Dalrymple has often expressed puzzlement at the interest people display in sports. This October piece in New English Review makes a surprising argument, then, in defense of boxing – though, as always, larger themes are at work, such as human agency, the power of rationalization and, in a follow-up from his recent National Review piece, the limits of stereotypes.
…appetites are not so much fluids in a closed space waiting to be released as propensities that grow with their satisfaction. My guess, or prejudice, is that attendance at coarse spectacles makes people coarse; and Lord Macaulay’s famous remark, that the Puritans hated bear-baiting not because it gave pain to the bear but because it gave pleasure to the spectators is not quite as damning of the Puritans as might be supposed.
I suspect, though I cannot prove, that boxing also exerts a brutalising effect upon its practitioners, contrary to those who believe in the hydraulic theory of human aggression…The possibility remains that the same activity has different effects on different people: where the evidence is equivocal, one does not so much suspend judgment as believe what one wants.
The man without stereotypes is like the man who steps out into the world stark naked; the man who sticks to his stereotypes despite evidence is like the man who dresses the same whatever the weather.