On Tuesday morning after Sunday’s Superbowl football game in TX, USA, I turned on the TV to try to catch the news during breakfast. Every news channel had suspended the news in favor of discussing the parade for the Superbowl football winners from my state of MA.
The announcers all sounded deliriously happy or were faking extreme and over-the-top euphoria for the sake of the TV viewers. (They’re actors in front of the camera, after all.)
Put another way, they were playing the role, putting on an artificial persona, expected of them by their TV channel owners and TV viewers, or they were genuinely besides themselves over the game. Who knows?
Yes, I understand the roots for such exuberant excesses over a simple game wherein athletes in teams roughly toss each other to the ground and pile on top of the bottom guy, run back and forth chasing a ball, work in unison to suppress any advantages by the opponents and so on.
It’s partly because such means between rival groups and their supporters comprise a benign (or mostly benign if one considers brain and other severe injuries in the mix) way to express identity, connection to a particular group and avoid real warfare between the rivals. In that sense, conflicts can take place symbolically through play with emblematically prized objects like balls while the game players are proxy for real warriors in a large-scale contention.
Doing so has a long standing history. John Scales Avery explains it well:
“In addition to the contrast between the slow pace of genetic evolution when compared with the rapid and constantly-accelerating rate of cultural evolution, we can also notice a contrast between rapidly- and slowly-moving aspects of cultural change: Social institutions and structures seem to change slowly when compared with the lightning-like pace of scientific and technological innovation. Thus, tensions and instability characterize information driven society, not only because science and technology change so much more rapidly than institutions, laws, and attitudes, but also because human nature is not completely appropriate to our present way of life. In particular, human nature seems to contain an element of what might be called “tribalism”, because our emotions evolved during an era when our ancestors lived in small, mutually hostile tribes, competing with one another for territory on the grasslands of Africa.
“Humans tend to show great kindness towards close relatives and members of their own group, and are even willing to sacrifice their lives in battle in defense of their own family, tribe or nation. This tribal altruism is often accompanied by inter-tribal aggression – great cruelty towards the “enemy”, i.e. towards members of a foreign group which is perceived to be threatening ones own. The fact that human nature seems to contain a genetically-programmed tendency towards tribalism is the reason why we find football matches entertaining.” – From his book, INFORMATION THEORY AND EVOLUTION, an interpretation of evolution through the second law of thermodynamics.
In relation, I remember viewing a documentary film many years ago about an island that had resource shortages for basic life continuance with four tribes on the island. Rather than resort to slaughter for the goods, the four tribal leaders decided to each send his best athlete each year to compete for the prize of winning a sufficient amount of resources to sustain the tribe for the year ahead. Then the athletes were rank ordered so as to determine which tribes get whatever amounts of life sustaining resources.
(Unlike Super Bowl winners, the owner of Pat’s team and their coaches, the contenders didn’t get millions of dollars apiece from their efforts to squander in whatever ways that they pleased. Instead they received the rights to ensure that their own closest genetic heritage and more immediate families would go forward in an optimal way.)
So they competed for the reward of maximal survival and each year, for some span of time anyway, the process repeated. It certainly worked as a way to avoid war and distribute resources according to defined social rules — laws. It also gave a common goal for each tribe — to hone its next great champion and fawn over him.
Well, anyway, I got tired of watching all of the hoopla and almost fanatic craziness that the MA, USA superior athletes had won the game. Enough.
So I switched channels on the TV and landed on an evangelical Christian site. Fascinated, I watched the unfolding of information. It included:
Someone said that Jesus spared her from cancer because she tried to be so good in life. (My father died from cancer. He was a social justice advocate and strove very hard to improve the qualify of life for others — including non-humans as he strove to strongly support environmental efforts for natural world betterment.)
The best complement that I received about him was, actually, from an evangelical “believer,” who said that God took my father onto death because he needed another right-hand man to serve in Heaven in the way that Jesus does there. Since God needed more help from above, He took my father as the best of the best — so close to Jesus’s example as to be almost indistinguishable. .
I wept while hearing about the degree that this evangelical Christian loved and esteemed my father. It was just a few months after my father had died and the wound was still so fresh for me that I cried lots at the time.
Yet, let’s go back to the coo-coo thinking related to the evangelical TV show.: “There but for the grace of God go I” surmised someone who had avoided some calamity. A car accident, a tornado, an avalanche or some other means — who cares the type? The indirect implication, though, is that others who do die by such means lack the grace, it would seem
Of course, it helps sometimes to avoid catastrophe not by some supernatural grace, but by making teams, like sports teams, so as to foist forward mutual aims. It happens all of the time in our and other species, such as is described here: Musk-Oxen, Musk-Ox Pictures, Musk-Ox Facts – National Geographic
We readily do form teams, just like the Patriots, winners of the Superbowl. Look at fishermen, loggers, the military groups. It is always us against them whether the “them” are fish, forests or other combatants.
Indeed, I heard of a military team on a rooftop in Afghanistan being shot at from an apartment building across the street. On account, they were ordered to shoot indiscriminately at the building since it couldn’t be figured about from where the gunfire originated.
Ordered to do so, they shot even though there were in the building grandmothers, grandfathers, mother with babies at their breasts, toddlers and others scampering hither and yon, or simply going about their daily business.
If one branch or individual of the tribe goes after you — just go after them, I suppose, is the thinking. If they seem to win or contest your supremacy, the result can be the same … even with sports:
Yes, life is fundamentally rapacious, brutal and predatory. It is on some scale or another depending on one’s personal conditions.
Take for example this statement loosely reiterated that all life that acts purposefully has consciousness. It’s from Carl Sagan.
Of course, the way that oneself thinks is not exactly like another human’s, nor a dog’s mind. His is not like a cat’s and hers is not like a snail’s, nor a bee’s and so on down the line until we get to plants, which also have some seminal consciousness — some type so different from ours that we just don’t comprehend it in our limited sense of variation in life.
Yet we pluck a live carrot or a potato from the ground, steal energy made for itself and kill to drain its energy into our own selves. We often chomp on them while they’re still alive.
What other option is there except to do so given that Earth has a closed energy system and evolution has dictated that there be winners and losers? None.
It brings us back full circle — winners and losers. Winners, a million of them in the streets of Boston, hopping up and down, screaming, waving their arms in the air and, for some of them, looking slightly delirious with glassy eyes as the triumphant from the Super Bowl team, pass by them in a victory parade.
Yes, we all want to feel connected to the winners. It is the way that groups, modern ones or past going way back in time, survive. The sorrow is perhaps that the ones trying their best to be affiliated with and identify with the winners don’t understand one iota about the reason that they have taken the stance that they have selected. They simply respond with a sense of glory or gloom if part of the losers.
For the game winners and their fans, I wish them well. For the game losers and their fans, I wish them equally well, too. Why not?
I also wish well the people who adamantly believe that they avoided cataclysm like an avalanche or cancer because God favored them. Despite that their ideas seem bizarre to me since my father died of cancer and their contention means that he is not favored, I wish them well. After all, we somehow learn to live with the craziness that surrounds us and move forward in contrary directions than it poses nonetheless.
Sally Dugman is a freelance writer