20 October 2009

What we do to ourselves

I've been a part of some interesting conversations lately surrounding Malcolm Gladwell's latest New Yorker article. In engaging (if graphic) fashion, Gladwell narrates the horrors of dogfighting alongside the emerging body of scientific evidence that playing football can lead to serious brain trauma, early dementia, and death. The shocking thing about football is that the researchers Gladwell profiles don't think it is only the serious, Tebow-caliber concussions that should worry us. It seems that years of "average" blows to the head (by football standards) can cause exactly the sort of brain damage previously associated with serious concussions (and boxing). In short, every offensive and defensive lineman is at risk, as are many other players.

In dogfighting, we can clearly see that the dogs have been taught to trust their masters, only to be thrown into a competition that is very likely to kill them. Gladwell's provocative suggestion is that football is not so different. The article is worth reading (and you can skip the dogfighting sections without losing much of the point).

There are a lot of different things to say about this article, but I'll confine myself to one for now: what do we make of the likelihood that, even if all the long-term dangers of football were known, many men would still choose to play the sport? Kyle Turley, a lineman featured in the article, says as much. We also know that people take risks, or willingly hurt themselves, for all kinds of reasons. Soldiers want to defend ideals or borders. Smokers want to meet immediate felt needs. Football players want fun, glory, education, money.

So where does this bring us? If you guessed Wendell Berry, you're a freak. Hat-tip to Steve for linking to this poem:

by Wendell Berry
1. How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.

2. For the sake of goodness, how much
evil are you willing to do?
Fill in the following blanks
with the names of your favorite
evils and acts of hatred.

3. What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy.

4. In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.

5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security,
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.


Perm said...

Thanks for posting this. Thought-provoking for sure, and I guess I'm a freak, then. :)

Jen said...

Interesting, I didn't read the article, but I was actually wondering the same thing as I've sat in the same chair all day writing and reading with chores in between. Do I throw down lots of caffeine down my throat to work with a clearer mind but suffer the consequences of it messing with my body? Do I go with the other solution of drinking hot tea on the hour into the wee hours of the night only to make my body need to wee every few minutes in an unnatural way? Do I try to stay up late to try to get my homework done for the sake of a grade to the detriment of my health (mental and physical) and then suffer the aftermath of not loving my neighbors well or using my brain well b/c I'm too tired to function? That doesn't even include time for prayer, Scripture reading, journaling and other modes of spirituality.

I love "faith seeking understanding" but sometimes I wonder if Graduate school and Christianity can co-exist.

John Potter said...

My kneejerk defense is that I'm not sure the analogy (if it is one) works, since dogs are made to fight. People choose - and work hard - to play football.