Monday, September 26, 2005


Megan McArdle links to this post by Michael O'Hare (on Mark Kleiman's blog) on the barbarity of boxing.
For those who don’t know, boxing is an exercise that uses two remarkable devices in a very odd way. One of them is a servomanipulator of incredible versatility, delicacy and precision, a gadget that can play a violin or caress a cheek or fix a watch or carry a suitcase. The other is a computer with capacities we still haven’t exhausted. It’s small enough to carry around at all times, and it can write a sonata for the violin, do rocket science and every other kind of science, and give advice to children. Try that with your laptop. Oh yeah; this computer is capable of love…the real thing, not reciting a script.
What’s truly amazing about boxing is how these wonders are used. You might think the computer could be hooked up to instruct the servo to make something incredibly cool, but you would be wrong. In boxing, the game is to take the servomechanism and use it like a hammer to whale on the computer until its little lights go out and it stops working. Usually the computer can be rebooted after this abuse, but it loses something every time and eventually winds up with dementia pugilistica, mumbling and bumping into things, cadging free drinks in cheap bars. If this isn’t substance abuse, I don’t know what is. It’s right up there with using a big Rubens painting as a tarp over your woodpile, but especially blasphemous in its trashing of God’s most remarkable creations.
A century ago the guy swinging the servo had to be careful not to break it on the computer case, but not enough lights got put out for good business, so we now wrap it up in padding that allows super-destructive, full-force whacks, and everyone watching has a good chance of seeing some real damage.
Should this be legal? Probably; the boxers are grownups and have to be allowed to manage their own lives. What I can’t understand is how this savagery can even be discussed by people who claim to be civilized, much less sold for money and treated like a sport. I know, people get hurt in all sorts of sports, but this is the one where the whole point is to hurt people, and not just arms and legs but the part that makes us human. Sure, there’s lots of cant about the science of defense and tactical blows to the body, but it’s the KO that sells the tickets. See the camera linger over Rocky Balboa’s bloody, blind, weaving face in the movie: sport? skill? Give me a break.
I must say that, though I don't agree with most of the ideas expressed on that blog, I find this statement resonates with me. There is no taboo-less human activity that I can think of that revolts me more than a boxing match.
Megan doesn't really say anything about it but there is a lively and eye-opening (at least for me) discussion in the comments. Many of them are in favor of boxing and most of the comments (except for the boxing/B&D comparison thread - what the hell?) make excellent arguments both for and against.
While it would clearly be hard to justify a ban (and I am certainly not calling for one) because the contestants and the spectators are willing adults, and it can even be argued that there is a nobility in the skills and discipline needed for this sport, not to mention how it can help channel a person's destructive impulses, I still feel it is an unseemly and uncivilized spectacle. Possibly this has more to do with the crazed looks and screams of the spectators and the (purportedly) distorted representation of boxing in the movies.
At any rate, I think this comment illustrates the issues most clearly:
People like me, who box and practice martial arts, [appreciate] the sport for its grace and skill. We can [see] which of the two contenstants in the ring is the better boxer at a glance, long before the 15th round or a knockout. We admire footwork, speed, and conditioning. I can watch boxing all day.
But people who actually know how to box represent a vanishingly small percentage of the people who watch boxing on TV. Probably 95% of people watching a typical PPV match know absolutely nothing about boxing and have never stepped into the ring in [their] entire lives.
Think of the guys at the frat house, or at the local sports bar, who show up to watch the Tyson fight. Why do they do it?
Personally, I think the explanation is twofold. First, a lot of them like to see a couple of guys beat the snot out of one another. To me, this is wrong. It's no different than watching Christians fight lions in the arena. There is something primtive, uncivilized, and sadistic about wanting to see men spill blood and suffer pain for no reason other than entertainemnt.
Second, a lot of guys think of the big fight as a male bonding ritual. They show up to watch it with their buddies becuase they think it is something that guys are supposed to do. This is okay, if a little pathetic.
Only 5% of the spectators have experiene with boxing and actually know what is going on.
I don't think boxing should be banned, but I do think there is something unseemly about the sport in its current form. It does cater to people's ignoble instincts.
Some of the commenters argue in favor of boxing along these lines:
Point three - LIFE IS NOT ALL PEACHES AND CREAM, BUDDY. There is a place in this world, a revered place, for people who are physically and mentally tough. It strikes at something deep in the human soul to see two men, in prime physical condition, fight to the finish. Its a part of human nature that predates our humanity. And it calls to the brave and powerful part of you that makes you stand up nose-to-nose with the bully and say "If you want to get to him, you're going to have to get past ME." And mean it.
My last point is not really an argument at all, more of an expression of a personal attitude. And, to be honest and fair, [it's] not right for me to judge other people, especially people who I don't know. That being said, no one has ever accused me of being perfect. So, now I must add that my impression of men who don't like boxing has always been that they are cowards. They denigrate it because it points right at an imortant part of them, and finds them wanting. They know that they would never have the guts to step into the ring against another man, and so they hide behind a facade of criticism. "I would NEVER fight anyone - not because I'm SCARED, but because its WRONG." Well, I'm sorry, but [it's] not wrong, and you are scared. And, because you are a coward, I hold you in contempt, and sincerely believe that you are less of a human being, and less of a man, than I am.
At the risk of being branded a coward, I would like to say that I have the feeling that violence can have a noble aspect only if it is targeted using intellectually sound reasoning. For example, I support the US troops and their activities abroad, but this is predicated on the idea that they are sent there by people who, while lacking their physical abilities, have developed intellectual, philosophical and moral arguments and received the public legitimacy to make those decisions. Otherwise violence is just violence and is at best, when engaged in willingly and responsibly, entertainment (and one of dubious value, in my view). I never wonder how I would measure up to a boxer: I wonder how I would measure up to these people.

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