Hockey, Art, and Libertarianism
by Ari Armstrong
[The following article originally appeared in the June 6 edition of Boulder Weekly.]
By the fourth goal of the final Avalanche game, I just started laughing. Yes, I was disappointed. But this was as good a reminder as any that it's just a game! A bunch of guys try to whack a piece of hard rubber into a net -- what's that about?
Pamela White worries that "we spend the bulk of our free time in pursuits that, at best, can be described as escapist." The focus of her May 30 article is Avalanche hockey, though she admits to seeing Lord of the Rings 16 times. (So was it Frodo's hairy feet or Gandalf's booming voice?)
By my count, around 46 of the 56 total pages of the Boulder Weekly -- more than 80 percent -- were devoted to diversion. Escapism, it would seem, is White's bread and butter.
I'm basically sympathetic with her concerns. Are we letting "things that matter... fall by the wayside?" Perhaps many of us are. Are we, as White suggests, starting to reflect the nihilistic Roman culture that accompanied that empire's decline?
Perhaps part of White's frustration is that she springs from the "all we need is love" school of political philosophy. She says she used to ask people at sporting events, "Can you imagine this many people at a rally for public education?"
"Let's hear it for letting politicians control our children's education! Yea!" Democratic socialism just isn't inspiring. It's the political equivalent of the Avs' embarrassment in their last hockey game. Only by the third or fourth goal, Bob Hartley and the Avs knew they'd been beaten. The sycophants of the aggrandized state not only fail to replace their goaltender, they seriously believe they're headed into overtime.
I think White watched LOTR so often because deep down she realizes she's a libertarian and she yearns to get in touch with that part of her personality. Release the Ring of Power, Pamela! Melt it down. The libertarian way is live and let live, voluntary interactions, and denying the initiation of force. Sounds a little like Lennon's maxim, after all, and more fully realized.
Soap-box aside, my goal is to explain why neither LOTR nor hockey is necessarily escapist. Art plays a crucial role in our lives, and in some respects sports are similar to art.
In the Romantic Manifesto, Ayn Rand discusses the significance of art. A work of art brings our "concepts to the perceptual level of [our] consciousness and allows [us] to grasp them directly, as if they were precepts... Art is the indispensable medium for the communication of a moral ideal."
Art summarizes the vastness and messiness of life and brings out what's really important in a form that can be recognized in a moment. I hardly ever see a movie more than once. I saw LOTR twice -- and plan to see it again -- because it does such a good job of illustrating the virtues of courage and loyalty to principle.
One of my favorite painters is Michael Newberry (www.michaelnewberry.com). His painting "Denouement" lets me experience immediately the value and significance of romantic love. When I spent a summer working in D.C., I often visited "Morning," a statue in the Smithsonian by Rodin. It helped me feel the joy of awakening and experiencing the world in a fresh way.
Not only is art not escapist, it serves the exact opposite function. It serves to connect us to our lives and put us in touch with what's really important.
Sports achieve a lot of purposes that have nothing to do with art, like physical fitness. And sports can never do what (good) art does. However, in some respects sports can accomplish some of the same things. Watching sports can also become an act of escape, as White warns. Certainly it's not a good idea to spend vast tracts of time in front of the television regardless of what's on.
So why did I watch most of the Avalanche playoff games? There, in the span of three hours, we can watch highly skilled and dedicated athletes put out their greatest effort to achieve a common goal. Yes, the goal is kind of silly when you think about it: putting a puck in a net, hitting a ball over the fence, or kicking a football through the goal posts. But it is the contest that inspires. Seeing people at their best, giving it their all.
In life, our goals are often long-term. It's easy to get so caught up in the details of our lives that we forget to pay attention to the really important stuff. Watching two great hockey teams battle it out for three hours -- and then in a best-of-seven series -- sort of encapsulates what it means to have a goal and to strive for it. It gives us a taste of victory, when in life we may work for years before we get to celebrate.
What I love about hockey is that the teams always shake hands after the game. Even though Roy and his teammates got beat badly, the other guys patted them on the shoulder and told them they're still great players. The Wings coach said, "You did a good job."
There's something I respect about the Wings, down 3-2 in the series, who battled back to win the series. In sports, there is some inherent respect for your opponents. Just like it should be in real life. In sports, even the losers taste optimistic adrenaline, and they also collect a hefty paycheck for their efforts. And there's always next season. If you play your heart out, there are never any real losers.
The best sports fans may root for specific teams, but they respect talent and drive no matter where it's found. That's how it should be throughout life. Life in a free society is not a zero-sum game; our relationships are based on mutual benefit. The "losers" of one competition go on to achieve success in some other area. In sports, if one team hoists the Cup, the other teams necessarily don't. Hopefully, however, all the players still enjoyed the game, benefited financially, and respected the talent of the winner.
I can't name all the Avalanche players, and I don't fully understand all the calls. But there's something thrilling about watching a great setup in front of the net. The graceful pass, the powerful shot that lands the puck in the upper corner of the net. Talent. Skill. Drive. Cooperation to mutual benefit. Sports, like art, can serve to inspire us and connect us to what's best in our lives.