In yesterday’s post, we discussed C. S. Lewis’s 1944 address The Inner Ring. Fr. Dwight Longenecker mentions this essay in an article of his own, in which he points out the obvious relationship between the concepts in Lewis’s address and his wonderful novel/grown up fairy tale That Hideous Strength.
That Hideous Strength is my second favorite work by Lewis, after Til We Have Faces, and as it is full of memorable scenes and I’ve read it a number of times, it was not difficult to recall passages to illustrate the points in his address. The reality of what Lewis is discussing is patent.
In his address, Lewis goes out of his way to say that Inner Rings are not always a bad thing:
I must now make a distinction. I am not going to say that the existence of Inner Rings is an Evil. It is certainly unavoidable. There must be confidential discussions: and it is not only a bad thing (1), it is (in itself) a good thing, that personal friendship should grow up between those who work together. And it is perhaps impossible that the official hierarchy of any organisation should coincide with its actual workings. If the wisest and most energetic people held the highest spots, it might coincide; since they often do not, there must be people in high positions who are really deadweights and people in lower positions who are more important than their rank and seniority would lead you to suppose. It is necessary: and perhaps it is not a necessary evil. But the desire which draws us into Inner Rings is another matter. A thing may be morally neutral and yet the desire for that thing may be dangerous.
So rings are everywhere, sometimes serve a purpose, and are something almost everyone, it seems, is attracted to. But there are exceptions. In That Hideous Strength, Lewis provides the example of Hingest, the renowned chemist, who is a man of actual achievement. He has no interest in the N.I.C.E. and its circles within circles, tries to leave, and is murdered.
Through no merit of my own, I seem to be largely immune to the allure of Inner Rings. I’m happiest, generally, working on some project on my own, although team activities can be satisfying, too, I’m just more likely to enjoy working solo.
Even back at high school, I do not recall ever wanting to hang with the cool kids. Of course, as the weird loner kid who did both sports (basketball) and drama club and sang in the school choir, there was no Inner Circle that would have me. Nope, it’s another temptation that attracts me, one that is both very much like an Inner Circle while at the same time its polar opposite: the allure of fandom.
Sports is the obvious example. It’s very exciting when your team competes, never mind that they are in no real sense ‘your’ anything. ‘Your’ city doesn’t own them, you have no say over who is on the team, team strategy, long term goals, or any other aspect of team operation. Team owners can and do move their teams away, as the nearby Oakland Raiders fans know too well. This idea that any professional sports team is ‘our’ team, is the fan’s team, is preposterous.
I’ve known all this since I was a kid. Yet, it took me almost 60 years before I shook off my emotional attachment to several professional teams. (2)
Being a sports fan is like being in an inner circle in this respect: there are insiders and outsiders. There are other teams (and their fans) that you despise as a function of your being a fan of your team. Your identity is tied up with being a fan of your team.
Now, few sports fans would admit to this. They’d claim it’s just a game, just for fun. Yet, on an emotional, and even functional level, it’s all true. Sure, those crazy Raiders fans in the Black Hole know it’s a game, that they are playacting according to rules almost as specific as those followed in the game on the field.
But then again, it’s not. It becomes a chief, sometimes defining, aspect of personality.
Being a fan is nearly opposite to being part of an Inner Ring in three respects: it’s as easy as buying a hat or t-shirt to become a fan, membership is open to everyone, and loyalty is valued. Yet there are definite insides and outsides, and rules. You can criticize the team, the players, the coaches, the front office and the owners, but only so far. People who criticize structural issues, such as how players are compensated or the absence of reasonable safety measures, run the risk of being called out as not real fans – unless they make the proper noises about how much they love the team.
So why even bring this up? The social usefulness of the compelled conformity of fans has not escaped those in love with the idea of compelled conformity. In this sense, fandom can be made to be an extension of the will of some Inner Circle or other. I think this use of team worship as a method of control has been in play for a long time now. Consider:
Athletes, actors & other entertainers take political stands as an exercise in herd management. Team loyalty is invoked to usurp thought in political affiliation; athletes and actors tell ‘fans’ what politics to root for. In a sane world, who would care what a 25 yr old jock has to say about anything, let alone politics? Or an actor? The hot dog vendor at the stadium is more likely to have interesting views, since he’s not spent 10,000+ hrs on his jump shot or learning to fake emotions. He may not be compelled in his positions by the need to conform to the group.
In my lifetime, the first famous athlete to take political stands during his career was Ali. He helped reverse public opinion on Vietnam. The press loved him. He was a bit of an outlier, since at the time sports figures could not be counted on to express the ‘correct’ views.
Now? Imagine if someone on the NBA Champion Warriors, who have twice turned down invitations to the Trump White House after a heavily-publicized love fest with Obama, were to be seen wearing a MAGA hat? It would be as shocking as if they started passing the ball to the other team in games.
Now imagine you’re a 20 year old 1st round draft pick, and you wander in to that environment – you going to buck the trend? The coach and stars have made it publicly clear they despise as idiots, evil or both EVERYBODY who holds opposing political views. So you, the 20 year old rookie, conform. Fans continue to be presented with a 100% consistent team political position. Fans may be under less pressure than rookies, but I’d be shocked if anyone at a Warriors game were to wear that MAGA hat. They’d get verbally abused, at least.
That facade of 100% consistent team politics must be maintained. Thus, some of the greatest hatred today is reserved for athletes and entertainers who fail to conform. Traitor to the team! Eeeeevil! Stupid! They must be destroyed! When the NFL tried to get these infants to dial it back for business reasons, all the knives come out.
We cannot let anyone start thinking that freedom of thought trumps group cohesion. All those years of training in school, all the conformity & mindless loyalty, would be undone in a minute if it were shown that teammates could disagree about politics and still be – teammates.
There’s roughly a 50/50 chance an American chosen at random will not be some flavor of committed liberal/progressive/socialist/communist. Yet we are presented with the image of 99% conformity among professional athletes and entertainers, and the complete vilification of that remaining 1%.
This facade of cohesion is one of the last remaining bastions against having to face the true variety of political positions that exist in any functioning democracy. The point of democracy, after all, is to allow people to honorably disagree and still live together in peace.
That’s why, while sane people just role their eyes at the posturing of these prima donnas and get on with their lives, the left cannot tolerate the very idea of professional athletes and other pampered celebrities rejecting any part of their politics. The edifice of group think – the herd – so painstakingly built, would fall.
- I think there was a typo here, as context and sense demand it should read “it is not only not a bad thing…” Or?
- Lakers, then Warriors, if you must know. I’ve watched a lot of sports, but only gotten really involved in these 2 teams. Now? Meh.