SI Vault
Cecil J. Burnett/Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
February 03, 1958
LOCALE Quillvania, Greece TIME circa 300 B.C. ISSUE Renewed tenure for Quillvania's coach CHARACTERS Burnatotle, a Philosopher; Millerpos, a Dental Extractor; Lorborstan, a Physician.
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February 03, 1958

Greeks Among The Ivy

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THE PHILOSOPHER: The thread on which are strung the beads of understanding of our league is that it is a union of nonaggressive equals. Nonaggressiveness is our virtue shared in common by league members. 'Tis said by the cynic that these nonaggressive ones, the meek, will inherit the next life, but here and now they build community. These genuine elite appeal to patience, proceed by means of persuasion and thus reach goals indirectly. The aggressive proceed directly. Thus the aggressive unequals are mental athletes.

In a collective of equals and unequals there must be either total control or total chaos. Plato's Republic is thus the one alternative based upon the radical distribution of reason. He chose total control. But Aristotle dismissed the alternatives of total chaos by denying the premise. All those who are equal to each other in virtue by way of prudence and reason must join with each other to form a more perfect union. This union of discriminating equals is more consistent with human dignity and more consonant with nature than Platonic servitude to a master. Plato confused the hierarchical importance of the number one with the functional equality of all numbers. It is absurd to believe that any number has more utility than another. Aristotle would unify the even numbers; and the odd numbers would be slaves.

THE PHYSICIAN: Plato, Aristotle, chaos....

THE PHILOSOPHER: In this union or league of likeness of mind and heart, there is present the opportunity to exploit further the higher realms of reason unimpeded by laggard unequals. The Hellenic League of superior equals is thus our salvation. Our salvation will be found in the higher realms of research and will result in a progressive increase in the scientific and moral distance between ourselves and the barbarians. The more often our members consort with those unequal to ourselves the more the quantitative mass imperils with its contagion of mediocrity the qualitative elite. Contagion of our league by the barbarians from without will be an irremedial injury to all those in the world who seek the good life. Because members of our league must continually practice the youngest of virtues, integrity, we cannot afford to jeopardize confidence in our fellow league members by what may be construed by them to be an aggressive act. We have made a declaration of honorable intent to other league members. We must act consistently with that intent. Cultural leadership and our league-must be indivisible. The coach must be retained in order to serve a higher end.

THE PHYSICIAN: Your idealization of the league intrigues me. Do I understand you, sir, to believe that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?

THE PHILOSOPHER: Yes. I support the implication that the Hellenic League is greater than the sum of the individual members of the league. Every true community is a product of the moral impulses of the honored dead, the suffering quick, and the abode of prospective justice for generations yet unborn.

THE DENTIST: The statement is patently false! The league is nothing more than the sum of its eight members.

THE PHILOSOPHER: Arithmetically, yes! But Aristotle is concerned with human aspirations and values, with harmony and concord. In the context of our discussion I am concerned with human values, that is, the quality of relationship that transcends the baser commercial instincts measurable only by quantitative arithmetic symbols. By asserting that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, I confess that I go beyond the physical, that is, I proceed metaphysically. Recall that Antigone's protest against her fellow citizens' vengeance on her dead traitorous brother was an appeal to a natural law, metaphysical in content, which law, she believed, prohibited revenge against a corpse. Such natural law, the basis of her appeal, defines the conditions that are fundamentally human. Only the qualitative elite, purged of aggressiveness—in a word, those of our league—are able to define that which is distinctly human. This new standard will thus elevate men and inspire them. Our league standard will be an iridescent and shining goal for all men. Ergo, the purification of athletics. Teach by precept and example.

THE DENTIST: When a tooth aches I extract it. In return for my fee a service is rendered. Equity is thus served. As I see it, my sole obligation is to render competent service to my patients. Reciprocally they owe me hard coin for my services. Our relationship stops there. If unskilled, I do not warrant my patients' trust. I judge our coach by the same standard that I am judged. We both hold a position of trust. If he fails to extract the skill potential from his material then he should not expect continuation of tenure or trust. His personal qualities as a gentleman are as irrelevant vis-à-vis his position as the editorializing of a barber is to his competency as a barber. Nothing is as obvious as the fact that four victories in 27 outings equals humiliation for ourselves. Reason does not predicate our continued humiliation in the league as the price of our so-called spiritual association with seven other equals. If league members are equal in several important respects, namely, reason and spiritual guidance, then we should be equal in all respects, especially success in athletic endeavors. But we have endured all the sacrifice. Inequality of sacrifice does more to upset individual and collective equilibrium than aggressiveness. Athletics is a preparation for war and in both there is no substitute for victory. The opportunity for organized ideas is only supported and nurtured by organized force. Athletics supports this enduring condition of mankind and should not be subverted by organized ideas such as yours.

THE PHILOSOPHER: Only the doctrinaire democrat believes that those who are equal in one respect are equal in all respects. It is enough that our league members be equal in virtue. The purpose of the league is not to stimulate a program of athletic imperialism in each constituent member institution but rather to provide an anodyne for pernicious athletic excesses. The league must show by exemplary conduct to other cities the natural place of athletics. Athletics should be a means to a wholesome and healthful end, not an end in itself. If athletics becomes an end in itself than the obviously intelligent means toward that end is professionalization. Professional means then predicate success as an end. When this is so a premium is placed on aggressiveness, self-interest, and aggrandizement of the ego: ergo, self-restraint expires along with community. If the natural elite can achieve community, then the inequality of sacrifice is a small price to pay for such large spiritual dividends.

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