The world is coming together. Not in some utopian sense that I imagined in my communist youth. Nor is it coming together willingly, enthusiastically or in any sense, in a planned way. But coming together it surely is albeit kicking and screaming like a child being forced to go to school for the first time. Still clinging on to the old myths and institutions of nation, religion and race, yet day by day at exponential rate, the world is becoming one entity. Hooray! The process may take another hundred years to solidify and maybe a few more centuries to fully mature but what are a few hundred years compared to the millennia that have already passed in the human story.

What are the material forces at work in this accelerated development where humans are taking their first tentative steps out of their own grubby, tribal prehistory? I would suggest technology is the driver. In a sense, we've been here before with the advent of the printing press and the associated communication revolution that that ushered in. Then came a series of industrial revolutions firstly based on steam, then electricity and more recently with atomic energy. So you could argue that what is happening today is merely another chapter in the unfolding story of human technological innovation. But it is tempting to opt for the alternative argument that something qualitatively different has occurred with the computerisation of technology with its most visible and popular manifestation, the globally linking internet.

 

While I try not to get caught up with all the hype surrounding each new development on the information super highway, I cannot but shake my head in disbelief at the speed of it all, where within a few years we can realistically expect every book ever published and every piece of music ever recorded and every film ever created to be at our digital finger tips but furthermore, and this is the nub of the matter, that all this is becoming available to a growing proportion of the planet's population. A villager in India, South America or Africa, armed with a basic computer and an internet connection can access the lot; information, education and globalized culture (more of which later) Overnight an isolated villager becomes a citizen of the world no matter what designs their local masters have for them and no matter how the masters of global capitalism seeks to exclude them from their rightful spoils of human endeavour. For once one has a clearer picture of the injustice of global capitalism it cannot be long before those most oppressed and excluded will come banging on the door. That is their inalienable right.

 

Connected to all this exhilarating technology comes the down side .Chronic pollution and planet overheating leading to god knows where: bacteria that are becoming increasingly resistant to our earlier discovery of antibiotics; new diseases that spread nearly as quickly as information on the super highway; and weapon systems that can simply obliterate life itself. But bleak as these developments may be they are surely a crucial part of the globalisation process because they collectively make an unequivocal statement: either we survive together or we perish together. Marx, I recall, said it more poignantly; 'either socialism or barbarism', and that is the crossroads we have now all reached.

 

Then there is capitalism itself. Technology does not exist in a vacuum. All our new fast flying digital technology is inextricably linked to the prevailing economic system of the day, capitalism. And while we can debate whether capitalism has exhausted its creative, revolutionary potential, I think we can agree that the first five hundred years of capitalism has seen an unprecedented growth in all aspects of human knowledge and associated technology. After a thousand years or more of relative human stagnation under the stultifying land based feudal system of production, notwithstanding some major leaps forward in the Arabic and Chinese civilizations, capitalism unlocked a pent up energy that has transformed nearly every aspect of human activity. The real question is this: is capitalism now retarding human development or does it still have some more laps to run?

 

The one thing that capitalism required for its meteoric growth was a cheap and plentiful energy source other than brute human and animal labour. Coal and then oil were the answers. Now we have reached the period of 'peak oil' where existing sources of fossil fuels are declining and becoming increasingly more expensive to extract and where new sources are becoming increasingly hard to locate. Hence the obvious transition to renewables but the capitalist conglomerates are proving very reluctant to make the switch. Clearly, finite resources like oil make for better profit margins than the infinite energy of the sun and the wind and the seas. Here is a classic case of capitalism acting to retard human development and the depressing corollary; the longer we remain wedded to fossil fuels the greater the likelihood of doing irreparable damage to the Earth's ecosystems. Not only then is capitalism retarding human development, it is threatening to derail it permanently. The irony of course is that these global corporations have become so powerful that they can extract huge state subsidises and are now at the point where many cannot survive without state bailouts. The irony being that our tax revenues are now being used at a phenomenal rate to prop up a system which is patently acting against the wider interests of humanity. Something will have to give. 

 

'In fifty years history barely moves a day yet in one day it can move fifty years.' Another of those famous Marxist truisms. Have we reached such a point now? The speed of events certainly suggest so. Who could have imagined just twelve months ago that General Motors, that flag bearer of US corporate capitalism, would have to be saved from bankruptcy by the US taxpayer? And they are only one of many. Are we now moving to a new phase of human organisation, a form of state funded capitalism or perhaps even the transition to state socialism? Has the world economy become so interrelated that only global governance can work? Has the twentieth century struggle between capitalism and state socialism created some unforeseen synthesis, a kind of hybrid between the two? Clearly we are too close to events to see what is actually happening but what is clear is that the culmination of economic, ecological and political crises made more acute by the epoch of peak oil and made more visible to ever more people by the digital information revolution, has led humanity to a crossroads never before encountered. 

 

 

Hovering over all this economic, technological and political activity is a new global culture to which sport, the immediate interest of this website, is very much a part of.

The defining features of this new culture are invariably banal, escapist, dehumanising and naturally, emanating from corporate capitalism, consumerist throughout. There are noble, truly life enhancing exceptions in all genre; literature, film, music, theatre and even sport. But these exceptions, and of course we are in the realm of high subjectivity here, are in constant danger of being submerged in a sea of vacuous dross. Here though, is not the moment to expand on this thesis generally. My intention is to cast an eye more specifically on what globalised sport has become as we stand at the crossroads of human affairs. 

 

Sport as a new religion. I certainly won't be the first to advance that proposition. The picture is depressingly familiar. Multi- millionaires, nay billionaires, buying chunks of the sporting world as play things to enhance their playboy status. Corporate conglomerates, whose wealth is invariably tied up with the exploitation of cheap third world labour, sponsoring the superstars in each sport. Like everything that capitalism touches, athletes are reduced to mere commodities, bought and sold in the market place like cattle, though extremely well paid cattle. Loyalty to club or community a distant memory. And rich and poor alike, we all buy into it. What else have we to divert our attentions? Bread and circuses as the Romans would say. Religions are fading in their powers of persuasion though not nearly as fast as I once imagined. In fact if we include the fundamentalists of all religions there might even be construed something of a renaissance of the religious ideal. But even the most fanatical of mullahs, be they Christian, Hindu, Muslim or Jew, seem powerless to dampen our enthusiasm for our new sporting gods. That they receive obscenely grotesque remuneration for their efforts only seems to add to their allure. In the streets of Tehran, Islamabad and Pyongyang through to the Western capitals of New York, Sydney, London, Moscow and Berlin this religious fervour knows no national bounds. No continent is left out; no village too small and no metropolis too sophisticated to resist the lure of the new gods. Our personal calendars are set to the rhythm of the sporting calendar. The Christmas and New Year football fixtures are what Christmas time is all about. Summer is Wimbledon, The Ashes, and in the even years, The World Cup and the Olympics.

 

Should we cheer this new secular religion? I, for one, certainly will not mourn the passing of the medieval superstitions that we irrationally refer to as the Orthodox religions. Virgin births, resurrections, heaven and hell, all knowing, all seeing gods: this is the stuff of primitive, childish fairy tales. Surely it is time to put away these childish things. But nature abhors a vacuum. We must have something to worship other than ourselves. While swathes of the planet wither under the combined nightmare of global warming, economic plunder and political corruption, we collude with the moral obscenity of paying our sporting gods ever higher mountains of gold.

Just as we, today, look back at slavery and shake our heads in moral condemnation, so too, I suspect, will future generations condemn our heartless preoccupations.

 

The political dialectic however, knows no morality. Yes, professional sport has become a modern day obscenity and a diversion of religious proportions, but it also heralds a global culture that increasingly binds us together. Africa, the most used and abused of continents, rejoins the world community as it prepares to host the FIFA World Cup. North Korea, that pariah state of the corporate world, will be there. Iran, another pariah tried to get there but failed. Every country wants to be there and every citizen will dream the dream. For an illusionary moment the world will be one, locked together in a global fantasy as the impending economic, environmental and political crises are put on hold.

 

The picture of world sport is undeniably ugly yet who could deny that our global, corporate sporting jamborees are locking an ever greater proportion of the World's population into a single emotional mindset. In this respect it could be argued that sport is ahead of our political institutions. World governance of football is more advanced than world governance per se. For example, UEFA includes Russia as an integral part of European football but politically Russia is still excluded from European political institutions, a clear relic of the Cold War mentality. Similarly, the IOC regards North Korea, Iran and Cuba as part of the World family yet politically they remain isolated. Once again sport leads the way. The most famous of all examples is the Ping Pong diplomacy of the 1970's where table tennis was able to lead a rapprochement between East and West.

 

So the dialectic is clear enough. Sport as a new diversionary, secular religion and sport as a medium for dragging the world's nations into one collective entity. In twelve months time this dialectical conundrum will be seen in stark relief as the FIFA World Cup plays itself out amidst the economic and social poverty that Africa has been reduced to after 500 years of colonial plunder. Which of these opposites predominate will be a matter of intense subjective interpretation.

 

 

Last Updated ( Saturday, 26 May 2018 15:41 )