Theodore Dalrymple

Global Warning | 21 June 2008

Theodore Dalrymple delivers a Global Warning

The last time I played rugby, I was sent off for reading on the field. It was my small satirical protest against the supposition that my character would be much improved by having my knees dragged along icy ground, or my hand trodden into the mud by boys who, by dint of no effort of their own, were twice as large as I. Now I am not so sure. It appears to me that every soul should be tempered a little in the fire of humiliation and suffering: though the precise dose of laudably character-forming humiliation and suffering is, I admit, difficult to estimate and dole out.

In fact, it is impossible, which is why human beings usually turn out badly. Unfortunately, all roads lead to resentment. Too little suffering in childhood means that people resent the difficulties that they inevitably encounter later in life; too much, and no success can extinguish the embers of resentment smouldering in the depths of their souls, ready to burst into flames at the first addition of tinder.

Since my youth, I have developed a visceral distaste for sport, not as an activity for amateurs, but as a spectacle that occupies the thoughts, raises the hopes and stimulates the emotions of millions. I try to understand why it does so, but try as I might, I cannot.

Yesterday, for example, I sat on a train from Paris to Avignon opposite a young man who read a newspaper devoted to football the whole way. (As in all Western European countries, the French championship is about which team can import the best foreigners.) The TGV is fast, but it still takes nearly three hours to go from Paris to Avignon. Can a human mind really be satisfied by such pabulum? (I was irritated: the young man didn’t look by any means unintelligent.)

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