Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fascism and Basketball?

I love it when two of the random things I ponder in a given week can offer a different perspective of each other. A couple days ago I was listening to a How Stuff Works podcast on fascism while running. Yes, the word frequents the political vernacular all too often these days, but what does it actually mean?

If I can summarize the podcast well, fascism is the extreme right of the political spectrum, where every action is done for the good of the state. There is no real sense of individualism, the leaders form a totalitarian society and cultivate a country specific focus that often becomes synonymous with the leaders themselves. There's also usually some sort of survival of the fittest mentality with the fittest being one particular race or sect. And, of course, the need to engage in wars to conquer other, less fit, nations.

The surprising thing is, they require and get a lot of their countrymen to buy into it. This has always been one of the scariest things to me about historical fascists in general: how do the leaders convince the average citizen to hate their neighbor, to get so wrapped up in the movement that they don't question the leadership, and blindly cheer their side on in the war games currently being played?

Interestingly enough, we just started March Madness, the college basketball playoff games that keep many fans glued to the tv.  Popular enough to be discussed on the major news networks, these two weeks are just one example of fans dedicating their lives to watching their team(s) play, espousing the strengths of the players and mocking the weaknesses of their opponents.  Not to remove myself from this, I found it exhilarating to be apart of the excitement that is Cameron Indoor Stadium during Duke basketball, learning the cheers for our players and chants against our opponents, and badmouthing UNC at every chance I could (GTHCGTH anyone?).  I even commented to some of my high school friends about how nice it was to be somewhere with actual school pride.   Yet, there have been many instances where sports rivalries exploded into abusive rhetoric, raw anger, and even physical altercations.

Now, I'm no psychologist, but I can't help but think that the same sense of pride and competition we encourage blindly in sports is what fascists could tap into to support their rise to power.  I mean, think of how many ordinary Germans were convinced to aid the Nazis during WWII, not from personal vendettas with Jews and others, but out of a skewed sense of German pride.  What then should we make of it when we start trash-talking opponents we've never met?  It's a scary parallel.

I guess it comes down to the chicken or the egg conundrum.  Does athletic fanaticism slowly build our willingness to trample on arbitrary opponents?  Or, if we are wired to be overly proud and subjugate others, are sports just a healthy and much preferred outlet to express these emotions (than war, e.g.)? 

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