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The Olympics: a critic’s viewpoint

I read this interview with Wilf Self on and I have pulled out this extract where Self labels the Olympics as horseshit. Some of his points? Well it’s hard to not agree in parts, particularly about the role of corporate sponsorship, but what intrigued me most was his assertion, that I have put in bold type, where he states that winning and losing are essentially functionless human endeavours.

Philosophically, I might end up agreeing, but I would need a long time to think about it. However, biologically and evolutionally speaking (is that a word, or did it just evolve?), winning and trying not to lose have been physically and mentally hard-wired for our survival.

In the world of Will Self, would we then become, ideally, brains in boxes, or, is there still something to be said for celebrating the possibilities of whole humans: body, mind and soul?

Not sure, just asking.

    From street games to the Games, will you give us a cynic’s word on the Olympics?

I’ve been a constistently outspoken critic of the whole thing. I object to my tax money being wasted on it, and I object to performance sport in general. I think it’s horseshit. Why don’t you just go run in a field, with sheep? It’s meaningless that some guy on a bicycle gets given 20 million quid. And the way the Olympics exist in a grotesque linkage or synergy with the international finance capital is so obvious. Both are arenas that exalt an essentially functionless and useless human performance of winning and losing, and use that as the tail that wags the dog. That’s why the Olympics feed so enormously into the collective psyche.

    When it comes to London’s financial sporting performance, at least, we’ve seen recently that we all cheat and dope.

Exactly. The anology continues. HSBC has its doping scandal, as athletics has its own. The two of them are mirror images. No one should be shocked that there is corruption in the Olympics – that tickets are sold through foreign agents, that athletes are taking drugs and have huge financial contracts, that sponsors refuse to let people wear T-shirts with other corporate logos on them, that Macdonald’s makes you fat, that the infrastructure built in Stratford is useless to anybody, and that the Olympic legacy will not be fulfilled.

Schadenfreude is an unpleasant attribute, but if I were prone to it I could tell you that in a month or two’s time, the cost will come home big time, and people will start getting pissed off. The government couldn’t raise the money for the Olympics through the private sector, so the taxpayer had to put the money up for it – was forced to do so, undemocratically. And we will have nothing to show for it.

Katherine Grainger & Anna Watkins earlier today

And then I must just give a quick shout out to the grammarians who are raging about like rampant bulls, thoroughly hufflepuffed by approved Olympic nouns transmogrifying into new, and non-groovy Olympic verbs like medalling, to podium and skyrocketing. They aren’t the most elegant sounding, I’ll admit, but, ’twas ever thus linguistically I’m afraid, ’twas ever thus. Google it if you don’t believe me…

The language of emotion, sensation and feelings Part I

When you start to try to explore the domain of human emotion, which we imagine is a universally shared human experience, you realise how your relationship to that which we call emotions or feelings are in some part defined by the lexicon.

For a start, the English-speaking world lack clarity of distinction between an emotion and a feeling. I have to go to work and don’t have time to elucidate on that at the moment, but there is a distinction to make biologically and cognitively.

In the meantime, I have noted that when academic efforts are made to categorise what you might call the fundamental emotions they end up with a variety of lists containing between 5 and 11 emotions, and furthermore that all of these academic sources include anger and fear, with sadness featuring on all but two.

These ‘universal’ emotions are accompanied by physical facial expressions which also seem to be recognisable throughout different people, languages and cultures.

Could it be posited that we are born with a limited emotional blueprint that we experience only as physical sensations whilst babies, unmediated by an as yet underdeveloped cognitive input? And that our emotional range then increases as the brain develops cognitive capacity?

We then learn various emotional states that I would suggest are not fundamental to human survival physically, but provide an indication of how we think we are in the world with others, which is, as any teenage schoolchild can tell you, only marginally less important than whether a lion is about to eat you up for breakfast.  By which I mean we may have learned fear from those around us quite early on, but as we increase our social networks, fear becomes more diffuse: fear of being disliked, left out, bullied for carrying the wrong bag, fear of not doing well in class…  We evolve into states of anxiety.

Some languages label these states in much greater existential detail than we have available in English. German, for example, has many more sophisticated words describing the state of being in the world although it may have only one that covers both feeling(s) and emotion(s): gefühl(e).

My question to myself (and anyone else out there) is, that although we may experience the feelings that the Germans actually have words for (or the French if we think about last week’s l’appel du vide) what do they gain, or we lose, by not being able to categorise them?

It is like holding up a linguistic mirror to the English stiff-upper lip, or the Germans’ existential angst. Does the clarity of the mirror affect the beholder’s experience of life? Too many words for the observation of feelings and you are thrown into the harsh light of life’s two-way changing room mirrors, not enough and you limit your reflective possibilities by trying to examine your existence with a handglass.

Here are a few German words that have found their way into my lexicon and other English speakers too, plus a few that, perhaps, have not, yet…

  • Schadenfreude – you know that one
  • Schwellenangst – threshold dread, the fear of going in somewhere new – something I come across a lot in community engagement work
  • Feierabend – a tricky one meaning the time you knock off work but it loses the positive accompanying feeling it signifies in German when translated into English
  • Torschlusspanik – literally a gate-closing panic but taken to mean the fear that time is running it out for you as you age
  • Gelassenheit – you could take this to mean merely composure, or you could go the whole hog and invoke the willingness to let things be as they are in all their uncertainties and mystery

I feel that that will do for a Monday morning.

Roughly translated - If I could do this day with gelassenheit I would 'be' happy