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Engineered nature

I happened to catch the BBC Radio 5 sports punditry show Fighting Talk on Saturday. One topic under discussion was whether soccer’s FA Premier League should “do something” about dominance of the current top three teams in the league, it being alleged that their success made the rest of the league boring. One of the pundits was against this notion, making the point that, as little as 15 years ago, there were different dominant teams. Those who celebrated Liverpool’s invulnerability in the mid 1980s could hardly have imagined that that club’s place would be taken by Manchester United in the 1990s. Indeed, barely six months ago, nobody could have predicted the emergence of oligarch-funded Chelsea as title contenders. She argued that the league had evolved “organically” – any problems would tend to correct themselves – and lamented the prospect of a “genetically engineered” league with structures designed to hobble the successful teams and boost the mediocre.

I thought it was interesting to hear those specific terms used to support a laissez faire position and it struck me that there is a paradox about environmentalism. That is that, while it holds that organic processes are desirable in food production and any kind of “artificial engineering” is bad, it holds that the reverse applies to society and the economy. Capitalism has developed without a plan. Nobody had to sit down and design civil society. Yet these natural phenomena are scorned by the likes of the Green party whose underlying premise is that society should be re-engineered so that it can become “more natural”.

14 comments to Engineered nature

  • enda johnson

    i like the new ‘paramilitary’ look lads! this’s what happens when you let the irish in 🙂

  • bil.

    This is a point I have brought up many times with my Greener friends (they are Red on the inside).
    The feedback systems and bottom-up emergence of order in the free-market is much more similar to ‘natural’ processes than top-down contrived rules imposed on the system by a subset of the system are.
    Statism in all of its forms is the real perversion of nature.
    For more along these lines you might check out

  • kritarchist

    does organic soccer have anything at all to do with green party politics?? now that’s a stretch even for critical rationalists.

  • limberwulf

    “Leave nature alone” is nothing but some random words to most of the environmentalists I know. They talk about leaving things alone, but they are out there trying to “restore balance” so that they have one more thing to control. In many cases they are trying to restrict even natural processes. In nature there are cycles of life and death, there is no such thing as a static world. Most of these enviromentalists are so out of touch with what realy happens in nature that what they are really trying to do is build, not preserve, some utopian form of nature and keep it exactly the same. Its not mankind that changes the sand on the beach, its the actions of the waves. The bottom line with these people is control, not only of man, but of nature and everything else; everything except themselves.

    BTW – I like the new sire look 🙂

  • There aren’t just two or three top clubs, but around ten. It just happens that the others have names like Real Madrid, Juventus, AC Milan and Bayern Munich. The issue is that for historical and sentimental reasons the top clubs spend much of the season playing lesser clubs in their own country rather than their genuine peers.

  • Ciarán Ó Raghallaigh

    Michael, there is also the issue that these teams would not be what they are were it not for their domestic leagues and fans.

    International uber-peer based soccer competition will not work on a regular basis (at least not with a great number of supporters at games) until the administrators turn it into a closed-doors tv competition or subsidise travel for the ‘audience’.

    However, if you check the statistics domestic competition remains the big attendance winner and Cl games regularly play to much lesser numbers than games against a local team or one with a ‘history’.

    SO while you may decry the historical belt buckled around these clubs it is not something the clubs themselves will be happy to do away with.

  • kritarchist

    Oh and why might the pictologo remind me of a loaded luger upon a copy of Mein Kampf? Or is that just me.

    And why might that be good I ask? Perhaps to not forget why and how the pen is mightier than the sword?

  • gunner

    Well said. I like to watch Premier League here in the USA and I will admit I do not follow teams much, I do enjoy the game. Your point is right. Their views are conflicting. Sad.

  • TheWobbly Guy

    Evolution in all things… perfectly rational.

    The Wobbly Guy

  • Johnathan Pearce

    This is a tough one. I wrote some months ago about similar problems besetting Formula One motor racing, and Patrick Crozier, who has occasionally written here, has given an interesting talk to the Libertarian Alliance on the subject. It is difficult to see how this issue of top-team dominance can be changed without the kind of draconian interference that would also produce problems.

    Of course, when the changes do come, they come with often wrenching speed. Blackburn Rovers were a top-level team for a few years in the 1990s but have since declined. Leeds Utd are in danger of going bankrupt and being relegated (proof that there is a God, BTW); Chelsea’s millions have not yet produced a team which I think can challenge ManU, while Fulham, Charlton and Southampton have done very well this season on relatively modest outlays.

  • Johnathan:

    Your second paragraph explains why top-team dominance isn’t really a problem in soccer. It may be different in Formula 1 in which success is more dependent on technology. I don’t know what the answer is for F1 but it is possible that the current raft of restrictions and regulations have exacerbated the trend of Ferrari winning everything, or maybe it is just that Michael Schumacher is peerless.


    Aren’t you falling into the Euro-phile trap? Arguments for the superiority of a Trans-European Football League don’t differ much in philosophy from arguments for a European superstate.

    Consider the national leagues as individual nation-states. The current European Cup/Champion’s league is analogous to the common market. A unified European football league would be more like a United Europe.

    Part of the cachet of winning European cup is not so much that your team is the best team in Europe but, more subtly, that it is better than the best teams from all those other countries.

    The Champion’s league is of a very high quality, perhaps better than the World Cup, but most football fans would be disappointed if, despite winning the Champions’ League, their team somehow managed to concede the national league to their bitter rivals.

  • I always thought the parallel between environmentalism and society was a rich one, specially when talking with leftists, who claim to support the former.

    Economies areecosystems. Regulation, taxes, red table and government interference are nothing but the economic equivalent of concrete, dams, pollution and urban sprawl. And the fact is than in the economic ecosystem, the United States environment is still infinitely cleaner than Europe’s. Hence its relative health, as well as its potential dangers. Once all the lions and crocodiles have been killed or put in cages, it is quite safer to walk around the bush (so to speak)…But we certainly don’t advocate such solutions to make Africans safer, so why is it OK in the social or economic realms ?

    Just like man believed in his inherent superiority and his god-given right to bend nature to his rule – the heck with the consequences – so does the Left when it comes to society and the lives of their fellow citizens.

    The results, as we know, can be no less dire.

  • Matt Apple

    Teams in a league are not like competing businesses which would be all too happy if their competitors went belly up. Sports teams compete on one level (on the field) but on another level they must collaborate.

    If one team completely dominates a league it does get boring and it hurts profits, even for the dominant team. This is why most pro sports leagues institute a draft system that lets the worst teams have first pick of the best players.

  • Matt,

    Of course sports can be run whichever way they like and if one sports league decides to introduce a talent-redistributionism it is perfectly entitled to do it but that doesn’t mean it is the only way to deal with a “problem” or even that the problem exists at all.

    In a fixed league with no relegation from or promotion to, some sort of handicapping may be seen as appropriate but it is inappropriate for other types of leagues. In the FA Premier league three teams get relegated each year and three teams get promoted. In such a league, if your competitor goes out of business – as Leeds United may well do this year – it doesn’t really affect you: there will be a new entrant to take their place.

    The experience of soccer in the UK is that dominance is often overstated and is usually a temporary phenomenon. Artificial measures such as the draft you mentioned (apart from the fact that it overstates the impact of young talented rookies), like many types of central planning, may not have the effect they are supposed to have. If you abandoned this system, you might find that the pattern of dominance is unaffected.