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.