Nationalism blows

Uncle Sam

Professional sports and nationalism have a lot in common. I heard a story of young girl at a Buffalo Bills game, maybe 11 years old. She was standing up and cheering for the opposite team. A man threw a full beer can at her head. She got knocked out.

Talk about a loyal fan. 

Nationalism and sports loyalty tap into the same brain circuit. Maybe this circuit is in our brains because we evolved in a world when tribes had to band together to defeat the enemy, so it made sense to see the other side as inhuman so you could fight them. Nowadays, though, this circuit creates all sorts of nasty things. And you can be a really smart person and still have this circuit turned on. It’s an emotional thing.

The rest of this post is a collection of quotes on the theme that nationalism blows.


I recently stayed with couchsurfing host named Erik who traveled around the world for a year. He had this to say on the topic:

I used to think that the solution to intolerance was travelling. If only people traveled, they would see that all people are basically the same. They want a good job, food for their family, and a little vacation. But that’s not true. I had a friend who was a smart guy. He joined the military and traveled all around the world. When he came back he said: I’ve realized that all people are kind of the same. But I just want to give a toast to the American Dream, which motivates us to be better, and to have all the freedoms and great things that we enjoy here. To America!



Here’s one from a great little book on evolutionary biology:

As we write, there are many parts of the world where it is obvious to outsiders, and to many of the inhabitants, that almost everyone would be better off if they ceased to identify with the subgroups – Muslim, Serb or Croat; Tutsi or Hutu; Jew or Arab; Protestant or Catholic – and worked together for the common good. Yet a sufficient proportion of the population identify with one or other subgroup, rather than with the human population of the region as a whole, to make such cooperation impossible. Why?

The clue is that group identity, and hence behavior, is influenced by myth and ritual, as well as, and even to the exclusion of rational self-interest. Historical myths concerning people’s origins, reinforced by ritual, are a powerful influence on human behavior. Why should this be so? What we are seeking as an evolutionary explanation for a universal human characteristic –the ability to be socialized (or indoctrinated, depending on your point of view) by myth. The particular stories, tunes, apparel and ritual behavior that bind a group together are clearly cultural, but the capacity to be influenced by them is innate, and calls for an evolutionary explanation.

-John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry, The Origins of Life


And just for something a little different:

I dreamt one thousand basketball courts / Nothing holier than sports – CocoRosie, K-Hole


George Carlin!

People are wonderful. I love individuals. I hate groups of people. I hate a group of people with a ‘common purpose’. ‘Cause pretty soon they have little hats. And armbands. And fight songs. And a list of people they’re going to visit at 3am. – George Carlin


Punk Rock!

People are essentially jingoistic. Look at a football parade tonight, and you’ll see how jingoistic they are. It doesn’t matter whether it’s guns of football. When the men are out, they’re out. -Crass


One of the world’s most decorated generals:

Let the workers in these plants get the same wages — all the workers, all presidents, all executives, all directors, all managers, all bankers — yes, and all generals and all admirals and all officers and all politicians and all government office holders — everyone in the nation be restricted to a total monthly income not to exceed that paid to the soldier in the trenches!  Let all these kings and tycoons and masters of business and all those workers in industry and all our senators and governors and majors pay half of their monthly $30 wage to their families and pay war risk insurance and buy Liberty Bonds.  

Why shouldn’t they?  They aren’t running any risk of being killed or of having their bodies mangled or their minds shattered. They aren’t sleeping in muddy trenches. They aren’t hungry. The soldiers are!  Give capital and industry and labor thirty days to think it over and you will find, by that time, there will be no war. That will smash the war racket — that and nothing else. –Major General Smedley Butler



First, recognize that the people catalyzing conflict are generally not the majority in any given instance. It’s usually a militant group, a collective of extremists, or government officials who decide which outsiders are allies and which are enemies. They decide who is good and who is bad, and when and where violence will be used as a tool for political/economic/philosophical gain. They draw the lines in the sand, and tell us the people on the other side of those lines are different. – Colin Wright

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