"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Politics, Sports, And Causes–Why Do We So Badly Need To Belong?

The current political campaign (2016) has been like no other.  Not only have pundits and politicians taken sides, they have done so with a visceral passion and contempt.  Never in recent memory has a candidate been so reviled by the Left as Donald Trump.  If he is elected, they warn, nothing short of a global catastrophe will result.  The foundations of international finance, trade, and diplomacy will be so damaged, that it will take generations to restore them.  The possibility of war – even a nuclear one – is a distinct possibility if the xenophobic, erratic, and psychotic Trump ever gets his finger on the trigger.

Nothing of the sort will ever happen.  Donald Trump is neither a psychotic, buffoon, or nuclear cowboy.  Things will change under his Presidency – political correctness will be rolled back.  The drumbeat of race, gender, and ethnicity will be muffled if not stilled. The country will get serious about addressing immigration, confronting ISIS, reforming wasteful entitlement programs, and halting the insidious invasion of government in all aspects of American life; but there will be no Armageddon, no political cataclysms, no social earthquakes.  The only seismic tremors will be felt in Washington where the already damaged pillars of the Establishment will crack, fissure, and come down.

This Chicken Little terror has less to do with politics than belonging.  Those liberals who were always on the side of civil rights, equality, and diversity can now renew their allegiance to progressivism with renewed passion and commitment.  It is one thing to be a good liberal – tolerant, reasonable, committed to justice and right – but another thing altogether to become one big band of brothers fighting the incarnation of evil.  Flaying, eviscerating, smearing, and howling at Donald Trump as publicly as possible is the new righteousness, the uber-sanctimony of the 2000s, a final tribal blood-sacrifice.  Courage, honor, and personal integrity are at stake.  There is a moral imperative to flooding social media with anti-Trump propaganda.  All gloves must come off in the titanic battle of wills.

Conservatives hate Hillary Clinton but they have always despised her and her husband, two crooked peas in a pod, one trailer trash, the other uppity woman, both with their own venal ambitions driving them, both slick operators with nary a plank of rectitude between them.  They hate Washington, the Establishment, the self-righteousness of the elites of both the Left and the Right.  They hate the secularism of the coasts, the dismissiveness of academics and intellectuals who reject their faith, their regional traditions, and their simple way of life; and the arrogant presumptuousness of everyone in power.


Conservative voters have always had an animus against the entrenched establishment – liberals, Yankees, deviate thinkers, and amoral humanists all – so they don’t need to gin up any extra bile this time around.  They love Donald Trump because he - finally, absolutely, loudly, and uncompromisingly – spits in the face of the sanctimonious politicians and know-it-all commentators in New York and Washington.  They hate Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party, and progressives in all their shapes and forms; but their embrace of the Donald and distaste for Hillary are not defining passions.  This election is not a do-or-die moment for the Republic.  Allegiance to Trump or disavowal of anything Hillary are not epochal statements of identity or meaning.

Conservatives, because they understand that human nature is hardwired, permanent, and immutable, are less given to hysteria.  Life will always be populated by the haves and the have nots, zealots and connivers, prophets and naysayers.  Nothing will ever really change even though history’s trappings will look different. 

Progressives, on the other hand, are defined by their principles and their causes because they honestly believe that human nature actually can be changed.  That with a little good will, passion, and commitment wars can be stopped, governments reformed, and global issues resolved peaceably.  

A good progressive gains status, privilege, and respect the more he belongs to purposeful causes.  Many older progressives cut their teeth on civil rights and the war in Vietnam; but once those causes lost traction, they were quick to embrace new ones.  Race, gender, and ethnicity as part of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity’ filled the moral void and gave progressives a renewed voice in the name of social justice and moral rectitude.  Global warming soon followed, and the most politically attuned progressives found ways to fold race, gender, and ethnicity under the climate change umbrella.  If any one issue were to luff, there would be many other to take up the slack.

Perhaps it is unfair to single out progressives for their single-minded need to belong.  Belonging after all does occur on a spectrum.  There are those for whom social attribution in the be-all and end-all of their existence; and those who are content to attend church regularly or belong to Rotary.  Most others fall somewhere in between.  They wear badges, have identifying handshakes, put a sticker or two on their bumpers; but in the main are more interested in carrying on with their own lives without a lot of baggage or attachments.

Yet belonging, affiliation, and allegiance seem as hardwired in us as any other of human nature’s ineluctable traits.  No matter how much we may take pride in our individuality, our uniqueness, or our distinctiveness, we will always be members of some larger group.  It is only in how much importance we place on allegiance to that group which distinguishes us.

WFAN is an all-sports, 24-hour call-in radio station in New York.  Fans of the Mets, Yankees, Rangers, Islanders, Giants, and Jets call in with their opinions on management, players, strategy, and business.  What characterizes these callers, particularly those who call in during the overnight hours, is their absolute, visceral allegiance to their teams.   “How could we have lost to the Cubs? When are we going to get rid of Martin, Girardi, or Cashman?” Defeats were not just defeats  but painful losses.  Every missed victory hurt, and every win was righteous.  The names of those who called in were familiar – Marjorie from Menlo Park, Hank from Queens, Ira from Brooklyn.  They were all knowledgeable and reasonable, but more than anything they were passionate; and together it was the biggest virtual belonging club anywhere.

What could be less important than allegiance to a sports team, ask outsiders?  How could college football stadiums be filled to 100,000 capacity every Saturday in the Fall?  How could there be so many rallies, so many jerseys sold, so many parades and booster events for something that even in the narrow scope of things seems irrelevant, insignificant, and purposeless.  It is one thing to belong to Save the Planet; another to be a rabid Mets fan.

Those who don’t belong don’t get it, say sports fans and progressives.  Belonging feels good.  It is a chance to be expansive, to get out from the confines of individuality and self-interest.  Whether in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium or in the estuaries of Louisiana, fans are doing things together. 

Of course progressives take the belonging thing to extremes; and simple allegiance  turns to self-righteousness sanctimony in the blink of an eye; but they do feel causes passionately and have to be given that.

To a committed individualist it all seems a colossal waste of time, however, whether the hours spent in canvassing for a good cause or rooting for the Rangers.  The only validation of life, said Nietzsche, is the expression of individual will.  Solitary spiritual contemplation to attain enlightenment, on the other far end of the scale, may be equally defining.  Art, music, literature, and dance – individual if not solitary pursuits – are perhaps the best expressions of human nature and humanity.   Embracing causes, politicians, or sports teams seems diversionary, a distraction from what really matters.

However, individualists and artists are few and far between in a very socially engaged world; so perhaps it is time to lighten up on True Believers.


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