The World Cup & American Idealism
If you read the comments here at TAC, no doubt you’ve seen the accusation that America suffers from a Calvinist dualism that sinisterly causes all of American conservativism’s woes like it was the Catholic Church in a Dan Brown novel. While these claims are exaggerated, there’s a bit of truth in the idea that when compared to Europe, we’re a little more dualistic.
I think American’s reactions to the World Cup show this more than not. Whenever the World Cup comes around, Americans who don’t like soccer freely give their opinions as to why they are not interested in the sport that consumes the rest of the world. There’s usually two reasons. The first is that soccer is about as entertaining as watching paint dry. While this is perfectly defensible, it’s more a matter of taste than anything else (as one could say the same thing as basketball-as my wife quite often does when I’m watching games before the last 5 minutes that don’t involve Kobe Bryant getting mad. She likes those games.).
The other reason often given is soccer’s fondness for draws. This at the National Catholic Register is a good sample.
One often hears the question, “Why isn’t soccer more popular in the US?” Of course there are many reasons. Ninety minutes of running around only to end up nil nil is not very satisfying. I mean real sports shouldn’t end in a tie and they certainly shouldn’t end 0-0.
When my boys were little and started out playing little league, the rules said not to keep score. Of course, even though they weren’t supposed to, the kids knew who really won the game. Even these little ones understand that sports are supposed to have winners.
Ties and draws confuse Americans. When we have a draw, we have to decide which team really won in getting the draw.
All of our most popular sports have moved away from having ties. Baseball goes to extra innings, Basketball goes into overtime. Football can end in a tie after another full period, but it happens so rarely nowadays that Donovan McNabb didn’t even know it was possible. The last holdout, hockey, has now moved to shootouts to break the tie. Indeed, we Americans will do anything, even really stupid things to avoid the tie. Don’t believe me? In a few weeks, we’ll have the MLB All-Star game, where “This time, it counts.” If you need 5 minutes or more to exercise your hatred of Bud Selig, feel free to resume reading the post later.
Pure and simple, Americans want to see winners and losers; good guys and bad guys. We are less comfortable with a middle grey area like a draw than our European counterparts. This is more indicative of a tendency towards dualism than not.
I’m sure that Morning Minion is right in that this due partly to Calvinism (though I have no idea if it’s only Calvinist). Morning Minion then goes on to assume this tendency towards dualism is always a negative. I’m not sold on that point.
Surely dualism can be evil if it leads to delusions about one’s own side. If one puts the USA as the “good” side and its enemies as the “evil” side one is apt to presume America’s actions to be good, making more excusable whatever means the USA deems proper to execute its ends. Whether the atom bomb, torture, or whatever, the USA is good and so its means must be good. The same presumption applies to its ends (i.e. support of Israel or other regimes). This uncritical approach blinds us to our own faults, making repentance and true virtuous living nearly impossible. On the flip side, the approach towards our enemies can dehumanize them, as they become nothing but “the enemy.”
On the other hand, the alternative to this can be just as dangerous, As we see often in Europe, where there is only grey there is just acceptance of the nature of things. That is, while Americans may accept uncritically the sins of its country because it’s country is good, Europeans & secularists are more likely to accept things because there is no good. Scarred by the horrors of the two world wars, Europe has lost any kind of ideal and so do not push themselves towards. Instead they accept themselves and their countries as flawed and do not see anything that can be done about it. There is no hope.
My feeling is that both kinds of acceptance are bad, but America’s tendency towards “dualism” is better because it contains a bit of idealism in a good way. You can’t have a dualism without an idealism, I think it is the idealism that is more natural to Americans than our dualism; dualism simply results from our ideals.
This idealism means that when we do have the ability to see our faults, these faults outrage us. I have a feeling healthcare reform became unpopular in large part because we were disgusted by the lobbying and deal-making that violates our ideals of fair debate. At least having the ideal of being good can often compel us to try better to live up to those ideals. Going back to sports, which games are better? The ones where the teams are fighting to hold a draw or where a team is going for the win
Even though America’s idealism can lead to dualism, I think it is better than Europe’s lack thereof. After all, draws are boring. It’s much better to have a winner.
Especially if they wear black and gold.