Why I Don't Like Patriotism or Competitive Sports.

“There can be no world peace while patriotism exists” -someone.
see also [old blog entry link]

Patriotism is kind of like hockey. We cheer for our club out of pride – sometimes pride for excellence, but more often than not simply because we see ourselves as a part of that group. If I live in Vancouver, I’m a Canucks fan. If I live in Vancouver and I’m not a Canucks fan, rather let’s say I’m a Flames fan, then chances are I’m from Calgary. If the Canucks win the Stanley Cup, holy smokes it’s celebration time, come on! (let’s celebrate) because our team is the best! But if the Tampa Bay Lightning wins the Stanley Cup, who cares? We Vancouverites certainly aren’t all going to become Lightning fans, even though they’re clearly superior to the Canucks (because the Canucks lost and the Lightning won). We don’t cheer for the winning team, we remain Canucks fans tried and true, because they are our boys! They’re from OUR TOWN! Despite the fact that only 12 of the 25 players on the roster are actually Canadian, and only two are from BC (holy crap I’m learning things about hockey writing this blog entry!)

Anthropologist Desmond Morris once told me (via TV) that human beings are designed to be tribal. Tribes today are different than the tribes of old, which were basically big families, but we still have tribes. Most people yearn to be in a club of like-minded people. We have groups of friends. We have ukelele circles, or freemason meetings, or hockey teams. It’s only natural to become a part of a group of people that’s not too small, not too large, but just right.

But these tribes of patriots and hockey fans that we are so proud to belong to, and that bring us “together” are a little weirder, and have very little to do with friendship or common interests. Of all the hockey fans I know, nobody actually knows any of the players except through the media. I could understand cheering for the Canucks if I had a good friend on the team. Of all the patriots I know–those people who brandish Canadian flags on their hats–nobody knows the policymakers or the prime minister. In fact most of us don’t keep up on politics and have very little interest in contributing to the country. The fact is that personally I probably wouldn’t care to spend time with most Canadians, and I don’t take pride in the history of exploitation, war and injustice that made this country great.

But I find myself in a world where being unsupportive of these tribes that are based on pride and territorialism gets me, at best, dirty looks. It’s a recipe for alienation and I’m sure if I was more vocal about it the backlash would be more significant. And this is the worst part of these clubs – they tend to behave like wolf packs, with bitter rivalry over territories, competing for competition’s sake. Americans suck because their education system is flawed and have shitty health care and too many guns! (Isn’t it ironic that the most heated rivalries are often with our closest neighbors) Tampa Bay Lightning sucks because…because Vancouver Canucks rule! And the tragedy is in our modern world we don’t need to behave like wolves snarling over the same elk. We don’t need to fight over land and trophies. This is not progress! I was born in Canada but I don’t want to be known as a Canadian. I don’t consider myself a countryman. I can just be a human being on the planet Earth.

Go local planet! Up with Earth, down with Mars!

further reading:

Exerpts from “The Case Against Competition” by Alfie Kohn (with edits by me) [link to full article]

After five years of investigating the topic, looking at research from psychology, sociology, education and other fields…I’m now convinced that…competition is bad news. It’s not just that we overdo it or misapply it. The trouble lies with competition itself. The best amount of competition for our children is none at all, and the very phrase “healthy competition” is actually a contradiction in terms.

That may sound extreme…but some things aren’t just bad because they’re done to excess; some things are inherently destructive. Competition, which simply means that one person can succeed only if others fail, is one of those things. It’s always unnecessary and inappropriate at school, at play and at home.

Think for a moment about the goals you have for your children. Chances are you want them to develop healthy self-esteem, to accept themselves as basically good people. You want them to become successful, to achieve the excellence of which they’re capable. You want them to have loving and supportive relationships. And you want them to enjoy themselves.

These are fine goals. But competition not only isn’t necessary for reaching them — it actually undermines them.

Most people lose in most competitive encounters, and it’s obvious why that causes self-doubt. But even winning doesn’t build character; it just lets a child gloat temporarily. Studies have shown that feelings of self-worth become dependent on external sources of evaluation as a result of competition: Your value is defined by what you’ve done. Worse — you’re a good person in proportion to the number of people you’ve beaten.

In a competitive culture, a child is told that it isn’t enough to be good — he must triumph over others. Success comes to be defined as victory, even though these are really two very different things.

This is not to say that children shouldn’t learn discipline and tenacity, that they shouldn’t be encouraged to succeed or even have a nodding acquaintance with failure. But none of these requires winning and losing — that is, having to beat other children and worry about being beaten. When classrooms and playing fields are based on cooperation rather than competition, children feel better about themselves. They work with others instead of against them, and their self-esteem doesn’t depend on winning a spelling bee or a [hockey] game.

There is…evidence that productivity in the workplace suffers as a result of competition. Sixty-five…studies found that children learn better when they work cooperatively as opposed to competitively, eight found the reverse, and 36 found no significant difference. children do not learn better when education is transformed into a competitive struggle. Competition makes kids anxious and that interferes with concentration. Competition doesn’t permit them to share their talents and resources as cooperation does, so they can’t learn from one another. Finally, trying to be Number One distracts them from what they’re supposed to be learning. It may seem paradoxical, but when a student concentrates on the reward (an A or a gold star or a trophy), she becomes less interested in what she’s doing. The result: Performance declines.

Competition is a recipe for hostility. By definition, not everyone can win a contest. If one child wins, another cannot. This means that each child inevitably comes to regard others as obstacles to his or her own success. Competition leads children to envy winners, to dismiss losers (there’s no nastier epithet in our language than “Loser!”) and to be suspicious of just about everyone. Competition makes it difficult to regard others as potential friends or collaborators; even if you’re not my rival today, you could be tomorrow…Trying to outdo someone is not conducive to trust — indeed, it would be irrational to trust someone who gains from your failure. At best, competition leads one to look at others through narrowed eyes; at worst, it invites outright aggression. Existing relationships are strained to the breaking point, while new friendships are often nipped in the bud. When children compete, they are less able to take the perspective of others…Competitive children [are] less empathetic and less generous than others.

Cooperation, on the other hand, is marvelously successful at helping children to communicate effectively, to trust in others and to accept those who are different from themselves. Competition interferes with these goals and often results in outright antisocial behavior.