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Unknown Menaces to Civilization #1: The Game of Soccer
As an exercise in speculative thinking, let us invent an imaginary game that will help to destroy civilization as we know it.

First, the foundation of humanity's progress is surely our amazing brains, which evolved to provide us with the powerful intellects needed to innovate and respond to complex problems. Scrupulously protecting our brains from harm or injury must be the number one priority of any sane society.

So, let us invent a game that will allow, and even encourage, players to regularly use their skulls to pound against a large, hard, spherical object.

Second, while intellectual prowess is crucial, humans also need complex and delicate motor skills to implement their ideas, which is why humans also evolved strong, intricately muscled hands to perform the innumerable tasks needed to maintain our civilization. Constant practice in the use of our hands, then, could not be more central to our success as individuals and as a species.

So, let us invent a game that will, with one exception, absolutely forbid all players to ever use their hands.

Finally, while individuals with great intelligence and capable hands can achieve many things, the greatest accomplishments of a civilization will always demand the efforts of many individuals working together in a cooperative, efficient manner. Therefore, all citizens of a society must be constantly trained to work as teams in meticulously planning and executing complicated tasks.

So, let us invent a game that will, at all but the highest of professional levels, invariably devolve into mobs of players chaotically running back and forth across a field in random pursuit of a bouncing ball.

What's that, you say? Such a game has already been invented?


And its ruinous effects are a matter of public record.

*   *   *   *   *

During the first half of the twentieth century, a world obsessed with the game of soccer distinguished itself in various ways, including two world wars, innumerable smaller conflicts, acts of genocide, famines, epidemics, decadent artworks and lifestyles, and innovative forms of government like fascism and Soviet-style communism. All the while, oblivious to the game of soccer, the United States maintained a course of steady progress, overcoming the effects of an economic depression with unfailing optimism and enthusiasm to emerge, by the 1950s, as the most powerful and prosperous nation in the history of the world.

Yet in the 1960s, as everyone would agree, the United States seemed to lose its way. The Vietnam War inspired violent protests and revealed deep divisions in American society, and there emerged a new generation of rebellious youths dedicated to anarchy, drugs, and promiscuous sex. Test scores plummeted, and the United States no longer led the world in academic achievement and technological innovations. To this day, there remain widespread concerns that the United States continues to fall behind in every area, apparently destined to lose its once-dominant status in the world.

Did I mention that, at precisely the same time all of this was first happening, a massive effort was launched to encourage children to play soccer?

Thankfully, I was already in high school when misguided educators began to promote this insidious game, allowing me to escape its pernicious effects, so that, like other members of my generation, I can continue to outperform younger colleagues who were no so fortunate, and who therefore grew up regularly engaging in an activity that was endangering their brains, weakening their motor skills, and depriving them of experience in genuine teamwork.

Now, there was a seductive logic behind the campaign to force American children to play soccer. In other outdoor sports like baseball and football, it was observed, players spend most of their time standing around; soccer, in contrast, requires players to engage in constant activity, providing more exercise and promoting physical fitness. However, as was not observed, one could obtain exactly the same results by requiring children to run laps. "But that isn't very interesting," one might respond. "It's better to make exercise a game." Such an argument, in fact, destroys the premise behind the case for soccer; for, as already suggested, the game of soccer essentially is nothing more than a form of running laps. The only difference is that, instead of running within lanes in a large oval, soccer players run in a variety of directions, led by a moving ball, and enjoy the occasional diversion of kicking the ball to send everyone running in a new direction.

And this is why, at some point in their lives, all but a handful of Americans lose interest in soccer. Some children recognize almost immediately that it is a dull, pointless activity and avoid it entirely—like my own children, who were preternaturally wise enough to play the game only when a school required it. Other children play soccer for a few years before drifting away from the game in favor of other, more productive pursuits. And, despite recurring and energetic efforts to promote interest in the game, few adult Americans to this day want to watch soccer, either in stadiums or in their homes. It is this residual resistance to soccer, then, that has allowed the United States to hold its own in some areas, and to avoid a more precipitous decline in other areas.

Indeed, while I have already explained the damaging effects of playing soccer, watching soccer can also be injurious to individuals and societies. It is true that luck plays a part in every competitive sport, but in games like baseball and football, the better team will usually be able to employ its superior skills and emerge as the victor. People may be sad because their favorite team lost the World Series or the Super Bowl, but they will generally concede that the other team deserved to win. Success in soccer, however, depends on a remarkably easy accomplishment, and that is preventing someone from kicking a ball into a small space. Properly played, all soccer games should end in a scoreless tie, because even minimally competent players should always be able to stop the other team from scoring. Thus, victory in a soccer game is almost invariably a matter of luck—some accident that actually places the ball in the goal, either during the game or as a result of the "penalty kicks" so frequently required to resolve games that end in a tie.

This is why soccer games so frequently inspire strong emotions and even violent reactions. Consider this situation: you are watching a soccer game, and it is overwhelmingly obvious that, by any standard of athleticism one chooses to employ, your team is much better than the other team. However, the other team is minimally competent, so your team is unable to score. Then, one member of your team is momentarily distracted at the precise time that the ball is heading for your goal and, purely by chance, the other, inferior team scores a goal and eventually wins the game. What could possibly be more infuriating than that? It is little wonder that soccer games so frequently end with riots, or that in 1969, the nations of Honduras and El Salvador even went to war over the results of a soccer game.

Now, have the residents of an American city ever gone on an angry, destructive rampage because their team lost the World Series?

I rest my case.

*   *   *   *   *

Let me emphasize that I have no chauvinistic devotion to all things American; if you want to criticize the United States for anything ranging from its foreign policy to its tastes in music, you will get no arguments from me. But I will say one thing in favor of my native country: whenever Americans decide to play "football," they wisely require players to wear helmets to protect their brains, they let players use their hands to develop their manipulative skills, and they divide the action into discrete plays which allow them to engage in coordinated teamwork. And in these ways, they are promoting the continuing progress of human civilization.

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