Sunday, December 13, 2015

Baseball Warriors for Peace

Before re-shelving The Brothers K, another intriguing passage to share:
“ I cherish a theory I once heard that professional baseball is inherently antiwar. The most overlooked cause of war, this theory runs, is that it’s so damned interesting. It takes hard effort, skill, love and a little luck to make times of peace consistently interesting. About all it takes to make war interesting is a life. The appeal of trying to kill others without being killed yourself, is that it brings suspense, terror, honor, disgrace, rage, tragedy, treachery and occasionally even heroism within range of guys who, in times of peace, might lead lives of unmitigated blandness. But baseball is one activity that is able to generate suspense and excitement on a national scale, just like war. And baseball can only be played in peace. Hence the theory that pro ballplayers—little as some may want to hear it—are basically just a bunch of unusually well-coordinated guys working hard and artfully to prevent wars, by making peace more interesting.” (p. 517)
Intriguing thoughts, yes? And of course, not just baseball, but just about any sport is filled with suspense and honor and heroism and also the disgrace of the missed shot or dropped pass, the tragedy of the injured player. Like war, team sports have enemies to be vanquished and in the days of the samurai, there was great skill and cunning and training involved. Modern warfare has reduced it to button-pushed weaponry and where’s the honor in that?

Sports are so damn interesting because the players are called to the field or court by a passion sparked in childhood and cultivated through rigorous training and dedicated commitment. (Now there is the complication of seven-figure salaries that devalues the purity of the love for the game and the particular team, but that’s another matter.) So yes, organized sports offer young men—and now women—something more interesting than war and while it clearly hasn’t stopped wars, it remains a worthy substitute for handling disputes. Why not playoff games over oil rights or land disputes? Still a winner and a loser, but no one gets killed.
But sports aren’t the only game in town. Playing in a band, for example, has the same qualities of passion ignited mysteriously and followed by discipline and dedication. The suspense inherent in a jazz improvisation is enough to lift us out of our dull and predictable lives, the terror of facing the 88 keys or six strings every day is enough to get anyone’s testosterone—or estrogen—pumping. There certainly can be rage, tragedy and treachery (see the movie Black Swan) in the arts, but to my mind, it’s even a better substitute for war and higher up the evolutionary ladder from sports because there are no winners and losers. Yes, there is the occasional battle of the bands and the number one hit on the hit parade and the one who made the audition and the one who didn’t. But especially in my world of music education through the Orff approach, the battle is with oneself and oneself alone, finding what you can express and what you can contribute and refreshing both yourself and your fellow players and your audience with your efforts.
And there’s more. The rage and tragedy of war kills the human spirit, as just about any vet can testify. But in music, it simply can be expressed and transformed through the catharsis of a John Coltrane searing and probing solo or the haunting refrains of the Mozart Requiem. And then there’s beauty. Sports also can have moments of great beauty, but it always takes second seating to the final score. In sports, beauty can be a by-product, but in the arts, it’s the very center of the enterprise. And it is hard won by “effort, skill, love and a little luck,” worthy of interest and an antidote to both the allure of war and the dull blandness of a life spent in an office cubicle, shopping in a mall, living off of other’s interesting lives through constant TV viewing or living the glory of sports vicariously as a fan. Choosing work—paid or not—that requires discipline, intelligence and dedicated effort and also refreshes the world with beauty or service or healing, is the best antidote to war that we can imagine.
And so baseball as a living practice of peace. (And basketball players as warriors for peace—especially the Golden State Warriors, who have produced 28 peace-filled days in a row!) But still there’s the sadness of the teams they beat. So I prefer musicians like Jackie Rago, who led a remarkable group of Venezuelan musicians tonight at La Peña Cultural Center with music that raised the roof and her drumming solo that was even more interesting than a grand slam three runs down in the bottom of the 9th at the World Series. 
I hereby nominate Jackie Rago for the Noble Peace Prize!

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