Baseball is Politics is War

2 months ago

[Originally published in the Front Range Voluntaryist, article by Nick Weber]

Break out your favorite jersey and start yelling at that other guy: my local sports team is better than yours and so are my politics.

A Baseball Parable

After idolizing now-retired slugger David Ortiz, a guy who treated home run trots like a park stroll, earlier this year Boston Red Sox fans became outraged after Orioles slugger Manny Machado “showed up” their pitcher by taking 30 seconds on a home run trot. Granted, it was a 470 foot bomb after he had been intentionally thrown at 6 times in the previous two weeks, with MLB All-Star and 100-mph hurler Chris Sale throwing behind him during the previous at-bat. Fans and sportswriters voiced their opinions on the matter, I’ll spare you the research: Machado is the devil in Boston and a hero in Baltimore.

Sports fans have personalized the concept of their favorite team to such an extent that when you criticize their team, you are criticizing them and they will jump to its defense immediately and vehemently. They associate their team identity as the highest expression of themselves. It’s no small jump to translate this concept to politics: no talking point is too embarrassing to repeat, no narrative too ridiculous to question, no policy too far-fetched so long as it’s something my team supports. This is the essence of the two-party system: I’m right, you’re wrong and there is no other way. In sports as in politics, there is comfort in the herd but there are also blinders. The safeness of the collective discourages straying from the norm and although being on the fringe is scary, mob rule is much worse.

But further along, the two parties ultimately merge, the bickering merely theater for memes and Facebook feeds. This is most explicitly evidenced by the American way of war, which continues on unabashedly under both parties. A long dormant anti-war left and a non-existent anti-war right are utterly silent when it comes to questioning our military might-makes-right foreign policy. The foreign policy war apparatus operates at a higher level and is unquestioned by either party. Whether it is Obama dropping some 26,000 bombs in 2016, Bush’s WMD claims for invasion of Iraq, Clinton in the Balkans, or H.W. Bush’s Iraq, the list is endless. We have deliberately destabilized the Middle East for decades, compiled numerous NATO bases at the doorsteps of Russia and routinely ignore that clearly less-than-sacred piece of paper known as the Constitution; we haven’t declared war in 75 years. We have attempted to overthrow 50+ countries and operate countless military trip-wire installations scattered across the globe; this is no small undertaking, it is multi-faceted and securely embedded into our culture. We have a decades long, three presidency spanning, “military conflict” against a guerrilla force on their own land that history has proven time and again can’t be won. And yet, when we are attacked it’s because “they hate our freedoms?”

Enough with the dumbed down narratives. How does this continuity happen if we are so divided? How is it possible for the House to pass (344-81) a 1,330 page, 696 billion dollar National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA FY18) without any objection, discussion or even acknowledgement of its existence from the people? How many people even know what NDAA stands for? We the people have become unquestionably wedded to the ultimate belief in American exceptionalism and it's obligatory bombs for freedom ideology; an ideology that can only be sustained through bureaucracy and fear.

The Bureaucracy

Regardless of which party is in power there are firmly entrenched interests hard at work continuing the status quo. Bureaucracy will continue to grow and will consume even the most stalwart advocate of reduction policies. As with all government programs, the goal is to ensure continuation and naturally, a continuation of funds with each party merely shifting and shuffling the funds to their favorite spending programs. There is good money to be made in prolonging, rather than fixing a problem; this is a hallmark of government. Sure, the bureaucracy allows a fig leaf on occasion via a tax cut here or there, but spending never goes down and budgets are never balanced. Politicians are too flush with campaign contribution cash and too worried about war machine layoffs in their districts to garner any real support of dismantling the machine. A distracted populace is blind and wars abroad are irrelevant when you have an ocean on either side of you (a de facto wall), literal walls to the south and a friendly neighbor to the north. So long as it occurs “over there,” (where is Yemen?) the masses can have their collective cognitive dissonance: there is a war on somewhere and I'm sure we are doing the right thing. As Felix Morely put it:

“a man is great in that his nation is great.”

This attitude allows the bureaucratic wheels to keep churning. Boiling it down further, Michael Swanson summarized in The War State:

“It is the nature of the bureaucracies that make
up a larger organization to look after their own
interests and exhibit rigid thinking...Government
bureaucracies are even more rigid and slow to adapt
to change than a bureaucracy that is a division of a large
private corporation is, because they are subject to severe
budgetary constraints. A corporation’s purpose is to
increase profits, so if a corporate division is successful
in helping to achieve this goal, it usually will have the
benefit of an expanding budget, which it can use for
new purposes. Government bureaucracies do not have
the ability to grow their budget on their own, so they
are dependent upon the President and Congress for
their funds. If some big change in policy occurs, they
may lose money while others gain at their expense. As
a result, government bureaucracies tend to simply do
more of the same.” [1]

Both parties have a vested interest in keeping each other in power and to keep the war machine funds flowing while allowing for talking point tirades to fill the news cycles to keep the masses occupied with their team politics. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

The Fear

The most effective ways to build consensus for the necessity of an all-consuming military apparatus is fear. This has long been understood by those in power. As Hermann Goering admitted to American military psychologist Gustave Gilbert in his cell at Nuremberg,

“Naturally, the common people don’t want war...
That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders
of the country who determine the policy and it is
always a simple matter to drag the people along,
whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship
or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”

“There is one difference,” Gilbert insisted,

“In a democracy, the people have some say in
the matter through their elected representatives,
and in the United States only Congress can declare
wars.”

Goering was unimpressed and was quick to
continue:

“...the people can always be brought to the bidding
of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell
them that they are being attacked and denounce
the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the
country to danger. It works the same way in any
country.”

Follow that with an endless parade of military and foreign policy “experts” with wall to wall media coverage; the narrative is embedded and unquestioned and it functions the same, regardless of party. No one questions the obvious: we are an empire, we are never not at war. The justifications are endless: humanitarian, economic necessity (corporate socialism), fight them there or fight them here, we must do something. We are one team in this regard. Sports gives us something comfortable to argue about instead of confronting the reality of the impacts of our foreign policy. All in, it's quite a sordid story: these wars are not meant to be won, they are meant to be continuous. In the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Arthur Schlesinger summarized the, as he called it, permanent government, which

“soon developed its own cozy alliances with
committees of Congress, its own ties to the
press, its own national constituencies. It began
to exude the feeling that Presidents come and
go but it went on forever. The permanent
government was, as such politically neutral;
its essential commitment was to doing things
as they had been done before.” [2]

This has become an unquestionably true summary of our war state, our empire, our team. The combination of a businesses as usual Congress, fully supportive of the endless cycle of war treachery, a press always eager to parrot the “official” story, and a willingly subordinate populace makes for a global game where no one is a winner and sovereign lands, families and cultures are destroyed. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to insane antics when it's “your guy,” be it sports or politics, but who cares, believe it or not, there’s another big game tomorrow, will your team win?

[1] Swanson, Michael. The War State: The Cold War Origins Of The Military-Industrial Complex And The Power Elite, 1945-1963. Michael Swanson. Kindle Edition, Introduction; [2] Ibid. pp. 246

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I am Groot! :D

I like the analogy you made here @thevoluntaryist. I hope we finally find a way forward without resorting to war.

Great analogy! Herd mentality is strong.