That po' PoMo mo'fo is a little light with Bau, methinks. So?
Strange thing: Linds and I have both used the metaphor of Monopoly as a classroom teaching tool. In her case, it was to create an incentive framework for a grade 5 physical education class; in mine, it was to describe the sport management industry on an undergraduate final. In our humble opinions, each proved to be a successful classroom intervention.
The connection to sport and sportsBabel is this: if other forms of play may be used as teaching tools, then why not sport? And not just the traditional physical-education-as-body-movement, but the teaching of the entire curriculum through the lens of sport and bodily experience, with an intellectual debt of gratitude to Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences. Could this work?
Streakers may be viewed as spectators breaching the sanctity of the playing area created by modern sport.
The WWF, in wrestling outside of the ring, on the steps, in the locker room — indeed, in all of society — may be viewed as participants breaching the playing area created by modern sport.
In postmodern sport, the membrane that creates the necessary critical distance between participant and spectator becomes permeable.
Bakhtin's (in Hemphill, 1995) conception of the grotesque:
images the human body as multiple, bulging, over- or under-sized, protuberant and incomplete. The openings and orifices of this carnival body are emphasized, not its closure and finish. It is an image of impure corporeal bulk with its orifices (mouth, flared nostrils, anus) yawning wide and its lower regions (belly, legs, feet, buttocks and genitals) given priority over its upper regions (head, 'spirit', reason).
When David Lynch created The Elephant Man, was he foreshadowing society's acceptance of the grotesque body in sport, which we see in the hypermuscularity of the WWF, the anorexia of women's gymnastics, or the silicone implants of much sports marketing?
Hemphill, D. (1995). Revisioning sport spectatorism. Journal of the philosophy of sport, 22. 48-60.
When an athlete wears a prosthetic technology, such as a knee brace, the muscles, tendons and ligaments around that are weakened, amputated or outered in a McLuhanesque fashion.
When a skilled athlete is produced by disciplinary technologies of space, time and modality of movement, the unpredictable is predictably weakened, amputating the central nervous system in the process.
And if the yoke of technology is not thrown off early, a downward spiral of mutual dependency is created that the athlete is too weak to escape.
July 2, 2002
MARSHALL MCLUHAN ONCE WROTE that "Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity." In today's era of brand-driven hypermarketing, racial and ethnic profiling, and Internet-based anonymity, identity can prove an elusive concept, and not just within our borders. I disagree with McLuhan, though, and suggest that a Canadian identity does exist, though it languishes in a state of paradox. In a brief five-and-a-half months, we witnessed the full breadth of this paradox, reflected in the mirror to the south we call the United States of America.
On September 11, 2001, we mourned with our partners in democracy as twin symbols of western prosperity bloomed into ugly black flowers of dust and debris and collapsed to the earth. The event sent shockwaves throughout our collective psyche, no matter that the incident occurred some distance from our geographic boundaries.
A short time later, at the red, white and blue pageant that was the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games, we collectively rejoiced as our men's national hockey team defeated the enemy to the south, while our CBC brought the moving narrative of the medal ceremony to an estimated one-third of the nation's population — the highest audience in Canadian television history. No matter that most of our players earn their daily bread in the U.S., or that only a short time ago these were our partners in democracy — something changed that day about what it meant to be a Canadian.
What changed was that Canadians chose to identify themselves through the lens of sport, or to be more specific, through a team sport: "we're glad to be like the Americans, but we're sure glad not to be the Americans." Given the brutal yet elegant mathematics of team sport — for every winner, there is a loser — the notion is troubling — what if we had lost that gold medal hockey game?
I will attempt to resolve this problem, however, by shifting the team narrative from one that is results-oriented to one that is more process-oriented, and in doing so, provide a political vision for the future of Canada. And despite my earlier misgivings, McLuhan will guide us as the team's coach.
The composition of a successful team
Beyond pure skill and determination, there are four main factors that are required for a team to be successful at the highest level (and I believe it to be no overstatement when I say that the future of the world is competition at the 'highest level"): a star, a leader, team chemistry, and a shared sense of purpose.
Note that I have listed "star" and "leader" separately, for on many of the best teams, the leader is never the star player, although he or she is usually a very good player. A great leader must manage the myriad interests of all team members, from the star to the seldom-used reserve, while maintaining the shared sense of purpose necessary to be successful. Initially, these interests are often in conflict with one another, but the true leader manages to overcome this by developing team chemistry between the various parties.
Now, you might feel that the metaphor has become patently obvious, but if the reader permits that the level of sophistication goes somewhat deeper, I will show why this relationship is paramount, and what actions Canada must take to become the true leader of the greatest team ever assembled: Team Earth.
A shared sense of purpose: Team Earth
Perhaps the reason that Canada has always looked for its reflection in the U.S. mirror is that a north-south flow is more natural (in terms of trade, time zones, etc.) than the east-west axis that currently defines the nation. Indeed, regions across Canada often share more in common with neighbours to the south than they do with other regions in the country. However, this does not presuppose that the notion of Canada as a nation state has drawn to its logical conclusion, for in the era of networked communications, north-south is as relevant as east-west, which is to say of limited relevance.
Imagine being a policy maker back in the fifteenth century shortly after Gutenberg invented his printing press: what an exhilarating, scary, hopeful, energetic time it must have been! Over the next three hundred years, the printing press revolutionized the dissemination of information, eventually leading to the rise of classical economics, the extension of deconstructionist science, and the creation of the modern nation state.
We are at such a time once again. The Internet is radically transforming all aspects of society, shifting us inexorably towards non-linearity and integration. It is important for policy makers to consider the fundamental nature of the paradigm shift to come, in order to improve our living standards and ensure a secure and prosperous global community.
To make sense of this shift, I would like to introduce the concept of Team Earth. This team has for its players every country on the globe, and its practices are also its games. The games are economical, social, political and cultural, and the results of each game affect the results of other games.
Team Earth has no opponents; instead, it is unique in team sport in that it competes solely against itself. In this case, the winner-loser dynamic shifts dramatically, as either all countries win or all lose. Nobel Prize-winning economists Myron Scholes and Robert Merton discovered this fact to their dismay in 1998 when Long Term Capital Management almost toppled the world's economy. The lesson? Economic processes have their basis in social processes, which have their basis in cultural processes, and so on. Team Earth is not your average team.
The need for team chemistry
From the beginning of human existence, we have fragmented into an astonishing diversity of peoples, languages, religions and cultures. With such an historical perspective in mind, the notion that electric technologies are once again integrating us into a global society becomes dizzying.
One thing is certain: we must learn to appreciate the contributions of all players on Team Earth: the star, the leader, as well as the role players. No one player can win without the contributions of the others, which means that we must embrace a society that values debate between cultures rather than homogenization into one culture. We also must provide the tools, in the form of socially-responsible capitalism, to allow all players to maximize their individual potentials and contribute to Team Earth's success.
Put another way, for nation states to remain relevant in the coming decades and centuries, they must become protectors of cultures, rather than of geographical economies. The globalization of multinational companies has shifted power structures away from most nation states, which are too slow to keep pace with the speed of business; automation and the electronification of money ensure that these multinationals are fluid enough to compete and that the power shift will be complete.
Business is a social process as well as an economic one, though. Innovation is born from cultural differences rather than cultural similarities; thus, if Team Earth becomes a collection of greedy individuals simply looking to meet the bottom line without concern for local cultures, we will not innovate rapidly enough to address the future needs of civilization. In this light, governments can remain relevant by being the guardians of culture and must support initiatives that protect cultures. Such initiatives can take myriad forms, but in this essay I will suggest three: developing community business through microfinance, funding the expression of culture through arts and new media, and creating leaders for Team Earth by investing heavily in public education.
Microfinance is viewed by many as a Third World concept — after all, we are one of the prosperous G8 countries, so why would we need something like microfinance? The answer is that the concentration of wealth in Canada (as well as other industrialized nations) is highly centralized in certain geographic areas, and more specifically in certain cities.
In the decentralized, non-linear world of the future, however, labour will not have to concentrate in large urban centres to share in this wealth. Internet-enabled telework will allow Canadians to maintain a high standard of living while enjoying the quality of life found in a less congested environment. This is particularly true given Canada's current position in the global information economy of service provision.
The question becomes how to manage the coming transition resulting from deurbanization. The Connecting Canadians broadband initiative is an excellent beginning, but will only be as useful as the ability of our citizens to leverage such a valuable resource. To do so, they will require entrepreneurial training and financial resources, which will enable the creation of vibrant, sustainable community business. In turn, we will have completed one step towards the creation of vibrant, sustainable community cultures.
This same model can be used to export socially-responsible capitalism to other players on Team Earth. By doing so, the entire team will be stronger, and those players who rarely have the chance to shine in the spotlight will at times have their opportunity. As a result, Canada — the leader — will earn the respect of its teammates on Team Earth.
If community entrepreneurship is a desirable goal then what businesses are we to create? Once again I will return to our prophetic coach Marshall McLuhan, who suggested that we look to artists for the answers. McLuhan believed that artists are the antennae of a society, detecting shifts in the world and expressing them through paint, sculpture, verse and song. If he is correct, then business requires cultural "translators" to decipher the meaning inherent in works of art and translate them into useful products and services for society's benefit.
This is perhaps the most challenging task of all for government — art is often seen as antithetical to business, and as a result has been steadily squeezed from school curricula as well as the daily lives of many families. What a tragedy! Cultures throughout history had citizens that were great artists and athletes, great governors as well as poets. Somehow we have lost sight of this over the last two centuries of increasing specialist practice.
In the era of integration, however, art must become more a part of our daily lives, if for no other reason than to continue the successes of our economy and the prosperity of our nation. We must continue to ensure that Canadians have access to museums as cultural amplifiers; we must increase our funding for arts programs or provide incentives for corporations to do so; and we must ensure the survival of the CBC as a disseminator of Canadian culture. A failure to do so places in jeopardy our ability to ensure a high standard of living and maintain a leadership role on Team Earth.
Another means of ensuring that art remains a vital part of our everyday lives is by returning it to a position of prominence in public education. This can be accomplished by understanding that learning and training are two separate phenomena; the former is the tool of the knowledge worker while the latter is the affliction of those that will be automated out of a job. Teacher accountability formulae and standardized testing only drive us closer to a society where training reigns supreme?to our detriment in the end.
Education must return to developing environments for learning. This requires innovative approaches to the notion of teaching, which will inevitably incur a huge cost to society, but one that we must bear. In what is likely a suicidal move for a politician, but an essential move for Canadian public policy, I suggest that the necessary funds come at the expense of health care.
The recent respective labour disputes in Alberta between the provincial government, health care professionals and education professionals illustrate an important problem where long-term policy must take precedence over short-term politicking. Public opinion clearly supported the health care professionals while rebelling against those in education. This sets a dangerous precedent: we are in the Information Revolution, and education is the fundamental pillar upon which Canada's future prosperity lies.
Instead, we have an aging population of Baby Boomers that will bankrupt the universal health care system to extend the average life span by a couple of years, while doing little to create new wealth for Canada in the process. And the public shortsightedly supports such a future. If we continue along this path, Canada is doomed to be absorbed by the United States and any argument for cultural sovereignty will be moot — we simply won't be able to afford it.
Canada must begin to make a transition from funding universal health care to increasing support for public education, not only for youth, but for life-long learning to continually re-skill a dynamic workforce. A failure to do so will jeopardize Canada's position in the global information economy, as highly-educated developing nations (witness the Philippines) boost productivity domestically and carve niches in world markets.
In doing so, we must understand that learning and demonstrating intellectual ability takes many different forms (what Howard Gardner referred to as Multiple Intelligences). Art (and ironically sport) is as valuable to educating the public as are math lectures or science labs. The problem, however, is that art cannot be easily measured on a multiple choice exam for bureaucratic purposes. Policy makers must be courageous in rejecting conformist modes of teaching while charging educators with developing new tools for assessing the learning of students — in an information economy, it matters not how one learns, but if one learns. Too often these days, the answer to that if is a resounding no.
The star athlete and leadership in the 21st century
Star athletes are not infallible. Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player the world has ever known, missed some 70 game-winning shots in his career — yet was still willing to take them. He would not have possessed the intestinal fortitude necessary to take the big shots, however, if it weren't for the confidence he possessed in his teammates, and the counsel he received from leaders in his career.
Like other athletes, the star needs to be motivated at times, chastised when appropriate, and applauded when successful. This explains the significance of Canadian cultural sovereignty: we are similar enough to our neighbours to appreciate their culture, but as a true leader we must remain independent enough and strong enough to provide a counsel to the star athlete on Team Earth — leadership valued so highly that unilateralism is not an option.
Post-September 11, 2001, the threat of unilateralism is even more pronounced, and Canada may have to surrender certain aspects of military and economic sovereignty in order to remain in a leadership role. But leadership is about managing tradeoffs in a firm, yet engaging manner. If Canada is to secure an identity once and for all, it will have to look in the mirror and see a proud, competent leader. The success of Team Earth rests on it.
This essay was my submission to the 2002 As Prime Minister essay competition. Given Naomi Klein's column today in the Globe and Mail and my recent work on reconceptualizing versus, I felt it was appropriate to post the essay to sportsBabel. It will be my only commentary on the war in Iraq.