The Dharma of the Game

This is the first in a series of posts on the ethics of competition that I've been working on...

Hi. My name is Linus, and I'm competitive.
[Hi, Linus...]

It's sort of a running joke in the local Flock. I'm the guy who will shove you out of the way and then throw himself into the wall head-first to hit the handball. I will gladly smash a shuttlecock directly at your head to win the point. I frequently want to keep going when everyone else is done. If there is another opponent available, I will continue long past the point of general fatigue - I'm famous for writing checks that my body can't cash.

Some have suggested that perhaps I do this because I don't know how to play "just for fun" or that I'm trying to compensate for failings in other parts of my life. Others say that it must be my ego that drives me to play so hard, or perhaps it's just that I'm trying to impress the ladies with my prowess. These sentiments usually come from those who can't beat me, but snarkiness aside, I maintain that competitveness serves a higher purpose.

I contend that the ultimate point of competition is the spiritual betterment of the competitors.

There are a multitude of other reasons to play sports - fitness, excitement, entertainment, camaraderie, etc. All of these reasons are valid, and most people begin playing sports for one or more of them, but the diligent pursuit of any sport eventually begins to reveal its greater qualities. When the golfer, for example, comes to the end of a lifelong pursuit of the game, he has learned much more than how to strike the ball. Ideally, he has learned to deal with others, in good times and bad. He has learned to take responsibility for his actions, how to handle pressure, and how to accept the seemingly cruel dictates of random events. In short, he has evolved - and golf was the catalyst for that evolution.

Sport is the one place where there exists an opportunity, however fleeting, for all to actually achieve some kind of equality. With due diligence, the rules of a game can remove politics, race, and class, and the outcome of such a contest is as purely based on the skill of the competitors as it can be. In that situation, sport becomes a pure test of that limited set of skills that the game is designed to measure. For example, a foot race is a simple check to determine which of the competitors can cover a given distance on foot in the shortest time. At the finish line, the person who crosses it first is the fastest, at that distance, on that day. If the rules of the contest have been diligently created and applied, then that racer can feel justifiably proud of his accomplishment, and the race remains pure.

Suppose however, that you add in other variables that lie outside the rules. One of the runners has a performance-enhancing drug in his bloodstream, another has special shoes with rocket assist, and a third tripped another runner when they were out of sight on one of the back corners of the course. Obviously, if one of these three runners is the winner of the race, it could be considered to invalidate the outcome. As we stated above, the purpose of the race was to see who was the fastest - not who had the cleverest doctor, or who had the best shoes, or who was most devious. Because these three runners have introduced other variables into the test, the test is now broken, and the results are not valid. The winner, the other competitors, and the spectators, if there are any, are all cheated out of the pure result they were promised by the agreed upon test.

Even if the winner is not one of those who introduced other variables, he is still cheated by their behavior. His victory is now invalidated, because how are we to know that the illegal behavior of the others has not altered the outcome of the race, and artificially placed him on the winners pedestal? A strict adherence to the rules and a dedicated effort to win are required of all contestants if the test is to remain sound. Even if one of the other racers simply doesn't do his absolute best to win, he has skewed the outcome of the race. Remembering the original purpose of the race - to find the fastest runner over a given course on a given day - it becomes clear that in order for the test to be valid, everyone in it has to be putting forth their best effort.

Next installment: different levels of competitors.

Friday Night Dueling

Flynn and I have reached a point where badminton is like dueling with swords. Just like with swords, you can attack high or low, left, right, or midline, in almost infinite combination. Some shots are like thrusts, while others are ripostes. You can play a defensive game and wait for your opponent to make a mistake, or you can play offensively and try to maneuver them into position for a kill. It's an amazingly apt metaphor for actual combat.

We usually play a best of three, just like in handball. It's grueling - neither of us are in fantastic shape - and we both leave the court dripping with sweat. During a good game you must exercise your quickness, aggression, patience, politeness, honesty, strategy, trickery, and numerous other skills. You have to control your breathing, hide your fatigue, read your opponent's face and body language, try not to lose the shuttle in the lights, and be ready to run from net to back line and every corner of the court, over and over in each rally. There are towering lobs that fall on the back line from 40 feet up, tiny little hairpin drops that travel less than a foot and clear the net by two inches, and overhand jump-smashes that move too quickly to be seen.

Badminton is threatening to replace handball as my favorite game. (GASP!)

Despite the geeky swordplay comparison that makes my old SCA heart throb, the best part is the way the local Flock has taken to it. At first it was just me and Flynn - in fact, I never would have gotten addicted if Flynn hadn't agreed to come with me to that first club meeting - but now G-Fresh, Fleur, Beckers, Lil' Tattooed Girl, Indian Princess and Vanilla Fresh are all regulars for Friday night badminton. Those of you who are really old school readers of this blog will remember a time when the Flock got up early on Sundays to go throw boomerangs - we used to call it "Sunday Mass." Badminton has kind of taken the place of that form of worship; at least until it warms up a lot more.

Fleur took a bunch of pics tonight while we were playing. Maybe she'll post some on her blog...

It Sees Me

"This is not the way it should be."

That thought comes often of late. It might be about the war, or the weather, or the roads, or school, or my belly, or a plethora of other things that dissatisfy. The vague feeling that something fundamental needs to - is about to - change is my constant companion. It's not an Obama kind of change or a new mission statement from the sprawling bureacracies in which we all live - it's more like waking up one day and realizing that the colors you've been seeing all your life are actually wrong, and today, for some reason, you can see them all as they truly are. As you take that in you realize that your socks have never matched your outfit - not once. You also see that roses are actually green, and the sky is a pale pink, and your raisin bran is a purplish color - which wouldn't be so bad if the milk wasn't bright orange.

This kind of change - a fundamental shift in the perception of reality - is what I'm being confronted with right now. No, not confronted - threatened is a better way to describe it. A view of it all threatens to leap out and crush the comfortable samsara I've created for myself. The sudden knowledge that IT is not as I thought, or as I believed, or even as I've imagined it could be is startling, and hopeful, and full of the fearful anticipation of having to learn everything over again.

Trying to not look doesn't help. Staying busy doesn't either. Wearing sunglasses to block eye contact, and an iPod to block out sound - also futile. It's behind my eyelids and in my dreams and in the Xbox and on my credit card statement and in my gas tank and on your hair. It's within these symbols that you recognize as letters corresponding to sounds that make the words that stand for ideas that convey this blog post to your mind. It's in thinking of yourself as an entity with a mind, or a mind within an entity, and it wants you to see itself, in all it's prickly truth, in the bright pink sunshine.

So far, I'm not a fan of reality getting uppity like this with me. I admit I asked for it, what with all the meditating and the reading and the thinking, but I figured it was like the lottery - how many people actually win? Now that it has taken notice and looked me right in the eye, I'd like to quietly go back to stumbling toward death in the meaningless fashion to which I am accustomed. Even though I know it's an illusion, I like my socks to match.

Not a Valentine's Day Post

I love you all. Really, I do. I just don't want to work myself into a froth this year - 'cuz last year I did that and it ended up completely sucking. For adorable V-Day sentiment, click the big banner up top and go to the comic. The Trinities will KILL you with the cuteness and the flowers and the hearts...

In other news;

My stats professor was very cool about the work I missed, so I am still in good shape for a 4.0 this semester. My application for a graduate assistantship is in to the grad school, and a 4.0 would improve my chances for a Fall appointment.

That would mean that in the Fall, I could finally begin the task I have worked toward these many years: warping young minds to fit my liberal agenda... I mean, teaching undergrads. Unlike most grad students, I'm excited about it, as it's what I really want to do when I grow up (ahem).

I know this must frighten some of my readers. The idea of His Sinfulness presenting the work of Weber, Durkheim, and, worst of all, Marx, must be terrifying to some, but I think I'm the perfect representative of mainstream higher learning. At least I'm completely obvious about my stances - religiously, politically, ethically, and in any other realms of thought that you can end with an ly. Without trying, I have become a texbook example of the classic liberal arts academic - left-leaning, pacifist, secularist, humanist, vegetarian/vegan, queer-friendly, and staunchly in favor of freedom of speech, choice, and religion.

It was once not so. I once toted a gun and enforced laws that ranged from silly to anal retentive to downright discriminatory. I followed orders (usually), did as I was told (for the most part), and shined my jackboots every night. How different things are now, some 15 years after I left the State Patrol. It feels like another life, or a story about another person.

In comparison, this life is all too real to me. It's so vivid that the edges of it can cut you; I'm handling each day like a shard of glass. Fragile, razor sharp, refracting and reflecting every bit of light. I am exhausted, but I'm forced out of bed every morning just to see what happens.

I suppose grad school suits me.

No One Reads This Anymore

Well, it's happened again. I have allowed the blog to be silent for long enough that only the hardest of the hardcore readers are still here. I can see them warming their hands over the flickering light of a burning oil drum, waiting for some kind of light to return to this darkened back alley of the internet. They try to cheer each other with retellings of the better days, when posts flowed like water and I was witty and urbane. They pry open a tin of beans to share, and eat with their eyes focused in the temporal middle-distance; they see either the hoped-for future or the longed-for past, I can't tell which.

That's right - I just reduced my loyal readers to the hobo citizenry of a tent city. Such is the long, dark night of the blogger's soul. I'm in the dreaded process of trying to figure out what this blog is about again.

I could tell you about school, but student angst is overdone.
I could write about the women I love, but that garners a sort of sympathy that I don't deserve.
I could write about politics, but that's being done by others, and so much better than I would ever care to do it.
I could go back to creating stories about the people I see in the computer labs, but I don't work the weird shifts anymore, and the really interesting characters only come out in the wee hours of the morning.
I could expound on my social theory, but I don't want to end up like Nietzsche; spending the final years of my life as an invalid in the care of my sister sounds crappy.
I could rant about animal rights issues, and make the readers hate me for shoving veganism down their throats, but I'm just not veganazi enough for that.
I could turn this into the Ajax, Imelda, and Gandalf show, but there are enough revoltingly cute pet blogs.
I could talk about my spiritual journey, but that implies some kind of peace, of which I have none.

Perhaps I'll just go back to the beginning, back to the Il Penseroso days. Back to just writing whatever pops into my head. Maybe it doesn't need a common thread of any kind, or maybe the common thread is just that it's written by me.

Throw another bundle of trash in the oil drum. It's going to be a long night.

Eternity, continued...

I should clarify - I know where I stand on this, but like any good sociologist I want to sample the population. Thanks to those who responded here.

The common thread in those responses seems to be that we agree that no one knows for sure - yet many people claim that they do! Evangelical preachers, prophets, imams, gurus, etc. have all claimed to "know" about the afterlife because they have seen it, been to it, or been in direct contact with the powers that run it. How do we reconcile these reports? Is it all just wishful thinking, that for some turns into delusion? Do we just write those people off as whackos, or have they had some kind of spiritual experience that we haven't?

More discussion, please.