Over one hundred million Americans will watch TV this Sunday.
Our red faces will scream at the television. “Go! Go! Go!” Hoarse voices across the nation will rise, in a roar we’ve heard from throbbing bleachers a thousand times – “Fight! Fight! Fight! Kill! Kill! Kill!”
Many beercans will be thrown. Territory will be won or lost. A victor will emerge.
People have been forming tribes, uniting behind flags and and going to war with other tribes for a long time. We fly the colors of “us” whenever we attack “them.” We know “we” are the good guys. And “they” are the bad guys. We will take their land, their resources.
“We” are always the good guys.
All of it, from the dividing-into-groups-by-race-or-territory, to the struggle over land and resources, has served an evolutionary function for thousands of generations. The symbolism of football is new, but the game has not changed for a long time.
It was in our DNA long before the Cowboys fought the Redskins for the very, very first time. Our ability to create an “us” and a “them” using our imaginations helped us gang up on Neanderthals and kick them out of the gene pool. There was a time when there wasn’t enough food for everybody, and it is a vestigial remnant of that time that lets us get sweaty-excited about a guy running down a field with a ball.
The demons of racism and war are within all of us. They are a tendency to classify-by-color and struggle against “the other.” Let’s exercise those demons and run them down the field before they get out of hand. Let’s bash “those bastards,” and push ’em back, waay back, because it is in us to do so. That “push” has to come out. It will come out, in one way or another. All that testosterone has to go somewhere.
Concussions on a football field are far better than concussions on a battlefield.
In football, as opposed to actual war, very rarely is anyone literally torn to pieces by fanatics.
Let’s go ahead and be aware of what we’re doing, when we cheer a set of men wearing a set of colors because they’re “our city.” Let’s be honest with ourselves about what is going on within us as we scream at the television.
We can all answer a simple question the same way:
If there is enough food so that either our kids can eat, or their kids can eat, who will we feed?
“They” might resist. If our children’s food happens to be in their homes at the moment, “they” might object to our attempts to rectify that situation.
Will we feel bad about having to kill “them” so that our children may eat?
These questions have been asked by all tribes, all countries, and all civilizations throughout mankind’s history. As we answer them, we always use colors of “us,” we always know “we” are in-the-right, we always find ways to believe that “they” are inherently less-worthy, unchosen by God, innately less-than-human, or that somehow “they” have traded away their humanity by doing something “evil.” We use ideology – “they” simply believe something “evil” that cannot be allowed to spread. They are “commies” or “heathens.”
The answers we come up with give us permission to kill. Whatever the story, that “we” are a better/fairer/master race/political-system/advanced-culture, the story helps us to feel better about killing. Feeling better about killing helps us to be more efficient and effective killers.
We may even kill them to “help them out.” To fix their ideology so they can play in the world economy, or save their souls before they go to hell.
All the politics and propaganda, all the podium-pounding that ever led to men bleeding in the dirt, is a story of how “we the people” are superior to “they the less-than-people.” A story of how it is “right” for “our colors” to “win.”
Every dictator, every tyrant, every racist and every warmonger told us this.
Why did it work? Why did it work at the Nuremberg pep rally? Why did it work on those Germans? Why did it work when Pope Urban II declared his Jihad in 1095? Why does it keep working across deserts, across time, across cultures?
We would like to believe it was because of some defect in those cultures. Some error in those men. It was those Germans and their inhuman, calculated will to power? Those Muslims and their crazy religion? Those spittle-flecked conservatives and their heartless dumb worldview?
It is always “they” who are capable of atrocities.
Propaganda and racist warmongering of all kinds is effective because it leverages a lie. It leverages the lie that atrocities are somehow inhuman. It leverages a lie that “we the people” could never create a Dachau, because there is something innately “different” and “better” about us. Our people are enlightened. Our culture is invulnerable to fearmongering and divisive rhetoric.
The alternative to this lie is scary. The alternative, in truth, may scare us more than the thought of concentration camps does.
We continue, as human beings, to create racism and war because we all want to believe our own culture is not capable of it. We want to believe that we, as individuals, are not capable of such modes of thought or primal drive to violence. That “we” could not be convinced to go along with the horrors that men do to one another.
The human ability to separate “us” from “them” using our imaginations will always be with us.
Every genocide was “justified” to the people who committed it. Every war was “right and just, and for the good of the people” to those who started it. Each and every one of us is entirely capable of joining in on mass destruction.
It is precisely man’s HUMANITY to man that creates atrocity.
It is our challenge, as individuals and as a culture, to become aware of this. It is our challenge to become honest with ourselves about it. It is the ignorance of our own nature and our attempts to evade honesty with ourselves, that allow atrocities to continue across this earth.
Whatever we choose to do with them, the demons of racism and war are within us. All of us. No human being is exempt. We have only to hear the screaming frenzy of the crowd, the stomps and shouts that register on a Richter scale, to feel it.
When we feel that rumble in ourselves, that rising monkey rage and tribal excitement – let us appreciate that we are choosing to cheer our men as they run down a football field. Some of them will have concussions on Monday, and some will have ACL tears, and all of that is far preferable to the alternative.
On the football field, we are taking symbolic territory with the lowest levels of violence satisfactory to us.
If we can be aware of what we are as human beings, and be honest with ourselves about all of it – we may choose.
From all that we are and all that we want to be, we may choose what we want to create more of in this world.