I have nothing against sports. I like to watch a good basketball game and that sort of thing.But he has reservations which rather make you wonder about the 'nothing against' bit. Here's one:
First of all, spectator sports make people more passive, because you're not doing them - you're watching somebody doing them.Hmmm... Does this problem apply to sport only? How about music, theatre, movies? Say if I turned up to hear Alfred Brendel and brought a guitar with me, so that I could join in with him - more actively. How about reading? More active than watching TV, but less active than writing. Should people who only read books and don't write books be admonished or even soundly thrashed? Where is it laid down that a good life can't include some 'passive' aspects as well as 'active' pursuits? If we're all thoroughly active doing, may we not also find time for passive admiring? And so on.
Here's more Chomsky on the following of sport:
[L]et me give an example. When I'm driving, I sometimes turn on the radio and I find very often that what I'm listening to is a discussion of sports. These are telephone conversations. People call in and have long and intricate discussions, and it's plain that quite a high degree of thought and analysis is going into that. People know a tremendous amount. They know all sorts of complicated details and enter into far-reaching discussion about whether the coach made the right decision yesterday and so on. These are ordinary people, not professionals, who are applying their intelligence and analytic skills in these areas and accumulating quite a lot of knowledge and, for all I know, understanding. On the other hand, when I hear people talk about, say, international affairs or domestic problems, it's at a level of superficiality that's beyond belief.It's sport as an opiate, isn't it? It's 'displacement from the serious problems'; and it's 'liv[ing] in a fantasy world', 'an area which has no meaning'. That's the narrowness of understanding I spoke of, and it's open to two simple responses. First, why are these strictures reserved for spectator sports, and not also say an interest in, a love of, music (and we'll make that Bach, Mozart and Schubert, shall we, rather than something more 'vulgar')? Second, since there are people who manage both to take an interest - sometimes a keen interest - in sport and to be politically engaged in one way and another, doesn't this rather sink the 'analyzing what the New England Patriots ought to do next Sunday instead of questions that really matter' counterpoint? The reasons why some people choose not to be politically involved are many and various, but pinning the explanation on their interest in sport suggests that, contrary to his own disclaimer, Chomsky does have something against sport - like a snooty attitude, for example. (Thanks: RB.)
In part, this reaction may be due to my own areas of interest, but I think it's quite accurate, basically. And I think that this concentration on such topics as sports makes a certain degree of sense. The way the system is set up, there is virtually nothing people can do anyway, without a degree of organization that's far beyond anything that exists now, to influence the real world. They might as well live in a fantasy world, and that's in fact what they do. I'm sure they are using their common sense and intellectual skills, but in an area which has no meaning and probably thrives because it has no meaning, as a displacement from the serious problems which one cannot influence and affect because the power happens to lie elsewhere.
[I]t does not require very far-reaching, specialized knowledge to perceive that the United States was invading South Vietnam. And, in fact, to take apart the system of illusions and deception which functions to prevent understanding of contemporary reality, that's not a task that requires extraordinary skill or understanding. It requires the kind of normal skepticism and willingness to apply one's analytical skills that almost all people have and that they can exercise. It just happens that they exercise them in analyzing what the New England Patriots ought to do next Sunday instead of questions that really matter for human life, their own included.