Rowing as Bothness

In 1851 Harvard and Yale held their first-ever rowing meet. The Harvard-Yale Regatta had its inaugural race, and a little more than a century later Harvard is up 95 wins to Yale’s 54. The Henley Regatta, by this time, was already in its 13th year, having been founded in 1839. The sport of rowing is one of the most venerable of all Western sports; it is the quintessential collegiate, olympic sport: "it's the quintessential Greek sport: harmonious, competitive, agonizing, nautical, and above all, intelligent. It combines Odysseus's brains and brawn and love of the sea with the tactical precision of the Spartan pikeman." -- Barry Strauss from Rowing Against the Current

Charles Eliot, the presiding Harvard President at the time said: “Rowing and Tennis are the only sports in which honorable play altogether is practiced. You can no more cheat in those two sports than in a game of cards; you would be crowded out of society if you tried.” 

Rowing is the gold standard, the ultimate in honest sports. Remember that you face backward in rowing. There is an unbelievable first mover advantage in a regatta (a race), for everyone other than the leader is blind as to where one stands. It is a team sport, yes but everyone must quite literally pull their weight. There is no hiding in rowing; if you fall behind the stroke count everyone will know. There is a pecking order on the boat- but then again everyone is equal. Pain can only be dealt with stoically, and the absolute worst thing you could ever contemplate is to stop rowing. There is nothing subjective about rowing. 

In slight contrast to pure honesty, rowing is also about leverage. The simplest definition of leverage is: working smart. Nietzsche says: “When one rows it is not the rowing which moves the ship: rowing is only a magical ceremony by means of which one compels a demon to move the ship.” Something about rowing resonates deeply with bothness. There is an naggingly brute aspect of it (you need a boiler room), but having said that, so much of it is about clean energy transfer (how much energy your boiler room loses to heat or sound or light or whatever, is just as important). No matter how strong you are you must cruise, you must glide, you must co-opt the water--maybe even trick it to do your bidding--you'll never overpower the water, of course. 

To get a hundred pounds of force on a small surface area of the oar blade, and use the length of the oar as a lever to gain a mechanical edge, and to generate propulsion. The idea is not getting an improper edge, it is not pulling a fast one, so to speak, the concept of leverage is working smart, just like the rower not so much outmuscling the physical properties against him or her but in coaxing the “devil” (in Nietzsche’s words) to do the work on her or his behalf.  

On another dimension of bothness, Detail and context is what rowers strive for. It is why rowers push so hard so early in a race to take the lead, at the risk of lactic acidosis. As mentioned above, you face backwards in crew. The body of water looks placid. But a regatta is furious. It is intense aboard each and every racing shell, amongst the rowers. It is intense at the water level with every stroke, and every plow against the surface tension. Mind you, a middling boat can see half of the competitors it is beating, but has no idea what is transpiring at the lead. And the difference is not a difference of degree; it is a difference of kind. Crucially, the middle-of-the-pack boat cannot pinpoint when to sprint and when to pull back. The leader, however, can modulate. It has less risk of gassing. Good technique, what I refer to as detail, with the knowledge of when and how to deploy it, context, is the big advantage.

A future of bothness is one where, like in the sport of rowing, benefits accrue to those able to combine perspectives and skills: power and skill, strategy and tactics.