Conversation, Sport and Reductionism

Tim Rogers’ article, “the eleven most boring conversations i can’t stop overhearing”, begins innocently enough as a minor rant about tedious discussions of hot sauce, but gradually becomes an impassioned discourse about tolerance and understanding, through the lens of everyday conversation. It’s really good. His final item covers people who make a very public point of saying they don’t care about sport:

Instead of letting me know what you don’t care about, why don’t you let me know what you do care about? If I can’t convince you that anyone can like sports and that maybe you just need to think about sports differently, why don’t you just not bring up a conversation topic for the sole reason of saying it doesn’t interest you?

This made me think of two things: first, the classic The Onion article, Area Man Constantly Mentioning He Doesn’t Own A Television. Second, the people who say about football “it’s just a bunch of millionaires kicking a leather sphere around a field!” (or one of the many variations thereof).

Well, yes. It’s that. And religion is just a bunch of people going to an old building and singing songs to an imaginary friend. And birthday parties are just people giving each other things they probably could have got for themselves and saved a lot of bother. And cinema-going is just a bunch of people sitting in a dark room and watching projected images of other people pretending to be someone else.

Any human social activity that is stripped of its accrued meaning will— almost without exception—appear ridiculous. It’s cultural reductionism, and the practice of it doesn’t mean you’re incredibly smart and superior, but rather boring and perhaps a bit smug. This quote (from the article Reductionism Undermines Both Science and Culture) puts it well:

Reductionistic thinking leaves little room for variety, cultural traditions, living urban environments, or religion, thus reducing our worldview to a sterile minimalism bereft of several of the most glorious achievements of evolved human civilization.

Also published on Medium.