The only time I ever wish I had a television is during the Olympics. It is not that I am a big sports fan, but there is something about people from all over the world gathering to compete. It is also a very interesting dynamic to see everyone willingly and proudly identify with a certain nationality.
There are many –isms that have plagued the social side of human beings. At the very heart of most –isms is the belief that one category of human beings is superior to another. And as luck would have it, “we” happen to be in the superior category. It is easy to see the incongruity of this thinking if we just take a few steps backward and look at the big picture.
In the US, there is the embarrassing racism that allowed and promoted slavery. To this day, there continues the equally destructive sexisms of male chauvinism and female feminism. There is also the very honorable patriotism that teaches us to devalue the interests of anyone with a different passport, especially if their interests compete with ours. But the father of patriotism is the nationalism that oozes during the Olympics. But there is also the ominous extreme and synergistic combination of nationalism, racism, and imperialism. We call that fascism. Like many evil things, it is easier to see in others than in ourselves.
However, there is another, more subtle insidiousness association with -isms that often goes unnoticed. It is subtly dehumanizing to regard a fellow human being as a member of a category rather than as an individual. This happens all the time and we think nothing of it. It is partly a result of the efficiency of our brain. It requires a lot more mental energy to think of a room full of individuals instead of a room full of republicans, or democrats, or engineers, or accountants, or Mexicans or Swedes, or Krauts, or Whinging Poms. If we can categorize them, we can predict what they all think, what they all do, what they are all really like. In fact, it is a short step to go from predicting what these people are to knowing what they are… end of story. Who can I categorize next?
I have often considered sports to be the gentleman’s alternative to war. There is apparently a deep-seated need to compete, to conquer, and to dominate, and to enthusiastically sing, “We are the champions!” Some of this has to do with practical things like securing enough food to feed your family, or enough oil to fuel your Hummer. Some of these things may be worth dying for, and apparently, there are those who think that some of commodities are worth killing for. During the Olympics, the parallels are startling. The competition for gold medals is almost as fierce as it is for natural resources. At least one luge racer was willing to die for one in 2010. Thank goodness the athletes are not trying to kill each other for the medals.
But another part of the competition has to do with self-esteem. During the Olympics, self-esteem gets all tangled up with nationalism and patriotism. There is an interesting emotional dynamic at work when the tears stream down cheeks when a particular national anthem is played. I have felt it myself, and have wondered what it was all about. Perhaps it is the wonderful feeling that we actually belong to something bigger than ourselves; something that is big and powerful; something powerful enough to win a gold medal; something powerful enough to secure foreign oil fields, or to even drop a nuclear bomb.
Who knows what caused the excessive drive that compelled Alexander the Great, Cortez the Killer, Ghingas Khan, Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, and others who had plenty but wanted more. Is the driving force simply greed for more? The root of greed is fear; fear of not having enough tomorrow, or even losing what we have today. Fear has always been one of the greatest motivators. For humans, the default condition is fear. Maybe the common characteristic of the “great” conquerors and dictators listed above was excessive drive due to their excessive fear. But the desire for power itself stems from fear and insecurity. For what is a lust for power but manifestation of a fear of powerlessness? The one who is secure in their faith, hope, and love has no use for that type of external power.
Is this taking this cause-effect relationship too far, or is the fear so deeply hidden that no one dare suggest it? Perhaps being drunk with power merely stems from pride innate in those with the means to secure the things for which they lust.
Faith, hope and love all drive out fear, but those virtues are a bit much to ask of from typical human beings without supernatural help. It is much more far-fetched to expect these from conquerors or governments with enough military power to calm their fears. These things must be consciously and painstakingly applied; otherwise, the default condition takes hold.
Whether or not any of this has anything to do with striving for a gold medal, I hardly dare say. But what could drive someone to want a gold medal, or as many as possible, or a nation to win at least more medals than that other country? Is it all about self-esteem, or the larger phenomenon of national esteem, or is it fear? Is that patriotism? I read that the most patriotic thing we can do is to love our neighbor (David Dark, in “The Gospel According to America”). I actually like that statement, but maybe that is just a bunch of hogwash. Maybe patriotism has more to do with flags and military campaigns. But maybe not.