Thought for the Day: 12 September 2015

Way back in the 1980s, while driving around town to deliver lectures deploring the lack of political awareness among the comatose masses, MIT professor Noam Chomsky stumbled across sports talk on his car radio. He marveled at the deep knowledge and intelligence that Chuckie in Attleboro or Gladys in Melrose brought to bear on their favorite teams and players. After all, these were the same ordinary Americans whose talk about international affairs or domestic problems Chomsky considered “at a level of superficiality that’s beyond belief.” Yet callers to sports radio, Noam in Cambridge realized, “have their own opinion and they conduct intelligent discussions. It’s an interesting phenomenon. I don’t think that international affairs or domestic politics are much more complicated.”

In other words, if people applied the same intelligent scrutiny and research to public policy questions as they did to sports, Team USA might be doing a whole lot better. Chomsky concluded that Americans don’t apply their sports smarts and passion to politics and public policy because they don’t believe it will change anything; they feel they might as well focus on something fun.

– from Garry Emmons, “Sports Superfans, Deflategate Obsession and America’s Collective I.Q.

Thought for the Day: 5 June 2015

You sometimes find in non-literate cultures [the] development of the most extraordinary linguistic systems: often there’s tremendous sophistication about language, and people play all sorts of games with language.

What all these things look like is that people just want to use their intelligence somehow, and if you don’t have a lot of technology and so on, you do other things.

Well, in our society, we have things that you might use your intelligence on, like politics, but people really can’t get involved in them in a very serious way — so what they do is they put their minds into other things, such as sports.

You’re trained to be obedient; you don’t have an interesting job; there’s no work around for you that’s creative; in the cultural environment you’re a passive observer of usually pretty tawdry stuff; political and social life are out of your range, they’re in the hands of the rich folks. So what’s left? Well, one thing that’s left is sports — so you put a lot of the intelligence and the thought and the self-confidence into that. And I suppose that’s also one of the basic functions it serves in the society in general: it occupies the population, and keeps them from trying to get involved with things that really matter.

–  Noam Chomsky