The average American, especially of the male persuasion, probably spends more time religiously watching sports than attending to religious ceremonies and concerns. More devotion and emotion go into his team winning a pennant than his soul winning immortality, or some such perpetual dispensation.
Wives of all genders will recognize this world condition.
Therefore, to be contemporary and relevant, it seems appropriate to begin a post with an invocation to sports.
In class the other day, the famous subject of football deflation came up. The facts of the case are of no interest to philosophy, and they’re only slightly more interesting to me as contemporary tittle tattle. But there’s a deep matter in this trivial frisson of arena entertainment. It concerns character and its consequences. If a pigskin puncher — I mean a great American hero exiguously compensated — did in fact deflate or cause to be deflated one or more of the aforesaid mentioned footballs, then by doing so he failed to act in accord with his present position, either a man or an American.
To this observation, one of my sportive students replied, “You aren’t playing hard enough if you aren’t cheating!” He was clearly quoting the usual locker room wisdom, and probably his coach’s post-Kantian command, too.
As a class, we all enjoyed a hearty chuckle and a cunning guffaw over that sanctioned insight.
And then I attacked it.
At the age of 20, I said, being full of week end boredom and undischarged energy, you might go out in the wee hours of the night and commit whoopie. Later, in front of the judge, your solicitous attorney and you will plead the high spirits of youth in association with “my client’s unfortunate but uncharacteristic lapse of intelligence.” To display that intelligence to the court, you’ll keep your mouth shut and let the attorney do all the talking. If you’re lucky, the judge will legally berate you for a while, then let you off with a stern moral warning followed by the advisory, “Don’t let me see you before my bench again!” And you’ll thank him profusely — “Thank, you, your highness, thank you!” — and exit grinning like an idiot in a sweat.
Except there won’t be any similitude.
But now, were you to commit the same exciting nocturnal naughtiness for the first time at the age of 40 — or so be caught — pleading high spirits won’t do. Your station in life — biological, psychological, social, and, you may hope, economic — has changed. For that you should expect from the judge an all-expense paid vacation in your immediate future.
When I explained this to the class, some of my students nodded with amenable acknowledgements. But I suspect their agreement may have been morally shallow and merely pro forma. “Remember this for the quiz. Then delete.” Or perhaps they really agreed with me, but they remember the point rationally, not somatically.
And then there are the few.
My complaint about Brady — if he did indeed deflate the balls — is not that he played the game too hard. It’s not a question of pushing the envelope. Pushing the envelope is often insisted on, usually urged, and always permitted. Americans pushed the envelope on Aristotle — and invented a new kind of government. (See The Republic.) England still remembers that match defeat. But cheating isn’t a part of the game of football. Cheating isn’t a part of any game. And if it is, then the game is no longer a game. It’s now an activity in which winning is everything: like war, or crime, or survival.
Furthermore, after you’ve won four rings, you’re no longer some Jack S. Nobody from Nowheresberg. You’re not some hard scrabble guy just trying to arrive and make it in the pros. You’re now a senior statesman in the center of the sport. You’re an exemplar of what the game is and at its sportsmanlike best can be. If Brady deflated the balls, then he failed to fill this role. He would be no better, then, than a billionaire whose world tastes consist of purchasing vulgar pleasures and generating more money.
At nodal points of human growth, size must undergo proportionate and appropriate phase changes. Infancy becomes childhood. Childhood becomes youth. Youth becomes adulthood. If size doesn’t grow in stature, it becomes merely more. More what? More self-insistence and diaper equivalents? “Me! Me! Me! Blappp!” Such things in adults should be regulated, restricted, and even banned. A mandate for maturity — an ethical obligation for responsibility — might sound peremptory and even despotic, like the calisthenic pleasures of a fascist love camp. But it isn’t. Great religions prescribe such world disciplines for the uplift of humanity all the time with threats of eternity, whether your sentence is spent in hell or in incarnation. Both are filled with alarums of disagreeable heat.
Alas, after a number of years of teaching, I must report discovering a widespread absence of any significant hierarchy of values in the forthcoming minds of our society.
And yet this isn’t surprising.
Hierarchies have been denounced by teachers and academics for over half a century. Of course, academics establish their own hierarchies amongst themselves with dedicated jealousy. But even as they do, they scathingly denounce all the world’s hierarchies for being elitist, oppressive, privileging, exclusive, domineering, and all too fun at the top.
But in the absence of order and rank, humanity is measureless and the world is without morals, and both lack the excellence and the obligations of their capacities. Moral equality then produces its only distinguished and great event: the initially exciting proud denunciation and loud obliteration of rank and order and even its idea. That can be exciting and dynamic — like a really big block party. Think of the French Revolution. And 1917. What remains — before the Napoleons and the Lenins restore order with ranks and honors — is a dangerously leveled forum of prosaic pleasures. There the only qualifier is quantity. But even coaches can tell you that mere bulk is blatantly meaningless. To motivate human excellence with emotional and spiritual aspirations, nimble power is needed. “Get the lead out!” they’ll yell at you along with other more biologically impolite advisories. Imagine what a sage would say to fat vapidity on an angry day of the inner spirit! If in doubt, see Pissarro’s right eye and feel it speak at you.
The democratization of aspiration lowers ambition and levels it to a meretricious metric of the merely more. Moral democracy brings civilization down just as surely as any demolition will. But the erosion of the spirit is quieter than its razing. And such spiritual attrition takes longer, too. That’s pleasant for equivocal hypocrites and gentle schizophrenics. And then they get the bill from history. They realize then — in a retarded irruption of honesty — that the emotional vulgarity of mere quantity can never dedicate humanity to greatness. Greatness means not just exemplary individuals, but civilization itself. To recruit and retain the players and maintainers of the immense immanent energy devotedly built into civilization needs more meaning than “more.” Indeed, more is meaningless. All numbers are meaningless without denumerable desires. And civilization is the greatest desire.
I was delighted that the two most actively engaged students in this classroom conversation — two football players — were diametrically opposed on the facts of the Brady case. “He definitely did!” “He definitely didn’t!” I advised them after class that, if a determination of the facts in Deflatergate — which sounds like a comic opera — is unattainable, imagine what the likelihood of determining who killed Kennedy in Dallas is.
“The CIA!” one of them forcefully averred with the superior cunning of an insightful grin. In response to that contented assertation, I peered at him over my glasses like Dumbledore — or, rather more, I imagine, Pissarro.
In other football news, an exchange of tweets and chirps — or bleats and snarls — has been avidly or animally progressing via social media — or unsocial media — between Trump and Kim.
Trump always travels with America’s foremost football. I presume it’s kept fully inflated. You never know when you might need a Hail Mary for America. “Holy Joe Montana! It’s a bomb!!!
Let’s look at some of the back-channel tweets which have been twittering the air. Since I’m a good scholar, as always I’ll cite my sources with full and open disclosure. I acquired these squawks and caws indirectly from a DNC server through some downloads marked with putative tracers to the FSB. And there were intermediaries. But I won’t uncover them lest they soon become forthcoming embassy asylum seekers.
Trump: You’re a silly out-of-date socialist thug.
Kim: You’re a fat capitalist imperialist unproductive bourgeois parasitic landlord!
Trump: Wow, still using out-of-date rhetoric to match your people’s art.
Kim: It’s you who’ll soon be out of date!
Trump. And you’ve got bad hair.
Kim: I’ll test another H-bomb for that!
Trump: You won’t be around for long.
Kim: You’ve just declared a state of war!
Trump: You’ve just declared a state of bluster.
Kim: Now I can shoot your planes down over international waters!
Trump: You can’t even shoot the breeze.
Kim: I’ll blow you away!
Trump: The only thing you can blow—
Kim: Where’s my football!
Trump: Fumble just once and we’ll play sudden death in North Korea.
As for Kim’s weaponized bluster, I don’t recall hearing or reading such armed verbosity ever before from a head of state. I don’t remember even Hitler or Mussolini talking like that. And though Khrushchev could talk about burying the West and pound his UN desk with his shoe, the USSR by then was a continent-sized geopolitical power militarily comparable to the United States. North Korea is smaller than many of the 50 great American states, and rather less consequential, too.
My only policy concern with Kim is the pompous obnoxiousness of his geopolitical speech. The magnitude of its presumption is so incommensurable with his petty capabilities. Like a novice punk, Kim is not a predictable player. That is dangerous. Experts are often thrown for a loss by amateurs because tyros make unexpected moves. These moves are unanticipated not because they’re novel, but because they’re so easily defended against, and then devastatingly defeated. Since no pro ever makes them, they’re not anticipated. The problem with Kim’s obnoxious amateurishness is that his surprise move might be an atomic strike. And the defense response against him would then be an unpleasant moment in human world consciousness.
We’ve never really discussed the topic of the legitimacy or even the prudence of a president tweeting the people, nor am I about to do so in any systematic way. For now I’m merely reminded of something the Federalists and I have always insistently observed. Remember the first Gun Shot? The president of the United States is elected by the states, not the people. I repeat: the president is elected by the states. That’s because democracies gave the Federalists a sense of “horror and disgust,” of “universal pity or contempt.” (The Federalist, #9.) But, of course, since the republican people have a popular input into their republican states, the presidency is both a national and a federal office. Nonetheless, the president is the states’ man, and he should be a statesman, and he should be statesmanlike about it. (See The Federalist #39 for the significant distinctions of “national” and “federal.” And notice the assurance that the Senate is and will be the states’ chamber in the bicameral Congress. Without that anti-demotic counter-balance to the more popular House, the states would never have been adopted the Constitution. And then there’s the bait and switch of the 17th Amendment.)
According to the culture of the Constitution — according to the ethos and the mores of America’s fundamental law — a president shouldn’t communicate directly with the people. The people didn’t directly elect him, and he shouldn’t directly address them. Of course, the president must annually address Congress, and should occasionally broadcast speeches to the nation. But he shouldn’t communicate with the people through a medium that intimates a personal relationship. After all, he’s not my president. He’s not my leader. He’s not my personal fuhrer. “Wie geht’s, Heinrich? Gut, mein Führer! Und dich?” Of such direct stuff are dictators and despots made. Rousseau fatuously acclaimed such unmediated immediacy as freedom. And Marx agreed. “Freedom, citizens! There’s nothing between you and the state! We are one!” Given what socialism, both national and international, called unified freedom in the 20th century, I’d prefer a good set of honest chains to a union of unmediated freedom.
Furthermore, there’s a presidential problem here with the separation of the man and the office. Trump isn’t so much the president of the United States as he’s the man who occupies the office of the presidency. He’s not a king who’s both personally and professionally his office. Trump always remains a citizen. As a citizen, it’s civically fit for him to personally communicate with his friends and relatives about political issues. Nixon would relax in Florida with his buddy Bebe Rebozo. With a name like Rebozo, who knows what got demotically discussed on Rebozo’s boat over ample glasses and a line or two over the side! But such chats aren’t communications for public consumption.
Our present problem is with a new and intermediate technology. Clearly a phone call or a first class letter is a personal and private exchange. And a radio or television broadcast or press conference is openly and impersonally public. But social media are somewhere inbetween. And given their technological novelty, an ethics of discretion has yet to be established. Trump talks in tweets like everyone else does. He makes casual utterances in relaxed and familiar English as uncrafted and as it is careless. But he’s addressing his open remarks towards leaders of state.
That’s a misjudgement of human character, and a failure of statesmanship.
Or, as Moe would superbly say with leadership aplomb, “Spread out!”
You speak in your latest post of Americans as a revolutionary people.
I agree with that.
But not for the causes you adduce.
I don’t think Americans are revolutionary because they started the country by staging a revolution, not even if it was against the greatest land and sea power on the earth. Lots of nations begin in revolutions, and they aren’t revolutionary. Think of South America. And the French had a Revolution, but I don’t know that they consider themselves to be especially revolutionary. I recall Foucault or an interviewer in their exchange describing France as being provincial — and neither party to the interview protested against that damning Gallic attribution. But, the,n, all of this is obvious a priori if only because “revolution” is a genus, not a species. The American and the French Revolutions are two completely different types of national transformation whose similarities are shallow compared with their deep structural differences.
Meanwhile, here’s what I think makes America and its Americans revolutionary, not only in their initial and past revolutionary act, but in their everyday ongoing ways, year by year, and century by century.
*America invented the big republic. The exemplary success of this audacious creation is inseparable from permanently diverse interests — economic, religious, ethnic. This irreconcilable diversity prevents a permanent majority — political, cultural, religious — from ever becoming a stable majoritarian tyrant over the minority of any interest: aesthetic, economic, racial, spiritual, intellectual.
*America invented the bi-sovereign republic with its fundamental constitutional power divided between multiple governments on two levels both of which citizens owe allegiance to as the citizens of both. And the governments of these two levels are and should be jealously contemptuous of any mere parchment barriers that separate them, and especially of the pretty and insistent and even religious words of political knaves who praise unity as a proxy onset of central power and popular despotism.
*America from the onset legally restricted and effectively banned any aristocracy from the country. The middle class then replaced the aristocracy as the best. And that’s no oxymoron. (See Chapters 13-15 of my Republic: “Against Aristocracy,” “Against Genius and Great Men,” and “An Aristocracy of Accomplishment.”)
*America outlawed national religion and even prevented its possibility. That move reduced religion from a coercive government or governmental force to a civic choice or social fancy, from a political power with punishment prerogatives to a social discretion without possibility of taxation.
*America promoted business to the foremost social, civil, and political sector of the country in power, priority, and prestige. It’s like Marx said. Business is the most revolutionary force in history. Except for the proletariat, he added. But Marx was wrong on that second point.
*America is future looking. Just the other day I read — was it in a book by Claude Lévi-Strauss or Carl Jung? — that in Europe time runs from the past up to the present, whereas in America time begins in the present and runs into the future. That might be the greatest revolution of all.
As you say, Americans often vote for change. Let me first note that, as Marx so essentially observed in The Manifesto, capitalism is intrinsically restless, reconfiguring, self-overthrowing, progress-driven, and revolutionary. Capitalism is the Great Progressive. We’ve become so culturally acclimatized to incessant change and its advertised varieties, that most Americans now become quickly uncomfortable with any kind of quiet and calm. In a placid moment perfectly fit for self-reflection and reality awareness, they’ll pull their phone out and nervously start searching for a distraction from the stranger they find inside themselves. Think of it as a 911 call. They’ve seen a dark glimpse their souls. “Help! I’m being shadowed!”
And, of course, as is obvious to professional and casual observers of humanity, all humans have anti-authority streaks in them. Everyone is under the authority of someone or something that can coerce them to do what they’d rather not. Yes, my dear Freud, civilization is full or barriers, bars, barricades, and bastinados. And then there’s nature. Should you prefer that due to a sudden sublime romance with Rousseau, we won’t allow you to burden yourself unduly as you leave civilization for freedom. Freedom! How about you start out with a jackknife, two matches, and your shoes.
As for Americans for change, yes, I’ve known fellow citizens who voted “for change” in past elections. Not a candidate, not a plank, not a platform. Just change. Change might sound good: progressive, energetic, anti-traditional. But upon reflection, change itself isn’t any particular thing or policy. In fact, it’s one of the following possibilities:
*Change means to dump the old for something new for the sake of novel variety and even the unexpected thrill.
*Change means a crap shoot like playing the lottery. “Hey, you never know. I might win something!”
*Change means to taunt whoever’s in power with their now-ended superiority which is due to you.
In terms of policy, interest, and citizenship, none of these reasons is serious, substantive, or significant. Indeed, they all manifest fickleness and whimsy, pettiness and vengeance. Worse, they are complacent with civic and political sloth. And yet, of course, as election motivations, they can produce significantly different electoral results.
As for Bernie Sanders igniting a revolution, I’d say his flare up was more like a social brush fire put out by a couple of political spring showers. New Englanders are often dissenters if not just cranky Yankees. Only one vote was cast in Congress against WWI. The vote was cast by a New Englander. And she did it again in WWII. After Pearl Harbor.
More significantly, you suggest that the sizable primary vote Sanders received is indicative of a restless and revolutionary sector of the American electorate. If by that I could infer a number of Americans who are reflecting on the human condition — political, historical, economic, aesthetic, and spiritual — I’d be all in favor of Sanders. But I suspect Sander’s followers are mostly young people who hope for a free college education and a higher minimum wage for when they graduate from college with mediocre grades and poor job prospects. I really doubt the average Bernie supporter knows much about “bourgeois capitalism” or even how to spell it, let alone what socialism is supposed to do for humanity in its various guises, and what socialism did to humanity in the 20th century, including the generous death counts and ample cultural ruinations.
Russia once produced great music, great poetry, great literature. Under Stalin it produced advertisements for the revolution. You’ve mentioned Kim il-Suk & Sons’ Stalinist Statuary People’s Export Art Cooperative. I’ve recently seen some examples of a similar Soviet product: Stalin’s communist architecture. The Cold War critics in the West were right. It’s as bad as Mussolini’s’ fascist architecture. The buildings are imposing but not magnificent, large but not alive. Yet I always except the train station in Milan from that criticism. Many a time my brother and I have reveled in its entry amplitudes.
As for what attracted the “voters for change” to Trump who actually seek determinant policy changes, the most important policy is the same one that’s altering the electoral vote across Europe as well. An increasing number of citizens have realized from reflection and analysis — or just obvious instinct — that no country can accommodate an unlimited number of any refugees, especially those who are foreigners not only to their shores but to their culture, their history, their hopes, and even their language not to mention religious differences that have cultural and political obligations attached to them. And presently there’s a recidivistic religion engaged in a god war not seen in the West since Christianity split apart and fought for total spiritual hegemony.
Germany has just had a national election. The two mainline parties took a smaller share of the vote — hardly more than 50% — than they’ve had in decades.
Indeed, the “winning” party — the Christian Democrats — took about the same share as Hitler did when he came to power. And I’ve read scholars say Hitler didn’t have a popular mandate! The present difference went to anti-immigration parties. A Fulbright student from Germany, who’s auditing one of my courses, just informed me that Germany has taken in a million refugees — such as from Syria – in the past two years. That’s more than 1% of Germany’s population. Meanwhile, according to her, the large Turkish population in Germany, even to the third and fourth generations, mostly holds Turkish passports. They aren’t German citizens — by choice. She added with a wry grin that the matter is an ongoing controversy in Germany. Jawohl!
The growing consensus amongst nation states is that not only can’t finite countries accommodate unlimited numbers of people. They have no — I repeat, no — obligation to do so. As a result, more and more responsible citizens of great nation states are saying the following:
‘You’d of little or no benefit to us. At the same time, you’d be a great disruption and cost to us. Furthermore, you might even be an enemy of our state: our nation, our culture, and our beliefs, both civic and religious.
‘Therefore, you’re not welcome to squat in our country. Nor do we wish you to morally extort from our softer citizens a lifestyle for you that’s commensurate with our culture and economy in order that we don’t feel guilty for your squalor.
‘But we do wish you the best of success in your efforts in your own homeland to reform and even revolutionize your government and your affairs. After all, are you babies? No? Good! Then you’re responsible adults who as citizens must take charge of your political destinies and your national obligations.
‘And if you’re not responsible self-directing adult citizens, why would we want you in our country? So that you can live as infantile civic parasites on our economy to suck on the refugee equivalent of WIC while reproducing hateful cultural clones?
‘Show us that you have the moral wherewithal and the political fortitude to create your own responsible government. We did that. And we did it by ourselves. Of course, you’ll say, for example, France then helped America. True! And we’ll help you then. And only then. But we won’t help those who prefer to be helpless and who pronounce themselves victims ready for the world dole. Resources are too limited and reality is too expensive for those who own it to be geopolitical patsies.’
As for the present falderal about the “Star Spangled Banner” — a rather heavy-handed piece of music — I sympathize with Trump. More accurately, I ally myself with him on this point as a matter of policy. And that’s despite my policy proclivities for doing otherwise. But his wartime policy of national cohesion trumps my peacetime determinations of federal unintrusiveness. Trump’s vocal displeasures with the NFL is portrayed by the White House as a part of his executive duty to defend and protect the United States. And that includes its symbols. Because we’re at war presently, shooting every day in a global theatre, I recognize the merit in Trump’s intrusiveness.
In a quick geopolitical aside, notice the gratuitous service provided by the regular Radical Islamic bombings of the West. These recurrent attacks make it ever more obvious to the ideologically resistant — politicians and citizens alike — that Europe and America are in a state of war with an intolerant ideological global-presumptive power that is fighting to the death for world supremacy, and that any response less than decisive will end in the national, cultural, and even civilizational failure of the West. Such decisiveness includes recognizing the typically irreversible victory of the biological occupation of a territory. The Romans and the Indians can tell you these facts of life c. the 4th and the 19th centuries. And the Australians will talk to you about rabbits.
Nonetheless, to continue, I could wish that the Trump presidency would take a smaller role in this passing matter of football activism. I’d prefer that Trump made known some indication of his presidential preference, and then said the decision is one for the people of the United States to make. That’s what Johnson v. Texas concluded. Let Johnson burn his flag. The disgust and indignation of most Americans and their patriotic flag-pride will overwhelm the contemptible acts of such civic pests. The same is true of the marching Nazis in Skokie.
If the President really wanted to be provocatively pro-active if like a liberal or a progressive, he could tweet patriotic Americans, ‘Hey, if you can’t stand the NFL allowing disrespect to the National Symbol of our Great Country, remember, there’s still lots of baseball on. The play-offs are just starting! And there’s college football. Why not give NFL a break for a month or two from your ticket-buying and TV viewership. And put away your team logo products for the season!’
The great American ballot box is the cash register.
That might sound cynical. But given the priority of business in the main forum of America — civil society — the observation is actually virtuous.
And think how reliable that daily election is.
Each night the NFL counts your votes.
And there’s no miscounting of votes.
The banks don’t double count, and they don’t deposit fake votes.
And they don’t accept rubles!