Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Sport, Society and G4S

The impending Olympics and the scandal over G4S's failure to supply contract security staff present a snapshot of our society. On the one hand, we can organise a vast collective celebration of human physical prowess for the whole world; on the other, the outsourcing of our concerns about the threat to our political order to an enormous private company has made us something of a laughing stock.

Both sides of this paradox can be traced to our stone-age heritage. We survived and prospered as a species, despite our relatively puny physique and our massive need of protein for our large brains, because we were capable of conceiving and executing fairly complex forms of collective action, such as persistence hunting in groups. Here the skills of a few members complemented the ingenuity of those who planned the operations, and the patience of those who made up the numbers.

But such predatory collective forays, which also could involve conflicts with other such groups, always ended with feasts and celebratory chanting, dancing and drinking round a fire. We have been shaped by evolution, both as individuals and as groups, for these activities; yet modern society seldom supplies us with opportunities - except brifly in our teenage years - to behave as gangs of hunters, or tribes of alcohol-fuelled ravers. And, of course, the Olympic Games -  for their few participants.

Instead, the majority of us are trapped in lives of quiet, conformist, domestic desperation, and many suffer terribly from the afflictions of anxiety, depression or back pain. We turn to therapists rather than witch doctors for remedies, and we would never accept a prescription of night pursuit of wild beasts or mass ritual feasting for our ills. Only one third of us take any exercise at all, a recent report in The Lancet revealed, and this is fatal for as many of as as smoking and obesity are.

Our individual worries are mirrored in our governments' concerns about the threat of terrorism by those who reject consumerism and secularism as the bases for societies. These covert forces from a bygone age of superstitious violence must  be deterred by shows of strength (warships in the Thames, fighter jets overhead), and monitored by guards on the ground, especially at the Olympic venues.

Unfortunately, we cannot mobilise our citizens to defend their democratic and enlightened way of life, to take collective action against these foes. They are too busy sitting at home watching the Olympics on TV, and taking tranquilisers. Our police and army could have done it, but this would have been expensive, looked bad in the public accounts, and sinned against the prevailing orthodoxy of contractual outsourcing. So we brought in G4S to quell our fears; the rest is history.

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