Gregory Hood’s “Patriot Games” at Radix caught my eye because I thought it was going to propose a solution to moving people from liberal pre-nationalist sentiment through nationalism, and into a longer lasting post-nationalist condition. I was a bit let down because Hood’s article didn’t offer any solutions. He did, however, offer a good view at one of the problems we’re dealing with.
Hood starts by saying that most nations are, “… less a creation of peoples than a creation of armies”. I won’t extend my opinion to anything outside of the United States of America, so I’ll try not to speak for others in this case, but with an overwhelming culture of cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism the USA isn’t even coming close to creating a cohesive population with cross-class affinity. Commentary on class status and relations aside, I’ll also agree with him that the USA is more about the creation of an army.
The state is supposed to be more concerned with keeping an army (standing or otherwise) than with creating a people. The state is not free from the responsibility of helping protect its citizen’s identity, but the heavy lifting of creating and keeping continuity and distinctness of identity falls more heavily on civic and religious organizations. The state must have an army to back up its foreign and domestic policy decisions, and its involvement in domestic social and religious affairs should be to aid the positive growth and development of communities. So, yes- “us” and “them” are determined by armed conflict, and violence does play some part in creating or maintaining a people’s identity. Should that violence occur in armed combat between two states or through combat sport is only a matter of degree.
Whether it is combat sport or conflict between states that forms some kind of cohesiveness is not inconsequential, but neither is it to be dismissed. The faux nationalism related to combat sports sensationalism and fandom that Hood points out is a powerful and sweeping force, but it’s truly an odd phenomena looking at it more critically. Rabid identification with a sports team as a matter of national identity is odd considering how many national sports teams’ rosters are filled by extra-national players.
The question then is how do the fans identify with the teams when the only substantive link is the team’s name?
This problem is strikingly similar to the White Van Scam. For those who haven’t heard about this before, this is a scam where a con artist drives a non-descript cargo van around with “brand new” or “unopened” boxes of premium brand audio equipment and is trying to sell them with a too-good-to-be-true story about a windfall from clerical errors. The audio equipment is said to be a high-priced brand, but the insides are cheap knock-offs or are absent altogether. The zinger is that most people never figure out that they got conned until they really need the equipment to perform. That moment is usually after the sucker gets the new equipment home and tries to make it work.
Faux nationalism is the same as the White Van Scam. Some con man zooms in with low-priced premium goods that are supposed to make life wonderful, and it only holds together until anyone looks at it closely. When national affairs really hit the bricks and we need our premium cosmopolitan system to perform like a premium nationalist system we’re going to figure out that the scam is complete.
This faux nationalism is more of a weird fetishization over civic identity and less (well, significantly less…) of an explicit cultural or tribal identification. That’s the first stage in this White Van Scam. The mark has fallen in love with the pitch and the goods, but he is slow to taking the new system of multiculturalism, liberalism, and cosmopolitanism home to see how just how well it works. Spoiler alert: It’s not going to work out so well.
Faux nationalism persists in spite of it’s shortcomings that are disguised by shiny craptastic gadgets and dials. So where does religion fall in with all of this? Religion does play an important and guiding force for societies, but I’m not entirely convinced that any one specific religion is required to stabilize or guide a society. Hood remarks that Christianity has been incapable of fulfilling this role. I think his comments in that regards are only accurate when limited to a pro-liberalism and pro-multiculturalism Christian community. Because I am a Christian I will not speak of the validity of other religions, except to say that there are a significant number of recorded instances in which religious habits and lifestyles and one or another kind of religiosity has played an integral role in a nation’s development or maintenance. Being religious about sports can have a comparable effect on its fans in the same way Christianity does for its own adherents. The difference is that only one will save your soul eternal, and last I checked J.C. wasn’t really into sponsoring professional sports teams.
I disagree with Hood’s claim that the “need for ‘us’ to ‘win’” is a justification to dilute identity. It’s not the need or even an abstract desire to win that justifies desires for multicultural societies. When a multiracial or multicultural sports team has a victory on a sports field, or doing anything that comes close to representing cohesiveness and cooperation it will be put on a pedestal and lauded as the holy grail of working examples of integration and liberalism. That’s the second part of the White Van Scam: It looks great on the surface.
To quote the late, great Billy Mays: But wait! There’s more!
Parading a sports team as an example of how multiple nations can peacefully co-exist within a single state is a false analogy or a type of fallacy of construction (assuming what is true of a part is true of the whole). The whole reason that players get along when playing on the field is because they are specifically invested in a future of playing that game, and because of that they are inclined to gasp follow the rules, and when everyone follows the rules everything works great– right up until somebody gets bit by another player. Starting to see how this all works out? That’s the last step in the White Van Scam. You find out that your low-cost premium brand system doesn’t perform as promised and that not all of the pieces are compatible with each other.
If you can’t help yourself from cheering for die Mannschaft, and even less would it have been Team USA: there’s your problem. Nationalism is a feeling or conviction that is hard to properly contextualize and it is challenging to channel other people’s nationalist pangs towards something productive. Nationalism is not something that’s supposed to come and go seasonally. It’s not even something that we’re supposed to live with in perpetuity. Nationalism is like a fever. It is the nation’s natural response to danger or sickness, and it’s supposed to subside after the sickness has been removed. Instead of calling sports fandom a faux nationalism, let’s think of it instead as an aspirin. The problem is that masking the fever or the sickness that it’s fighting is going to make it blow up in your face. The reason that we can’t move from a liberal pre-nationalist condition to a tribal post-nationalist condition is that the very people who are suffering the most from the sickness are the ones who are still falling for the White Van Scam.