Saturday, August 04, 2018

Political Fan Culture: Democrats And Republicans Are Rival Sports Teams

Good  metaphors work well in love poems.
My love is of a birth as rareAs ’tis for object strange and high;
It was begotten by Despair
Upon Impossibility.

Mixed metaphors work for comedians. 
"We can talk until the cows turn blue."

But when metaphors are used in politics, they often  oversimplify and, if they catch on, magnify one aspect of the compared idea,  creating their own new distortion of reality.  

I don't like the tribal metaphor being used for today's politics.  We're uncivil because we are only associating with 'our tribes' and everyone else is the enemy.  From New York Magazine:
"How do you live peacefully for years among fellow citizens and then find yourself suddenly engaged in the mass murder of humans who look similar to you, live around you, and believe in the same God, but whose small differences in theology mean they must be killed before they kill you?" 
My problem here is that it gives tribalism and tribes a bad name.  In the USA, 'tribes' most often refers to Native American tribes.  This idea that tribes are ruthless and and irrational surely is a left-over of several centuries of depicting Native Americans as blood-thirsty savages, to justify taking their land and massacring them if they didn't leave it peacefully.

So, rather than tribes,  I compare (with caution) many partisans for either Democrats or Republicans or, broader, for liberals and conservatives, to sports fan .  But sports fans are us, not some 'other' that we traditionally vilify.  And we know people who are die-hard sports fans, whose highs and lows in life are correlated to the wins and losses of their beloved team.  A younger me enjoyed the joys and agonies of the UCLA Bruins, so I understand.  (But then I went on to graduate school at cross-town rival USC, but I still root for UCLA, but with much less passion.)

When you're a sports fan, you kind of know that you're exaggerating, stretching the truth, lying even,  when you brag about your team and vilify fans of the other team.  Everything is about winning or losing.  It's a game. (Or at least it used to be, before sports became a huge business. I can't find a perfect reference for this quickly, but here's one and here's another.)   Being a fan is a form of theater.   You are allowed to jump and scream and dress up funny and say terrible things about the enemy.  Your manic behavior is understood.

But it's different when people apply those same emotions, loyalties, and behaviors  to political parties and to politicians.

We see fans totally emotionally connected to their parties and ideologies - believing only the good about their team and calling the bad 'lies.'  (I believe that the Right has a lot more fans who ignore facts they disagree with, or simply ignore facts. College graduates earn more because they have better reasoning skills.*  And they seem less likely to be Trump fans.  There are studies that show that white males with no degree to be the strongest Trump supporters.  But people on the left are also susceptible to believing hoaxes that support their views. It's just, they're more likely to recognize it when their error is pointed out.  But the right has no monopoly on emotionally disturbed fans.)

Many commentators and academics tell us that emotion, not rationality, rules people's decisions.  But when we do this in sports, most fans don't hate their friends who root for the other team.  But in politics today, like in sports, winning boosts our spirits and self-esteem.  But the game doesn't end at the end of the day, or even after the election.  So turning back into a normal human being doesn't happen.

And as they say about some paranoid people - there really are people trying to get them.  And we're at a point where our democracy is in significant danger.

*About college grad reasoning skills.  This surely isn't universally true.  Some get into (and out of) college because they've learned how to succeed in educational settings, because their parents can help them with thinking skills at home and pay for extra learning experiences, not to mention college expenses.  And college grads can get that degree without improving their thinking skills.  Or maybe they had better skills before college and college didn't help them.  But the skills helped them get into college.

This footnote is here because just about any sentence one writes can be taken apart and criticized.  And I'd like to think that trying to minimize the risk of misinterpretation is one reason I write longer, rather than shorter, posts.  We're all told to keep it short, because that leads to better writing and more clicks.  But good, crisp writing is less important than accuracy.  And I'm not penalized here for fewer clicks.  

Simple writing works better when we all have the same world views. (When we all share the same erroneous beliefs.)   And the political fan culture of today, combined with social media, seems to relish misunderstanding the other team's words.  

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