Although as a kid I preferred soccer to any other sport, it was because sports were mandatory, and I could see a soccer ball without wearing my glasses. Frankly, I hated all sports as a child because, as my brother put it, with more accuracy than filial devotion, I have “the hand-eye coordination of a blind snake.” I don’t think I have watched an hour of soccer (or, as my friend James Taranto calls it, “metric football”) since. Still, like the denizens of NPR, I instinctively rejoiced when the U.S. defeated Algeria. Why? Because, like them, I am an American.
Emanuele Ottolenghi writes, “Since I am sane, I can only explain their outburst of national pride as evidence that their false conscience is their commitment to internationalism — a silly ideological pose whose fallacy just a game of soccer (football) can expose.”
I think their problem is their failure to understand human nature and its pervasive, ineradicable influence over human affairs. The left, lusting to social-engineer a better world, conveniently dismisses human nature as merely an artifact of the society in which people live. Change society, argued Marx and his heirs, and you change human nature; perfect society, and you perfect humankind. In other words, humans are mere tabula rasas to be written on by the all-wise liberal elite.
But that just isn’t so. Human nature, like gravity, is always in operation. No one would walk off a cliff without expecting to die, but liberals argue that aspects of human nature can be merely waved aside. Then a soccer player half a world away puts a ball into a net, and liberals give the lie to their own argument by cheering wildly — an instinctive display of the tribal loyalty they feel but refuse to recognize for ideological reasons.
War is an aspect not only of human nature but, as Reuters reported the other day, anthropoid nature, as well. The instinct to aggrandize at the expense of our neighbors lies very deep in our bones, indeed. The young of all species that play instinctively play in ways that will make them more successful as adults. (Ever see a kitten sneak up and pounce on a litter mate? He’s honing skills needed to hunt.) With human children, especially boys (pace, Title 9), that means we play war games. It’s just that today we call them team sports.
War has become far less common than it was in the days of hunting and gathering. (It is still endemic in the world’s few remaining hunting-and-gathering societies, such as in the highlands of New Guinea.) But we have sublimated the instinct into a vast new industry called professional sports. American football is probably the most obviously warlike of all sports, involving the conquest of territory, strategy, tactics, surprise, intense teamwork, etc. But all team sports — and games like chess — are basically war by other means, an outlet for the instinct to beat up our neighbors, which is far more positive (and wealth-producing) in the modern world than war itself. It’s a beautiful example — if one that developed without conscious thought — of what Sir Francis Bacon meant when he wrote that “to be commanded, nature must first be obeyed.”
We are the end product of 3.5 billion years of evolution, and that evolution has produced one of the most intensely social animals on the planet. We thus not only feel an instinctive loyalty to ourselves and our families (especially our lineal descendants and ancestors) but to our social unit as well. Nearly 10, 000 years ago, that was a small tribe of probably no more than 50. Today, the tribe of Americans numbers 300 million. But the instinct to tribal loyalty remains quite unchanged. The NPR employees just proved it.