American Culture

Skippy McDaniels, Jesus, and tribalism in our fucked-up society


@Doc and Otherwise engage in a leapfrogging chat about the arrogance of sport and religion.

ED NOTE: The emails flying back and forth are sometimes more interesting than the actual posts here at S&R, so occasionally we’ll collect a thread and offer it up for your consideration. This exchange between @Doc and Otherwise, in particular, sheds light on how conversations can quickly bounce from the seemingly banal to the … thoughtful.

Otherwise: I know [Josh McDaniels’] hero Belichick screwed up his first coaching gig and then reneged on a job offer, but I’m not sure Skippy is Belichick. Yes, Belichick fell in love with a QB and it made him do silly things (like trade Garoppolo) but Bill didn’t fall in love with Tebow. Twice.

What makes the Patriots great is their ruthless “Branch Rickey” approach to personnel management and that they love cheating more than a Country & Western jukebox. Their scheming obviously isn’t as great or coaches from the Belichick tree wouldn’t have a lifetime average of 0.400.

@Doc: Gorilla Monsoon once described Bobby “The Brain” Heenan’s philosophy this way: Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat.

Not sure why that came to me. But all we’ve been reading about discontent in the House of Foxboro has me hoping, so desperately, that it all blows up. Belichick leaves and Skippy takes over with a QB in his 40s and Malcolm Butler is gone and Bob Kraft decides to take the Jerry Jones approach and make himself GM. God, it would be like Christmas every day.

And Tebow is still available…

Otherwise: All coaches say it, but deep in their heart they don’t believe it: “The players are the ones who win the game.” What was it they said about The Bear? “He could beat your’n with his’n or his’n with your’n.” Not sure it was ever true or Alabama wouldn’t have handed out all those envelopes of cash back in the day. But coaches want desperately to see themselves as the center of the universe.

Tebow was Skippy’s attempt to prove that he could win with a ham sandwich.

@Doc: We keep hearing all this talk about Belichick v Brady and each one thinking he made the other. No idea how much of it is true, although it’s a fun narrative. Still, we live in a society where gifted sports types rarely hear “no” during their lives.

Otherwise: Also doesn’t change the fact that the NFL is rotten. No heroes here with Foles and Pederson both making their Jesus speeches after the win.

I’ve finally figured out why evangelicals love Jesus so much, because it validates them. Nothing to do with actual belief, just love the idea that they are special because they chose/were chosen by the right god, who personally wants them to be successful. Whenever they try false modesty, “All glory to God,” it’s like saying “I’m not good looking, but my image in the mirror is. It’s all the mirror.” I guess this is obvious, but it’s become clear to me in a new way lately.

@Doc: The rich and famous rarely question the system that made them that way. Yes, it’s validation, as you say.

There’s an odd appeal to Pope’s edict that “whatever is, is right.” For the well-off, Christianity is a salve for a guilty conscience – prosperity gospel, anyone? – and for the have-nots … well, another guy once said something about the “opiate of the masses.” How do you get through a poor, hopeless life without the promise of something? You’re what God made you, your struggle is noble, and you’ll be rewarded in Heaven. This is the only thing keeping lots of heads off lots of pikes.

You know how I feel about religion, but I suppose it does exert a certain cohesive force on things…

Otherwise: So does cowshit.

All the election tribalism stuff got me thinking in a slightly different way, some of which I’ve shared with you.

But basically, the tribalism thing is far more flexible than I realized. We tend to go with whatever tribal affiliation best serves us at the moment.

You and I are both members in relatively good standing of the Southern tribe. If we wanted to, we could both move back to small towns in the south or west, join a church, and inside of three months be fully integrated. Now it wouldn’t be easy because we’d have to shed ourselves of our current tribal affiliations and Masonic handshakes, but we could do it if the pressures were great enough. I more or less did that in the corporate world for many years.

Both of us have abandoned that because we perceive we can do better in the Liberal Intelligensia tribe. More money, more prestige, more whatever.

(Interestingly enough, neither of us is welcome in the Conservative Intelligensia sub-tribe because we don’t come from blue enough blood. Not unlike Trump—he can hang out with the CI subtribe, but he will never really be a member. He has to build his own country clubs because he ain’t getting into theirs.)

We have the luxury of choice. Lots of people effectively don’t, so they have to adhere to the norms of that tribe.

We also have been relatively constant. We both chose our tribe pretty early on and have stuck with it. As a result, we tend to think of tribal affiliations as fixed. But lots of people will change tribal affiliations in a heartbeat – e.g., Joe Lieberman – based on what serves them best at the time.

@Doc: I wouldn’t last ten seconds in that Southern tribe. I can also stick my dick in a meat grinder, as long as we’re considering “If we wanted to.”

On the whole, though, your point is taken. We all seek validation and actualization and success, although the definitions of those things can vary widely. My idea of success and happiness would be worse than Paul Ryan’s darkest nightmares, for instance.

But it’s sort of like that post I wrote a few months about on the subject of people who vote against their own interests. We do it, too. Or at least I do, if we define self-interest as financial wealth. Or solvency. So “choice,” in your frame, is a word that acts like it means one thing but is instead a far vaguer idea that covers a lot of possible meanings.

In a way, though, isn’t the very concept of pursuing one’s interests (in the economic sense) embedded in the idea that tribes aren’t fixed? Nothing is fixed. The only logic is cash. That’s where certain segments of our society are and others are going. de Tocqueville’s musings on “self-interest, rightly understood” notwithstanding, isn’t the very idea of morality the enemy of the economic assumptions on which America was founded?

Otherwise: So why then, do folks like white NFL players, stick with their birth tribes so aggressively? Carson Wentz: “I’m all about two things—Jesus and hunting.” Or Brady with his rabid Catholicism? Is it because they never had to think about it and thus don’t see it as a choice? You and I may not have switched sub-tribes had we been part of the Southern/Conservative Intelligensia sub-tribe. We weren’t pushed out of our main tribe, but we were surely nudged—not really that good at some of the things prized by that tribe, e.g., sports, mechanical aptitude, and very good at some things not valued by that tribe, e.g., education. So we had to consciously choose a sub-tribe. Are Brady, Foles, Cutler and all the right wing NFL players/coaches just bigots because of inertia?

The most stunning thing to me about the whole anthem protest thing was how starkly it broke on racial lines.

The NBA doesn’t seem to. Pop and Steve Kerr, for example. Why are they different?

@Doc: Back to what I said earlier about people not challenging the system that made them. Look at the kids who became punks or goths or stoners – these weren’t the star footballers or the chief cheerleaders. They didn’t have a path to self-realization there, so they rebelled. They were rejected (perhaps in very harsh, even violent terms), so they sought themselves in a place where they were accepted.

So of course the cheerleader and the quarterback got married, and if he was good enough they had a nice life. Why would they question anything about that mainstream system?

People question the system if and when it lets them down (and I’m aware of the nuance between this and my Pope observation above). I know people who came to question the mainstream later in life, once it spit them out. Severe crisis of identity, that.

Otherwise: It’s simplistic, but I fall back on the old evolutionary argument that humans evolved with two sets of drivers—compete and cooperate—and the balance between those is always shifting depending on the situation. I think tribalism is the intersection—cooperating to better compete.

And to be fair, our sub-tribe might not welcome them. If the star football player came and sat at our lunch table we’d probably be like the guy in the Billy Joel song, “Dude, what are YOU doing HERE?”

So our choice might not be a choice at all, and it’s just our good luck that the island we were exiled to turns out to be better than the one we were exiled from? 🙂

@Doc: Well, within tribes, maybe. America isn’t a tribe, though. We’re several tribes, and my tribe is at war with at least one other very well-resourced, powerful tribe. There is zero cooperation between us.

I should probably stop there in case the NSA is reading this.

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