Some two hundred years ago Spanish artist Francisco Goya portrayed what he called, “El sueño de la razón produce monstruos.”
The sleep of reason produces monsters.
Or, to quote Archibald MacLeish, “The only thing about a man that is a man . . . is his mind. Everything else you can find in a pig or a horse.”
It is our ability to reason, to think deeply about a topic or idea or notion that truly matters.
Now, there’s a bit of a scandal (that’s an overstatement) in the tennis world because a former professional tennis player (and tournament owner), Ion Tiriac, made a statement that Serena Williams should retire because of her age and weight.
Her husband, internet entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian, decided to stand up for his wife:
If that was his one and only comment, it would have been a proper response to what he perceived to be an insult towards his wife.
But he went on:
I believe this is a teachable moment, and I will try to explain why, because when reason falls asleep, we tend to say dumb stuff that might make us look ridiculous to those who still have higher brain function.
There are a few things that are wrong with Alexis Ohanian lashing out like that:
- It’s rather disrespectful to call an 81 year old tennis legend, billionaire investor, and overall badass a “clown.”
- It’s never a good idea to compare apples to oranges. And it makes for all sorts of ridiculous statements. Alexis Ohanian’s best ATP ranking was… oh, he never competed at a professional level, while Ion Tiriac, though never having won a Grand Slam title (except for the French Open in 1970 in men’s doubles) ranked at number 8 in 1968.
- If you do want to be ridiculous like that, please make sure that your primary endeavor (both men are entrepreneurs) doesn’t fall extremely short of the person you are comparing yourself to. Ohanian is worth about $70 million (mostly what I call paper money, probably) while Ion Tiriac is worth around $1.3 billion (and he owns quite a few extremely lucrative businesses in some rather competitive private sectors, such as finance, insurance, and the likes.)
I even made a chart, for fun:
Now, there’s another point worth talking about. A lot of people say Tiriac’s statement was racist, sexist, or something like that.
No one ever bothered to say it was actually discriminatory towards old people. Or fat people.
The truth is that Ion Tiriac’s statement makes a lot of sense, and it sounds a bit differently in Romanian. The gist of it is: “any world-class athlete should retire because they risk breaking their fans’ hearts (and their own heart as well) and then alienating them.”
Truth be told, no one wants to see a top athlete painfully slide down rankings and struggle to compete at even a small percentage of their former level.
It is what it is. And the same way Pete Sampras retired once he realized his time was up (and figured out just how unstoppable Roger Federer would be), it’s a sign of grace and self-respect to retire once you can no longer compete (or even reach towards) the highest level possible.
Ion Tiriac didn’t raise the question that maybe Serena Williams has long exhibited the physical characteristics of athletes that are on drugs, and he didn’t criticize her constant victimizing and prima donna behavior.
He just said she’s not in her prime anymore and she should retire, both for her sake and for her fans’ sake.
And there’s one more point I’d like to make: the higher you are on the hierarchy, so to speak, the less tolerance there is for racist behavior. Or any other kind of discriminatory behavior. Because, believe it or not, it’s people like Tiriac who pay top athletes (and give Ohanian, the internet entrepreneur, a chance to relax while taking paternity leave.) It’s in their best interest to promote the best of the best, regardless of sex, age, gender…
There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but the vast majority of people performing at a top level aren’t that interested in discriminatory behavior.
Why is this important?
It is important because most of us are “asleep.”
The sleep of reason does produce monsters.
Ignorance isn’t bliss. Ignorance is poverty, pain, suffering, sickness.
Ignorance means letting your ego inflate itself to ridiculous proportions that have nothing to do with your actual achievements, or skills, or influence in the world.
The sleep of reason produces monsters because we begin to listen to our inner demons, to the whispers of negativity, of chaos, and we begin to want to cause harm to those around us, by any means necessary.
There are plenty of worthy causes out there, and there are plenty of ventures that are worth our time, energy, and mental powers. But deciding to call out an honest, albeit blunt opinion shared by someone who has been part of a sport in a rude, almost savage, manner, and to be glorified for this by a number of nobodies who don’t have the intellectual capacity to discern discriminatory behavior from an honest opinion is neither worthy nor is it worth anyone’s time.
Some fights aren’t worth picking. Truly. And not because we might lose, but because winning them makes everyone around us become aware of how weak and pathetic we truly are.
And then all we can do is rage against the dying of the light in our small and dark corner of the web, tormenting other lost souls who have nothing better to do than applaud our derogatory comment, or worse, encourage it within the confines of a few words riddles with typos and errors on a social media platform that’s been on life support for years.