When a civilisation is moribund, practically every area of life can be held up as an example, a microcosm of decline.
Just look at sports journalism in general and specifically Martin Samuel, one of its most successful practitioners. Or, to narrow the search even further, scan his spread in today’s Mail.
Samuel writes lucid and almost literate prose, which is nothing to sneeze at in this genre. This, even though some readers may take exception to the supercilious condescension with which he treats them.
Personally, I don’t mind that very much, provided such qualities are displayed in debating the virtues of holding midfielders and split strikers. After all, since such subjects are rather limited in scope, any attempt to jazz them up should be welcomed.
However, and this is where modernity’s malaise comes in, people tend to accept that expertise in one area ipso facto confers on its proud possessor expertise in everything else he turns his mind to.
Thus the gasping public is treated to, well, holding midfielders and split strikers opining that Britain shoulda went into the euro, or pop stars insisting that Hezbollah is kinda cool.
This brings us, first, to Andy Murray, whose knackered hip is about to end his distinguished career.
He’s trying to soldier on, refusing to bow to the inevitable, to accept that his life’s work is about to come to an end. But the end is nigh – he knows it, and so does everyone else.
At my infinitesimal level, I know how he feels. For I played through most of 2016 with a similar hip problem, which was getting worse and worse. In the end I could hardly walk – and still insisted on playing tournaments to keep my rating up.
This though whenever I won a tournament I’d get a cheap trophy and perhaps a T-shirt (they’re usually too small for me, but fit Penelope perfectly). Andy, on the other hand, gets millions, running his net worth up into nine digits.
What for me is a hobby is a lucrative vocation for Murray, so his attempt to deny the facts of life are even more understandable, if just about as silly.
Yesterday he played through pain to lose a close match that might well be his last. There were tears in the end, but then, as a modern man, Andy is always ready to get in touch with his feminine side.
Thus he tends to be lachrymose at the end of every major final, regardless of whether he won or lost. That aside, he deserves utmost respect from every tennis fan, especially in Britain.
Murray is by far the most successful British player since Fred Perry, and one has to be 100 to have witnessed his triumphs. So yes, Murray is entitled to having his statue erected at Wimbledon.
What in my view he isn’t entitled to is any claim to heroism. But, as sages of the past used to say, let’s first agree on the terminology.
Heroism to me isn’t just great bravery potentially involving self-sacrifice and indifference to pain. It’s risking one’s life to serve a high purpose.
Thus a para jumping behind enemy lines in defence of Britain is a hero, while a bungee-jumper isn’t. A man leading soldiers over the top is; a man climbing to the top of a mountain isn’t. A man flying a Lancaster into flak is; a man flying a hang glider isn’t.
Since chasing fuzzy yellow balls is essentially a trivial activity, no mastery of it, nor any bravery displayed in its pursuit, qualifies as heroism.
If you accept these criteria, then Murray isn’t a hero. He’s simply a very good tennis player whose career has been cut short by injury.
Yet that’s not the impression one gets reading the papers, specifically Samuel’s articles. Douglas Bader had nothing on Murray’s gallantry, as far as he’s concerned. Murray’s heroism is so epic that he should be put in charge of… Brexit? The country? The world?
Such possibilities remain in the subtext awaiting their turn. For the time being, Samuel merely wants to put Murray in charge of British tennis. And he gives no quarter to people like me, who happen to define heroism differently:
“Some people get quite upset when the word heroic is used in connection with athletic performance. But what can you do? Some people are idiots.”
Now, I’m prepared to accept that some people’s definition of heroism is different from mine. But I’d never describe them as idiots – unless ad hominems were their only arguments.
But fine, I’m an idiot for having the temerity to disagree with the sports hack. However, the same column suggests that I’m an idiot not once but twice over. For I differ with Samuel not only on heroism, but also on Brexit.
It’s common currency among federasts to impugn the mental faculties of those who wish to leave the EU. Brexit is portrayed as a watershed separating intellectual giants like, say, Martin Samuel from intellectual pygmies like, say, Roger Scruton.
However, Samuel wisely desists from citing Scruton as an exemplar of ignorant moron, choosing instead a target closer to home: Neil Warnock, manager of Cardiff City.
Yet Warnock’s soliloquy that caused Samuel’s snide retort, different though it may be in style, is no different in substance from what Scruton, I or any of my friends say on the subject. And, at the risk of sounding immodest, any one of us can probably hold his intellectual own against even Samuel.
This is what Warnock actually said:
“I don’t know why politicians don’t do what the country wants, if I’m honest… Why did we have a referendum in the first bloody place?
“We’ll be far better out of the bloody thing. In every aspect, football-wise as well, absolutely. To hell with the rest of the world.”
Samuel ignores this passage and quotes just the last sentence: “It was good to see Cardiff manager Neil Warnock welcoming Brexit with the words ‘to hell with the rest of the world’ – neatly demonstrating the keen intellect and awareness for which the Leave campaign is renowned.”
Sarcasm drips off every word. Samuel means that, unlike him and his ilk, people like Warnock, Scruton, me and all my friends (I’ll resist the temptation to drop names) possess neither keen intellect nor awareness.
QED. As far as he’s concerned, the point is made. And people read, mark, learn and inwardly digest this nonsense because Samuel is a good sports hack.
Know what I mean about modernity?