saturday. Every year two teams of rowers set out to race each other along the Thames, in a competition that has been held in London since 1856. It was an event I attended when I lived on the other side of the pond, since I had a number of friends who had rowed for Oxford, though truth be told I was not particularly interested in it apart from the social aspect.
On Saturday I happened to catch the race on television, which I watched more out of nostalgia than anything else. It was a very close race indeed, for much of the course, when probably about 2/3 of the way through the race suddenly came to a halt. Someone was swimming in The Thames, and came very close to one of the boats. Had it not been for the swift action of the teams, he could have been injured, or killed.
It turns out that this individual was – not surprisingly – a leftist protester, who was decrying the elitism of the event by employing the sort of anti-social behavior which of late we have come to expect, and for some inexplicable reason to tolerate. It is also not surprising that, like most of these sorts of protesters, it turns out this individual is something of a joke, having attended the prestigious and pricey London School of Economics, and is moreover an active member of the Royal Society of Arts. My friend Tim Stanley, a Cambridge alumnus with whom I was furiously texting about the event as it unfolded, shared some of his thoughts about the matter on his blog post for The Telegraph.
As a Yankee rather than a Brit, and as a non-athlete, I cannot speak with authority as to what took place, even though it was pretty obvious that even when the race resumed, this disruption ruined the event and it ended terribly. However as a human being, I can certainly share a thought or two, and particularly as someone who in general has little or no interest in athletic competition whatsoever, yet recognizes its value. No doubt some of my readers will find what follows to be judgemental, and if you are one of them then I welcome you to leave comments saying as much, so that we can discuss the matter further.
Putting aside for the moment the very serious, physical danger that this person put both himself and the crews on the river in as a result of his actions, in which he and others could have been killed or injured, his stated intent is irrelevant, and I will not consider it herein. If you wish to read why he claims he did what he did, you are welcome to read it elsewhere, and then dismiss it for the utter rubbish it is.
The real reason he did this, whatever protestations one might lodge to the contrary, was that this person wanted to engage in the very same selfishness which he paradoxically claims to be protesting against. If he found the event, its sponsors, and participants, to be elitist, what has he made himself by becoming a media personality and drawing attention to himself? For surely he is no longer a humble man of the people – or at least, the people who hold degrees from LSE and are members of exclusive clubs.
The ones I could not help feeling sorry in all of this were the athletes. They had trained for this event for months leading up to the competition. They sacrificed sleep, rest, food that one would actually like to eat, and suffered all sorts of physical injuries and mental and emotional stress, in order to get ready for the race. As someone who is decidedly not an athlete in any way, I cannot even begin to imagine the disappointment of how what had been a well-matched, exciting competition that had started out with a bang, ended in a whimper.
The point of participating in a team sport, of course, is that it is an exercise in not only trying to get your body as healthy as possible, but also to learn how to work with others – indeed, sometimes individuals very different from you – in order to achieve a common goal. It is no accident that the lessons athletes have the opportunity to learn in being part of a team are helpful in all aspects of life. This includes venues such as one’s profession, representative government, community activities, and the like.
The idea of tempering individualism through teamwork, helping to work toward a collective goal, directly leads to the creation of civilization and culture. The individual and the team have to work in balance with one another, or everything falls apart. Too much individualism, and you get anarchy; too little, and you get communism. Roman aqueducts, Gothic cathedrals, or modern suspension bridges may have had a single designer behind them, but they were not built by that one man acting independently, any more than Mozart could have performed all of the instruments in one of his symphonies simultaneously, or Steinbeck could have written, printed, and distributed all of his novels by himself.
This is not to say that the lone protester cannot be a voice for change or a symbol of what is good, in the face of unrelenting evil. One need only look at people such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer or St. Maximilian Kolbe to see that this is the case. Yet here, all that the protester in question has done is to ruin something that was perfectly good: an athletic competition between two schools. No one was forcing him to watch it, or to purchase anything in order to be able to watch it. He could have peacefully sat and viewed the race on the river bank, on television, or ignored it altogether, as he wished. There was nothing compulsory about this event.
Instead, this person chose to act out of selfishness, to ruin a once-in-a-lifetime event for groups of young people who had no quarrel with him, and who were not doing anything evil. By acting as he did, this man proved himself to be, in truth, nothing more than a child; he is no different from one who kicks over another’s sand castle at the beach, just for the sake of drawing attention to himself, while simultaneously intentionally seeking to hurt the other. He is, unfortunately, all too representative of the society that produced him, and which continues to believe that behaving like an arse is somehow going to change the world, when in fact all it does is make those of us who do not behave in this way the more resolute not to follow his example, nor listen to his views.
So in the end, albeit paradoxically, one has to say it: good for you, Thames swimmer. You have no doubt helped the cause of law and order, conservatism, and disdain for so-called “progressive” causes more than any letter to the editor which you might have published in The Guardian, or some similar birdcage liner publication. For that, at least, we can be grateful to you, even if it is no comfort to the student athletes at Oxford and Cambridge who suffered as a result of your selfishness and immaturity.