This is not about Golf
I played golf for thirty years. Sadly, neither my back nor my budget allows me to do so today. It’s a wonderful mind game. At once you against the course and against yourself, golf epitomizes the elemental expression of consciousness and world. Not that such philosophical musings occur inside the ropes. No, there, you’re talking to the ball, to yourself, to your club, the wind, or to the motley topography at hand; ‘give it a bounce right, hard bounce, come on!’. Golf is also engrossing to watch, with the added value of admiration for a shot well played, a miraculous save, a lucky break, mixed in with the less noble emotions of a voyeuristic Schadenfreude; ‘this guy’s one of the best players in the world and he just shanked it worse than me!’. All in all, golf is both the most outwardly genteel sport and the most inwardly intense.
So when the abrupt news of a merger amongst the three largest professional men’s tours broke, I was momentarily stunned. Aside from all of the rhetoric, for a moment, there really did seem to be an ethical difference between the PGA and the LIV, the latter being solely funded by Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund. But the idea that this difference, actual and defensible, had suddenly collapsed with the news of the merger, is incorrect. There was never quite that difference, given that in an average fiscal year, the corporations who front the PGA events do about 4.4 billion dollars worth of business with that same nation and its affiliates. And before I borrow from Carl Sagan by calling attention to the ‘B-word’, any way you slice it, that’s a lot of money.
Which is why, even if we will now be all the more riveted by the second season’s broadcast of ‘Full Swing’, none of this is about golf. Once back outside the ropes, in fact it is about those two very elements of our experience, as primordial as they are contemporary; consciousness and world. We are dimly aware that in wealthy quarters life proceeds quite differently than in most other places. Those of us who are in possession of such privileges consider ourselves fortunate, certainly, but as well, provide for ourselves a suite of highly rationalized validations that allow us to continue to live in such a way whilst our fellow humans suffer. It is one thing not to know, and when I was a child, I did not. But it is another to be an adult and not want to know. And this is the condition that I find myself negotiating on a daily basis, whenever I have enough presence of humane conscience for it to raise its reproachful head at all.
And contrary to the revolutionary, this is also not about capital per se. No, Marx himself was the first to state that the bourgeois mode of production, as he called it, was by far the greatest achievement of human history. This is likely why Engels and he, hypothesizing communism as an inevitable end to capital, itself proceeded simply by a change in the relations of production and not the means, which remained industrial-technical. Thus, ‘Star Trek’ communism originates in the thought of the authentic voices of the revolution; it itself is not a rationalized version thereof, but in fact the real thing. The shame of geopolitical disparity lies not so much in wealth itself, for it is often the engine for progressive change worldwide – wealth allows its holder to ‘do what thou wilt’, in classic Crowleyan fashion, and thus to slough off mere custom and with that, often antique bigotries as well – but rather in its patently pre-capitalist distribution. Wealth has replaced God, but it still owns an equally divine hand. The elites of the world, now polyglot and cosmopolitan as never before, nonetheless share that singular assignation.
Professional athletes and all the more so, entertainers, only appear to be wealthy simply because their holdings outstrip our neighbour’s and our own by orders of magnitude. But they themselves carry no weight. They are but the window-dressing of a decoy culture that ‘manufactures’ our consent to inequity, and speaking of the Saudis – and many others, to be fair – iniquity as well. Chomsky’s political writings, repetitive as they are, bring out the more or less subtle guises of a social system that must keep its own citizenry loyal through bread and circuses, and the less bread, the more circus at that. Golf, in its role as an entertainment device, is meant to fulfill this function alone. This is why there is no real difference amongst leagues. Complaints of any specific nation engaging in ‘sportswashing’ are naïve at best, at worst, part of the very decoy that insults both consciousness and world while denying to both their respective birthrights. It is another instance among many where the canny capitalist understands the stakes and the rationales and the canned anti-capitalist does not. The minstrel mass of entertainment, with its facts of sporting ‘drama’ and attendant OCD-oriented statistics, with its fictions of mediocre melodrama and tepid allegory, is the chief means of maintaining not an otherwise unmasked mode of production as a whole but rather its ever-masked relations.
Inasmuch as we are self-created agents of action in the world, we must come to grips with the equal condition of being historical constructions; in many cases, built for inaction, for lack of conscience, for the absence of reflective consciousness. This is not, nor ever, solely a personal fault. It is not a weakness of character, nor is it an authentic Zeitgeist. We are the bit players, without truly gifted, if trivial, skills, or the simple but all the more gifted nerve of pretense in their absence, whose role it is to witness the decoy drama unfold itself weekly. And each week I do so, cheering on my favorite golfers and mostly silently deriding those who, for whatever intolerance of my own, are to be shunned by any rational mind, whose consciousness of the world around him begins to blur and mute in the presence of the exciting action of a contrived moment which itself, in our shared contemporary culture, has replaced both grace and love.
G.V. Loewen is the author of 56 books in ethics, education, social theory, health and aesthetics, as well as fiction, and was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.