19 November 2008

What do the Crips, the Lutherans and the Cheese Heads up in Green Bay all have in Common?

I’ve come to believe that the drive to affiliate is one of our deepest, most primitive instincts. This “pack” mentality reminds me that we humans are, in fact, animals moving along the evolutionary process (some more slowly than others).

To me, an allegiance to a football team, gangs, church denominations, political parties and racism all come down to the same fundamental dynamic: the allure of “we.”

Admittedly, that’s what kept me up past 2 AM on election night, long after the electorate had overwhelmingly picked a new president. I so desperately longed for my adopted state of North Carolina to go “blue,” I outlasted Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper and John King (even as the wizard of the CNN electoral map conceded that it may take days to call the Tar Heel State).

Since I identify myself as a North Carolinian, it seemed incongruent that “my” state could favor someone so diametrically opposite my own values. Fortunately, we went Democrat for the first time since Carter and I started making plans to market “Blue State” tee shirts. Go team.

This drive, how else can you explain the frenzy of sports fans? I’m not talking about cheering when the fullback plunges into the end zone. I’m talking about the despicable behavior of overzealous fans who somehow rationalize suspending all semblance of decency toward players wearing colors opposite the home team.

When Alabama football coach Nick Saban returned to Tiger Stadium last week to face LSU, a team he once coached to its first national championship in decades, it took throngs of State Troopers surrounding him to ensure his safety. How can a man who was once so revered become so vilified in just a few short years, based solely on a career decision he made?

Simple, human instinct doesn’t follow the rules of logic. In Louisiana, Coach Saban willingly went from one of “us” to one of “them.” Enough said.

Politics is football, really. Rules of logic are suspended. The desire to win supersedes all else. Imagine two scenarios during the next four years:

(1) Under the leadership of President Obama and a Democrat congress, the financial crises eases and the nation enters into a period of economic prosperity… balanced budgets, deficit reductions and tax breaks for all. The wars end with no more American or foreign casualties and the Middle East stabilizes. And with our newfound wealth and clout the US is able to lead a worldwide effort to dramatically reduce world hunger, AIDS, terrorism, genocide and global warming. We’re well on our way toward implementing innovative domestic energy alternatives which will eliminate our dependence on foreign oil and are certain to bring about hundreds of thousands of new high paying jobs -- the likes of which we haven’t experienced since the industrial revolution. Our streets are safer; school test scores are up and, just for good measure, let’s say baseball players all stop taking performance enhancing drugs.

Obama is recognized as a brilliant leader around the world and the Democrats get to say “See, I told you so.”


(2) The economy continues its downward spiral and the country is mired in a painful recession with no end in sight. Unemployment and inflation soar. Obama pulls troops from Iraq which leads to an escalation of violence and instability in the region. Gas prices top $10/gallon in some places. Taxes are raised in every bracket in an effort to somehow fund any number of failed domestic initiatives and to put out fires in trouble spots across the globe.

Internationally, the President is viewed as ineffectual and the US continues to lose clout and respect. Oh, and baseball is cancelled.

The Republicans are certain to regain the White House and control of both houses and they get to say, “See, I told you so.”

Now, really think hard about this: Which scenario do you honestly believe a majority of Republicans would pick?

I hope I’m wrong, but the cynic in me thinks scenario #2… for this simple reason: people would rather be “right” than “happy.”

And, ultimately, that’s what blind allegiance is all about: “we’re right, you’re wrong,” despite all evidence to the contrary. It’s human nature. It’s the power of “us” against “them.”

I'm not trying to pick on the Republicans. I'm sure most Democrats wanted President Bush to fall flat on his face at every turn, even if the consequences were to the detriment of the country. See, if he's "wrong," then, obviously, we're "right."

Racism is merely us against them based on skin color. And as long as there are those who identify “us” based on physical distinction, prejudice and racism will live on. Every “ism” follows the same pattern.

At the risk of seeming irreverent, I would also suggest that church affiliation is mostly about identification, the affirmation one gets from congregating with others of a like-mind. It’s about a need to belong. Fundamentalists pick orthodox churches to attend. Gays and lesbians seek tolerant ones. It’s about a need to be right.

Most of us are who we are. For the most part, we come into the world with a blueprint and follow it pretty closely throughout our lives. Along the way, we find others who share characteristics with whom to flock.

To be honest, I've never known many people who changed their behaviors or attitudes because of the church they attended. Instead, they get enough reinforcement on Sunday morning to sustain their belief that they are, in fact, right, for another week.

When the sermons become incongruent with assumptions to which we are predisposed, we find another flock.

I’m not pointing fingers. Here’s my own ironic example: I deeply value diversity (in the myriad ways the word can be defined). I seek it in neighborhoods I choose to live, in the schools I send my daughters. And, I want to be around others who share an appreciation for diversity. My “them” includes those who don’t, which seems contradictory, I know. We have our banners and tee shirts, too, diversity being particularly sweet when we all think the same about it. Hmmmm....

Reminds me of the self-identified non-conformists in college who all wore black from head to toe.

So, where do we go from here? Should we fight to overcome prejudices and injustices that result from all our dichotomous us/them ways? After all, the greatest harm comes when the “us” holds the power and the “them” is power-less. Division makes it easier to dismiss the disenfranchised.

Maybe we should just accept human nature for what it is? Coach Saban has thick skin, after all.

Still, wouldn't it be a better world if "us" simply meant all of us?


carissa said...

Oh maaaaaan, that was deep (as opposed to shallow - whoo hoo!)! I agree with many of your points, though there were WAY TOO MANY to chew on thoroughly.

[Side note, my OPINION is that you make your blog shorter so that I can chew using the "20times" rule - right now I'm on the verge of choking. - Hey, EVERYBODY...if you don't respond to anything else that Stephen or I say, could you please respond with your thoughts on whether you like a long or short blog, and if you have any content preferences...]

Ok, back to my comment... the only thing that I'd like to tackle (because I have experience with it) is your comments regarding church as a means to connect with like people. I agree that some congregations are made up of a similar type of person... but I am naively under the impression that it won't be that way for long. I think the churches you refer to are older churches (churches made up of older, more traditional parishioners). Today there is a huge movement away from the denominational split (in Christianity) that has existed for so long. If you look in the phone book - wait, WHO USES A PHONEBOOOK??- I meant, if you Google the churches in the Triangle, you'll see that a large majority of them are "nondenominational"... that is because of the stigma that is associated with denominations.

I, for one, go to (and have belonged to) only churches with a mixed batch of people...young/old, all colors, all preferences, etc... My current church is AMAZING...they are a Bible believing church that believes that all people can (and should) be saved. Your comment about not knowing people who change their attitudes and behaviors because of church is now null and void because you know ME. Church...aka: my relationship with God...changed my life significantly in the last 4 or 5 years. I don't believe it has anything to do with the people sitting next to me on the pew, but it has everything to do with being in a safe place to hear the Word of God. --- Oh, and FYI, when you go to church, you don't leave with the feeling of "I'm right", but rather "I'm wrong and I have so much more to work on to become the person that I am meant to be".

Another reason that I see a movement to inclusive, embracing, love-ALL-thy-neighbors churches is because today's generation is, for the most part, more tolerant. I believe that the American "melting pot" keeps the heat on high and as we as a country grow up, we will continue to become one special sauce!

Question: If we become a country with NO prejudice, are we then all alike? Is the acceptance of everyone as equal demonstrative of your theory of wanting to be with like people? (Of course I know this will never happen...it's not human nature. Just curious on your thoughts.)

Note: It is my goal to live a life that is filled with love and acceptance of all types of people. My heart genuinely hurts when I think of what we are doing to ourselves when we separate ourselves from others we view as different. I'm not sure how, but somehow I am going to make a statement...many people have said "Carissa, ONE person can't change prejudice"...and maybe that's true...but one person can inspire another and that person can inspire another...you get the idea.

I believe in a new truth about "ism's"...I believe that they DO NOT have to exist.

- whoo. Not sure what I went off on there. I guess I'll sign off. Thanks for the food for thought, Stephen!

Ashley Sue said...

Holy swirling questions, concepts, realities and perceptions. I am astounded at the things to think about here.

Indeed, however, I have had this discussion quite a bit myself lately. My sister is constantly amazed that most of Marc's and my friends subscribe to strict religious and republican ideologies while he and myself are at least somewhat left of center.

Your point regarding the nonconformists all conspicuously looking the same and living the same is the argument I've always made myself. In the eighth grade (yes, I'm taking it back to 1994), I had a best friend who loudly and regularly belted out what an individual she was. She wore flannels and cords daily, and mocked me one day after I clued her into the fact that the tux pants I sported were actually from The Express. She jumped back in horror, pointing at me, and yelled out "Sheep!" I shrugged and reminded her to look around at all the other "individuals" in the same flannels and cords (again, this was 1994. Nothing was individual about flannel or corduroy).

All that to say simply being leftist/democrat/liberal does not mean "open-minded" if you will not tolerate or accept peacefully a diverse idea. Quite the opposite. But with some people, opening up to hearing those ideas gets you labeled as disloyal and a traitor. You are no longer one of "us".

Haehahe maybe that's my trust issue. I don't trust the fickleness of the "us" and "them" mentalities. You so quickly can be removed from the comfort of your group. And if you stay in the group, the mob-mentality is a risk you have to be cautious of, as it damages so many in so many ways every day.

Yet, the loner I've always felt to be, and as much as I've always felt like an outsider, I've always yearned to "belong"... hence a somewhat-failed stint in a fraternity. I love that you mention sports, as I've found that pulling for the Steelers allows me instant "in" with complete strangers. We Steelers Nation stand strong... (and thus shun Antwaan Randel El for choosing to be a Redskin for money over loyalty... he's no longer one of us! Hehaeh)

I don't think I've added anything to this... just rambling and reiterating. Apologies for that. I think finding out what "we" means is a constant question with no answer. I question it regarding patriotism. I question it regarding religion. I question it every day. And all I can come back to is John Lennon's words... "Imagine there's no countries... It isn't hard to do... Nothing to kill or die for... No religion too... Imagine all the people, Living life in Peace". And that's where I keep ending up.

And while nondenominational religious institutions are rising in popularity, I have close friends in them who still want to convince me that Christianity is the only way. When they are within the safety of their church, they may not feel "I am right, they are wrong," but I hear them (the ones I know and talk with frequently, I am talking of) regularly discuss how "right" they are and "wrong" someone non-christian is. Witnessing, I have zero problems with. Converting me, I do. I have some different opinions than you, and I am OK with the things you believe. Be OK with mine. When also answers your question on "will we all be the same?", Carissa. :) I don't think we would be the same, as can imagine a world where one of us subscribes to strict Christianity, one of us is Buddhist, and one of us is Muslim... and we can all sit at the same table, witness what we believe and how, smiling and lovingly, and enjoy each moment we have together before living our individual lives again separately (and in a beautiful abstract way, separately together).

Darn, Stephen. Did you have any idea you'd open up all of this?! I'd like to see a commenter approach this concisely! (And on my side note, in my opinion, blogs are great when they are a mix of longer, deeper, thought-provoking posts and short, snippets of thoughts and unfinished experience)

redcorvette said...

You bring up a bunch of interesting points and lots of them are rolling around in my head. I have to admit, I grew up in a family that always voted Republican so naturally when I came of voting age, I did as well. As I went to college, I would usually vote the main election, but not the primary. I didn’t fully understand about the whole aspect where you could only vote for the people running in your party (or team) in the primary so I tended to vote a straight party ticket. Over the past eight years since graduating from college I have paid much more attention to local politics and realize, that especially in local elections in Durham, the majority of people that run are from the other teams and I sometimes want to join them!

In terms of the national elections, I didn’t like however that the other team really seemed to come out in force regarding the elections. I was torn between the two candidates, but I didn’t appreciate all those who just bombarded their personal views and opinions, especially in a work setting. It was much more than normal “blue” vs. “red”. You bring up an excellent point about the two scenarios. In my opinion, I would choose to be happy, rather than right, but I may be it the minority. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but just because you are right, doesn’t mean you have to rub it in. My personality tends to be more reserved, and I like to bring compromise to almost any situation.

Ok, I know these thoughts were random and not sure I added anything really profound, but blogs are for sharing anything right?