a bonobo humanity?

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

Archive for the ‘Soccer’ Category

soccer bonoboism leads the way

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I’m writing this on the day that Australia plays England in the FIFA Women’s World Cup semi-final, and I’ve been a soccer aficionado, and mediocre player, from my earliest youth, when no such competition for women existed. In fact the women’s game had a rather messy start internationally in the 1970s, when many countries first ‘permitted’ women to play the game. The first fully-fledged FIFA World Cup was held in 1991, and the women’s game has caught on rapidly since then, with soccer now registering as the most popular sport for women in this country. The current competition, co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, was being judged the most successful in its brief history before even the halfway point was reached.

All of this is intrinsically interesting to me of course, but it also allows me to expatiate once more on female-male differences and the advantages of a female-dominated WEIRD future.

But before continuing, I’d like to reflect on the ‘WEIRD’ acronym. I adopted it some time ago without giving it too much thought, as a semi-useful term encountered in my readings, somewhat synonymous with the terms ‘Western’ and ‘First World’ (as opposed to ‘Third World’, but I’ve no idea what happened to the Second one). None of these terms really fit, and as for WEIRD, ‘western’ seems meaningless in global terms, ‘educated’ depends on the type of education being posited, but literacy and numeracy would be included, and a modicum of scientific knowledge, and some analytic skills. ‘Industrial’ now quite likely refers to more or less post-industrial societies such as Australia, and ‘democratic’ might even include such quasi-democracies as the USA. Yet the term does have some value, as long as you don’t scrutinise it too closely, and its currency influenced me to buy and, so far, learn much from Joseph Henrich’s book The WEIRDest people in the world, an exploration of the generally more individualist, non-clan, non-lineage based world it refers to, and its recent history of success. So that’s my excuse.

So the first point I would make re women’s soccer compared to the men’s game, is an elaboration of an earlier point I’ve made about women hugging and men shaking hands when meeting or parting. This is on a spectrum of course but there’s no doubt that women are more often huggers and men shakers. The World Cup is of course the most high-stakes soccer tournament there is, so the competition is especially fierce, with every game after the group stage being ‘winner take all’. And very few players will get to  play in such a tournament twice, so losing isn’t a viable option. It’s been remarked on more than once how often the winners in this year’s tournament have huddled together with the losers, comforting and supporting them in their despair. Of course it’s only a game and all, but it’s just an addition to the multifarious examples of women supporting women, in matters great and small. Not that the games themselves aren’t fiercely competitive, with fouls aplenty, but generally without the biffo that sometimes spoils the male game, both on the field and among the supporters.

I also note that the game has helped to normalise female-female sexual relations, as one might expect in a microcosm in which females dominate – a bonobo humanity, so to speak. Of course, it’s a tiny-teeny microcosm, but it’s growing, and it’s getting more attention worldwide. All of this is a good, for more than just soccer.

Australia lost its semi-final, but let’s embrace the cliché, soccer, and female empowerment, is the winner.



Joseph Henrich, The WEIRDest people in the world: how the West became psychologically peculiar and particularly prosperous, 2020


Written by stewart henderson

August 18, 2023 at 10:08 am

A bonobo world, etc, 18: gender and aggression in life and sport

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bonobos play-fighting


human apes play-fighting?

If anyone, like me, says or thinks that they’d like to be a bonobo, it’s to be presumed they don’t mean they’d like to live in trees, be covered in hair, have a shortened life-span, a brain reduced to a third of its current size, and to never concern themselves with why the sky is blue, how the Earth spins, and whether the universe is finite or infinite. What we’re really interested in is how they deal with particular matters that have bedevilled human societies in their infinite variety – namely sex, violence, effective community and the role of women, vis-a-vis these matters.

While making a broad generalisation about human society, in all its billions, might leave me open to ridicule, we seem to have followed the chimpanzee and gorilla path of male domination, infighting as regards pecking order, and group v group aggression, rising to warfare and nuclear carnage as human apes became more populous and technologically sophisticated. One interesting question is this: had we followed the bonobo path of female group bonding and controlling the larger males by means of those bonds, and of group raising of children causing reduced jealousies and infanticides, would we have reached the heights of civilisation, if that’s the word, and world domination that we have reached today?

I realise this is an impossible question to answer, and yet… Human apes, especially in post-religious societies, are recognising the power and abilities of their women more and more. Social evolution has speeded up this process, bringing about changes in single lifetimes. In 1793 Olympe de Gouges, playwright, abolitionist, political activist and author of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, was guillotined by Robespierre’s disastrous Montagnard faction, as much for being a moderate as for being a woman. Clearly a progressivist, de Gouges opposed the execution of Louis XVI, and capital punishment generally, and favoured a constitutional monarchy, a system which still operates more or less effectively in a number of European nations (it seems better than the US system, though I’m no monarchist). Today, capital punishment generally thrives only in the most brutally governed nations, such as China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, though there are unfortunate outliers such as Japan, Singapore and arguably the USA (none of those last three countries have ever had female leaders – just saying). One hundred years after de Gouges died for promoting female equality and moderation, women were still being denied a university education in every country in the world. However in the last hundred years, and especially in the last fifty, we’ve seen dramatic changes, both in the educational and scientific fields, and in political leadership. The labours of to the Harvard computers, Williamina Fleming, Annie Jump Cannon, Antonia Maury and many others, working for a fraction of male pay, opened up the field of photometric astronomy and proved beyond doubt that women were a valuable and largely untapped intellectual resource. Marie Curie became the most famous female scientist of her day, and inspired women around the world to enter the scientific fray. Today, women such as Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, of CRISPR-Cas9 fame, and Michelle Simmons, Australia’s quantum computing wizard, are becoming more and more commonplace in their uncommon intellect and skills. And in the political arena, we’ve had female leaders in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Germany, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Belgium, France, Portugal, Austria, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Serbia, Croatia, Russia (okay, in the eighteenth century), China (nineteenth century), South Korea, Myanmar, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, the Phillippines, Sri Lanka (the world’s first female PM), Israel, Ethiopia and Liberia, and I may have missed some. This may seem an incredible transformation, but many of these women were brief or stop-gap leaders, and were all massively outnumbered by their male counterparts and generally had to deal with male advisers and business and military heavyweights. 

So it’s a matter of rapid change but never rapid enough for our abysmally short life spans. But then, taking a leaf from the bonobo tree, we should look at the power of female co-operation, not just individual achievement. Think of the suffragist movement of the early 1900s (the term suffragette was coined by a Daily Mail male to belittle the movement’s filletes), which, like the Coalition of Women for Peace (in Israel/Palestine) a century later, was a grassroots movement. They couldn’t be otherwise, as women were then, and to a large extent still are, shut out of the political process. They’re forced into other channels to effect change, which helps explain why approximately 70% of NGO positions are held by women, though the top positions are still dominated by men. 

When I think of teams, and women, and success, two more or less completely unrelated fields come to mind – science and sport. In both fields cooperation and collaboration are essential to success, and more or less friendly competition against others in the field is essential to improve quality. Womens’ team sport is as competitive as that of men but without quite the same bullish, or chimp, aggressiveness, it seems to me, and the research backs this up. Sport, clearly, is a constructed form of play, in which the stakes are sometimes very high in terms of trophies, reputations and bragging rights, but in which the aggression is generally brought to an end by the final whistle. However, those high stakes sometimes result in foul play and overly aggressive attempts to win at all costs – and the same thing can happen in science. Sporting aggression, though, is easier to assess because it’s more physical, and more publicly displayed (and more likely to be caught on camera). To take my favourite sport, soccer, the whole object for each team is to fight to get and maintain possession of the ball for the purpose of scoring goals. This battle mostly involves finesse and teamwork, but when the ball is in open play it often involves a lot of positional jostling and other forms of physicality. Personally, I’ve witnessed many an altercation in the male game, when one player gets pissed off with another’s shirt-tugging and bumping, and confronts him chest-to-chest, nature documentary-style. The female players, when faced with this and other foul play, invariably turn to the referee with a word or a gesture. Why might this be? 

In 1914, the American psychologist E L Thorndike wrote:

The most striking differences in instinctive equipment consists in the strength of the fighting instinct in the male and of the nursing instinct in the female…. The out-and-out physical fighting for the sake of combat is pre-eminently a male instinct, and the resentment at mastery, the zeal to surpass, and the general joy at activity in mental as well as physical matters seem to be closely correlated with it.
Of course, much has changed since those observations. Women in OECD countries aren’t quite so into nursing, with birth rates plummeting and female work-place participation rising, but boys still like to tote guns by and large, and girls still like to dress as fairies and play with dolls. The difference is largely in degree. But my observations of soccer matches tell me that women are far less inclined to fight their own battles regardless of the rules than men, and have an ‘instinctive’ (but it’s all cultural) sense of referring to the referee, the parental figure, when aggression is wrongly applied. The thought comes to mind of a girl running to mum or dad when nasty big brother is tormenting her. It’s the reasonable thing to do. Boys, though, are still half-expected to fight their own battles.

Written by stewart henderson

December 31, 2020 at 4:37 pm

three things: IQ and longevity, the Taliban and Americans, the real World Cup

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Nerissa: …. superfluity comes sooner by white hairs, but competency lives longer

The Merchant of Venice, Act 1 , scene 2

smart Alec the turtle

Thing one

I don’t know what my IQ is, having never knowingly sat a test, but I assume it’s a number just short of infinity. So it was interesting to read, in Carl Zimmer’s book on genetics, She has her mother’s laugh, that IQ is highly correlated to longevity. Not that there’s a genetic link, at least not directly, but it stands to reason. The higher your IQ, the quicker it takes for you to ‘get’ things. This was more or less confirmed by a simple, ingenious brain processing test. Subjects were shown simple shapes flashing very briefly on a computer screen – two vertical lines spaced apart with a horizontal line sitting on top. The participants had to guess which of the two vertical lines was the longest each time. Researchers had worked out that if the images were flashed too briefly, the participants just resorted to guesswork. It required approximately 0.1 seconds for people, on average, to perceive the shape correctly. The key, though, lay in the variation of that perception. It ranged from 0.02 seconds to 0.136 seconds, and researchers found a pretty reliable correlation between accurate perception time and intelligence (presumably measured by IQ – Zimmer doesn’t say). Unfortunately it’s not quite reliable enough, apparently, for us to do away with those pesky, long-winded IQ tests and replace them snappy shape tests, but as mentioned, it does seem to confirm the intuition that intelligence has to do with sharpness and quick-wittedness. Which brings me back to longevity. Some work done in Scotland, which has turned out to be accidentally longitudinal, provides interesting evidence. In 1932 the Scottish government conducted a massive testing program of nearly 90,000 eleven-year-old students – just about the whole of the country’s kids of that age. They were all given a 71-question exam involving decoding, analogising and arithmetic among other things. Over time this ‘experiment’, or what you will, was forgotten, but the records were unearthed in 1997, and then researchers tried to get in touch, some 65 years later, with the ‘kids’ who’d been tested. They managed to gather together 101 elderly citizens in an Aberdeen hall to resit the gruelling test. They found that the score on the original test was a pretty good indicator – 73% – of the score second time around. But there was another interesting finding – the percentage of the test-takers who had scored well and were still alive in 1997 was considerably higher than those who’d scored poorly. Some 70% of the women in the top quarter of scores were still alive, compared to 45% in the bottom quarter:

Children who scored higher, in other words, tended to live longer. Each extra 15 IQ points, researchers have since found, translates into a 24% drop in the risk of death.

Carl Zimmer, She has her mother’s laugh, p296

Why is this so? Smarter people generally know what to do, and are quicker to learn what to do, to live longer, to make more, financially and otherwise, of the circumstances they find themselves in, to be safer, healthier and the like. Stands to reason.

‘all westerners are much the same to us…’

Thing two

A huge fuss is being made of allegations, probably true, of Putin offering and paying bounties to the Taliban to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan. My first reaction to this news was – surely the fervently anti-American and anti-western Taliban were already hell-bent on killing infidel foreigners, and many of the purest ideologues among them would be insulted by the offer of bribes to do so? Then again, many of them would’ve been laughing up their ample sleeves at the thought of being paid by the Russkies, whom they likely consider only slightly less odious and infidelious than the Yanks, to do what they were already heaven-bent on doing. For this reason, it would surely be impossible to prove that any deaths of Americans, or their coalition partners – including Australians – at the hands of the Taliban, could be sheeted home to Putin and his fellow thugs. Even if money traced to Russia appeared in Taliban bank accounts after some atrocity or other, this doesn’t exclude the possibility that the atrocity would’ve occurred in any case. Win-win for the Taliban.

Thing 3

The announcement that the real World Cup will take place in Australia and New Zealand in 2023 makes life a little more bearable, though it’s three years away and I’m not getting any younger. This competition combines two of the most life-affirming enities in life, for me at least – women and soccer. Hopefully we’ll have learned many lessons from Covid-19 by then haha, and at least some of today’s thuggish political leaders will have been placed where they can do no more harm, and we can get on with the more exciting stuff of life, like having fun.

Written by stewart henderson

July 2, 2020 at 1:25 pm

VAR horrors: World Cup 2019

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tragedy encapsulated?

Canto: It might be surprising to know that besides our many supertalents we’re sports aficionados, and of course experts, but in order not to overwhelm our fan we’ve decided to limit that interest, largely, to one sport, soccer, which we’ve never spelt f-o-o-t-b-a-l-l. Hope that doesn’t offend.

Jacinta: Well I’m happy to offend, so I strongly advocate calling this year’s comp, and those following in 2023, 2027 etc, the World Cup, and that other comp shall henceforth be called the men’s world cup.

Canto: Probably won’t catch on until the world’s turned upside down.

Jacinta: The world’s a ball, dummy, there’s no up.

Canto: The human world’s more like a pyramid, and we’re pretty close to the base…

Jacinta: Is that Trump’s base?

Canto: …which is why we can’t afford to watch all the games – as if we had the time – as they’re not being shown free-to-air. But apart from the full Australian games we can see the (very brief) highlights and follow the commentary and the controversies. Which brings us to the VAR (video assistant referee), which has been introduced for the first time ever…

Jacinta: Except in the men’s game, which isn’t real soccer…

Canto: For the first time ever, at any level, in this World Cup.

Jacinta: So the VAR isn’t actually a video, it’s a person, or team of people, watching and evaluating a video – including the on-field ref. And according to ever-reliable Wikipedia, they review all refereeing decisions under four categories:

  • Goal/no goal – attacking team offences, ball out of play, ball entering goal, offences and encroachment during penalty kicks
  • Penalty/no penalty – attacking team offences, ball out of play, location of offence, incorrect awarding, offence not penalised
  • Direct red card – denial of obvious goal-scoring opportunity, serious foul play, violent conduct/biting/spitting, using offensive/insulting/abusive language or gestures
  • Mistaken identity in awarding a red or yellow card

If the VAR makes a decision overturning that of the on-field ref, which is only in the case of a COE (clear and obvious error) she has the option of conducting an OFR (on-field review), using a video screen, clearly visible to all, in the RRA (referee review area). The problem is, I’ve noticed that the VAR is picking up more stuff than the field referees have done – or could have done – in the past, so it’s already changing the character of the game.

Canto: Good or bad?

Jacinta: I’m not sure. Let’s discuss some examples. Take this one. In the game against Brazil, Australia’s Tamika Yallop went down in the penalty area after a clash with a Brazilian defender, as she was heading towards goal with the ball. A shout went up, and of course the VAR had to adjudicate on the basis of penalty/no penalty. As part of this process, we the audience get to see, in slow motion, what the VAR has seen (which is perhaps a dangerous thing, if only for our blood pressure). The commentators – who I think were biased for Australia – seemed to agree that it was a definite penalty, but what the video clearly revealed was that, moments before the incident, as Yallop was surging into the penalty area, the ball bounced up, hit her on the arm and bounced off kindly for the Australian. It was because of this handball, not seen originally by the ref, probably because the Brazilian was tightly marking her, that the penalty issue didn’t need further consideration. A free kick was awarded to Brazil. But if there was no VAR in operation, that handball wouldn’t have been picked up, and the penalty would likely have been awarded – with no complaints.

Canto: Actually I think some Brazilian players did see the handball and tried to draw the ref’s attention to it, but you’re right, if neither the field or line ref saw it directly, they wouldn’t have ruled on it, and Australia might have gone on and scored. But don’t you think it’s a good thing that the VAR picked it up?

Jacinta: Errr… let’s go on to the next example. Now as you know, I have dual loyalties, being a dual citizen of the UK and Australia. I was born in Scotland and brought up with some Scots traditions, and was mildly excited to find Scotland in this World Cup series, I think for the first time. So imagine my shock when, after hearing (I could only listen on the radio, like an old-timer) that Scotland had gone 3-0 up against Argentina and were very likely to qualify for the round of 16 after losing their first two matches against England and Japan. But then, Argentina came surging back with two goals in the second half. Even a narrow win gave Scotland a chance, but then, at 3-2, and <em>in the last minute of time added on</em> – the 94th effing minute – Argentina were awarded a penalty.!!</p>
Jacinta: Errr… let’s go on to the next example. Now as you know, I have dual loyalties, being a dual citizen of the UK and Australia. I was born in Scotland and brought up with some Scots traditions, and was mildly excited to find Scotland in this World Cup series, I think for the first time. So imagine my shock when, after hearing (I could only listen on the radio, like an old-timer) that Scotland had gone 3-0 up against Argentina and were very likely to qualify for the round of 16 after losing their first two matches against England and Japan. But then, Argentina came surging back with two goals in the second half. Even a narrow win gave Scotland a chance, but then, at 3-2, and in the last minute of time added on – the 94th effing minute – Argentina were awarded a penalty.!!

Canto: Quelle horreur! Was it a fair decision?

Jacinta: Fuck knows… Sorry, feeling a bit emotional. I was listening to it on the effing radio! I only saw it on the highlights the next day, and by that time I was too depressed to care. But that’s not the end of the drama. Argentina took the penalty, and Lee Alexander, our goalie, saved it! Frabjous Day! But then, she was ruled as having come off her line by a nanosecond! And get this – not only do the players have to get used to the beady eye of the VAR, but a new rule was brought in on June 1 – a week before the World Cup – which  ‘means that goalkeepers must have one foot at least partly on the goalline when the kick is taken and can neither stand behind or in front of the line’ – and I quote the words of the obviously neutral sports journalist, John Irish. That means that goalies have to adjust their approach to penalty kicks after a career of doing otherwise – a week before the biggest event of their lives!!! But I haven’t finished the story. The penalty was retaken – and this time Argentina scored, but according to the commentators, players were encroaching on the penalty area before the spot-kick was taken!!! Please note above – Goal/no goal ‘encroachment during penalty kicks’. And the ref didn’t even consult VAR about it!!!

Canto: Okay, calm down. You must surely admit that the Scots stuffed it up, just a bit, to get into their parlous position, dropping from 3-0 to 3-2 in quick time. And did you see these players encroaching?

Jacinta: Well, no, I was far too emotional to be forensic about it. But you know what foreigners are like – they’re all bloody cheats. It’s an effing conspiracy I’m telling you. Of course they want Argentina over Scotland in the finals, it’s good for business!!! They probably think they’ll get a chance to play Messi!!! 

Canto: Well you don’t need to worry about that – he’s only a male.

Jacinta: Oh yes I forgot. Anyway, I’m not sure if we’ve heard the worst of the VAR. My worry is about the flow of the game, which, if VAR is extended – which I expect it will be – to other parts of the game, in a micromanaging sort of way, it will become overly stop-start and technical. but maybe that’s the future… Then, in order to comply with VAR, we’ll replace humans with androids… 

Written by stewart henderson

June 21, 2019 at 7:12 pm

Posted in Soccer, world cup

Tagged with , ,