On boxing, Plan B and the argument from emotion

A few weeks ago, I ran the idea for a new article on how rubbish boxing is past a friend of mine. In it, I was going to argue that the theatre of boxing was celebrating the callous violence of the sport, that we used the word ‘sport’ in this case to define an activity that has, at its root, a core goal of punching the living hell out of another human being until he/she can no longer stand up, or until some sparkly-suited gentlemen say that you were the better of the two hell-kicked-out-of people within the stipulated duration of the punch-up.

Now, my argument was that we should reject a ‘sport’ that has physical violence as its central method and physical injury as its scorecard. Because he is a kind friend, and superior in logic, he happily spanked my botty until I cried all the way home. Here are some best bits:

‘Your ignorance of combat sports in a wider context just makes this article seem like it was written by an emotive pacifist who doesn’t really take the time to understand the cultures that he’s criticising by being disparaging towards combat sports as a whole… [you’re] just succumbing to your prefrontal cortex rather than actually trying to combat it and reason. [It’s] claiming that boxing is morally wrong framed in some naturalist moral realist way when really what you’re saying is “I dont like to see it” and before considering any of the reasons that these people might do what they do. If your argument is “boxing is always wrong because violence is always wrong” then your argument is just too strong to be plausible.’

Pretty much pwned. The reason I mention this is not to justify my rambly introduction to the forthcoming actual point of this post because I’m weally weally scared you won’t like me being so self-indulgent. It has relevance because I’m a master of prose. Or something.

I was on a long car journey with my girlfriend this weekend and, after my excellent music had whetted us nicely, she recommended, to my enormous displeasure, that we listen to some Plan B. He’s very clever, she said. He hates rap, she said. You’ll like him, she said. Ten seconds or so into some song or other about stabbing someone or something, I was going batshit. My pacifist pores sweated pseudo-philosophical nonsense about non-violence and how swearing is fine but using it as a shock tactic is supposed to be, well, a shock tactic and is a little bit boring if every cunting word is cunt or clunge or bastard or boobies or muff. I have never been an attentive listener of lyrics: I could list you my ten favourite songs of all time and know the exact lyrics to, perhaps, only half of them. I just have no organ for listening to what people actually have to say, see. This was especially true with this Mr B, with me drifting in and out of dozy, passenger-seat concentration and a wilful denial of any second of his ranty rapster sing-songs. In that initial, new relationship sharing of music tastes comes the inevitable ‘so, what did you think?’, to which I unleashed, unsurprisingly, my said unphilosophical bullshit and emotive nonsense, effectively responding with a ‘HUMBUG!’, a flick of the Vs and a tantrum.

Later, after I lost the argument, it struck me how simple it is to argue from emotion, this despite considering myself both pretty rational and a bit of a moral subjectivist. In fact, my subjectivism is more of a footnote, or a starting point. I assume that no moral has a grounding in objective truth, that saying murder is bad is no more accurate than saying murder is good, that truth is, as Rorty said, “simply a compliment paid to sentences seen to be paying their way”. Now I consider this pretty good sense, that humans make ourselves pathetic by offering truth up to something or someone external to our emotions, desires and thoughts. Yet here, in the cases of boxing and Plan B, were emotional arguments that had little grounding in logic. Here, effectively, was the rub between nonfoundationalism and the moral codes we allow ourselves to call true in the fair operation of society. Non-violence, like equal pay or a nationalised NHS, is an ideology I choose to hold, one that I was defending as true via emotion, on the basis of an emotional response. My prefrontal cortex. Our emotions may be among the only barometers we have in determining what we consider ‘true’ or ‘good’. But a commitment to non-violence must go deeper than mere revulsion at violence – it must be teased out, defended, considered. Emotion may be the the truest indication of our real selves, but it cannot defend a position by itself. Thus: Plan B is shit for many, many reasons.

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