Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Tribalism: It's Not Just for Fun Anymore

I have a Phillies cap and a Cubs cap and a Red Sox cap. I have a sweatshirt that says "Virginia Tech" on it and one that says "Oxford." I have a t-shirts with the names of about five different colleges on them, including Harvard, Loyola, Penn State and...I think...some other ones.

I went to Rutgers and to Penn State. I am a lifelong Philadelphia Phillies fan. Yet...

I was in Boston on rainy afternoon and a very affable-looking fellow saw my Virginia Tech sweatshirt (which once just kind of fell into my hands after having been left behind at a party) and he sort of timidly said to me: "Go Hokies!" I smiled and said, "...uh...yeah!" (It took me an hour culminating in a Google search to figure out what the hell a Hokie was and why that guy wanted them to "go").

Every time I am wearing a shirt from a college I never attended, someone asks me if I went there and I am forced to admit that I the bookstore. My wife is finishing her masters at Loyola; hence the shirt. I traveled to Oxford last year; hence, the sweatshirt. I think college shirts are cool. I think colleges are cool. Do I have to have studied there to wear the shirt? Am I committing a sin by having done so?

Every time I wear a Red Sox cap, I get the third degree from Phillies fans in the area: "You're a Boston fan?" I get the same thing with the Cubs hat. I got both hats in their respective historic parks. Why? Because I love baseball and I love the history of the teams and stadiums of each of those teams. Ted Williams is my favorite player in history; my dad used to tell stories of having seen him play. (I also have a T-shirt I got at Fenway with a picture of the "red seat.")

This could just be an amusing gripe story, but I see it as one symptom of how unbelievably tribal we are as well as how competition is such a naked and revealing drive for us.

I mean, okay, sports are about competition. But does that competition have to be dark and angry? ("You're a Boston fan?" -- it's like I sacrificed a suckling pig Christmas Mass, for Pete's sake.) And why in the name of Socrates do our schools have to be about competition? -- rivalries and loyalties and nasty pre-game-day pranks...

I guess I know the answer: We humans are so base that we can best be unified by conflict. At least, the architects of our respective societies have always though so: Oxford vs. Cambridge to Penn State vs. Pitt to Gryffindor vs. Slytherin. Because out of that grows the militaristic unity against other countries...other tribes.

I mean, people of rival teams literally beat the crap out of each other at games. They do it in Manchester; they do it in Philly and they do it in Barcelona.  It's what we do when we can't find our way into a nice juicy war, right? We have to rally our team and fight. It feels good.

Imagine if competition was kept in a spirit of brotherhood. Imagine if it went back to the Greek ideal, seeing it as a means to becoming stronger individuals; or, if we see it the way Lao Tzu did, believing the Sage "competes, but not for results."

Argument can be about winning or it can be about finding truth. Teaming up can be about bonding or it can be about humiliating and destroying others. I know which I prefer.

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