What accounts for the continued popularity of the macho image, the fanaticism of sports enthusiasts, the perennial appeal of Don Quixote's ineffectual struggles? Walter J. Ong addresses these and related questions as he offers new insights into the complex ways in which human life is affected by contest. Ong argues that the struggle for dominance, which he feels is crucial among higher animal species, is more immediately critical for males than for females, helping males to manage persistent insecurity and to establish sexual identity. The male agonistic drive finds an outlet in contests as diverse as football, cockfighting, and chess--the last, the ultimate intellectualization of formalized territorial combat.
Demonstrating the importance of contest in biological evolution and in the growth of consciousness out of the unconscious, Ong shows how adversarial today's shifting patterns of contest in such arenas as spectator sports, politics, business, religion, academe, and the history of rhetoric. Human internalization of agonistic drives, he concludes, can foster the deeper discovery of the self and of distinctively human freedom.