“The Righteous Mind” By Jonathan Haidt (Excerpt)
December 12, 2020
You don’t expect a book on moral psychology to contain a description of a football Saturday in Charlottesville. But Mister Haidt described one in his book. Having studied at Yale, Penn and Chicago I guess he wasn’t prepared for the Saturday pageantry When he was at UVa. Alas,what he describes are bygone days.
This excerpt is taken from the beginning of Chapter 11, “Religion Is a Team Sport.”
Note: The audiobook version is better as he sings the first verse of the “Good Old Song.” 🤪
Every Saturday in the fall, at colleges across the United States, millions of people pack themselves into stadiums to participate in a ritual that can only be described as tribal. At the University of Virginia, the ritual begins in the morning as students dress in special costumes. Men wear dress shirts with UVA neckties, and if the weather is warm, shorts. Women typically wear skirts or dresses, sometimes with pearl necklaces. Some students paint the logo of our sports teams, the Cavaliers (a V crossed by two swords), on their faces or other body parts. The students attend pregame parties that serve brunch and alcoholic drinks. Then they stream over to the stadium, sometimes stopping to mingle with friends, relatives, or unknown alumni who have driven for hours to reach Charlottesville in time to set up tailgate parties in every parking lot within a half mile of the stadium. More food, more alcohol, more face painting. By the time the game starts, many of the 50,000 fans are drunk, which makes it easier for them to overcome self-consciousness and participate fully in the synchronous chants, cheers, jeers, and songs that will fill the next three hours. Every time the Cavaliers score, the students sing the same song UVA students have sung together on such occasions for over a century. The first verse comes straight out of Durkheim and Ehrenreich. The students literally lock arms and sway as a single mass while singing the praises of their community (to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne”): That good old song of Wah-hoo-wah—we’ll sing it o’er and o’er It cheers our hearts and warms our blood to hear them shout and roar We come from old Virgin-i-a, where all is bright and gay Let’s all join hands and give a yell for dear old U-V-A. Next, the students illustrate McNeill’s thesis that “muscular bonding” warms people up for coordinated military action. The students let go of each other’s arms and make aggressive fist-pumping motions in the air, in sync with a nonsensical battle chant: Wah-hoo-wah! Wah-hoo-wah! Uni-v, Virgin-i-a! Hoo-rah-ray! Hoo-rah-ray! Ray, ray—U-V-A! It’s a whole day of hiving and collective emotions. Collective effervescence is guaranteed, as are feelings of collective outrage at questionable calls by the referees, collective triumph if the team wins, and collective grief if the team loses, followed by more collective drinking at postgame parties. Why do the students sing, chant, dance, sway, chop, and stomp so enthusiastically during the game? Showing support for their football team may help to motivate the players, but is that the function of these behaviors? Are they done in order to achieve victory? No. From a Durkheimian perspective these behaviors serve a very different function, and it is the same one that Durkheim saw at work in most religious rituals: the creation of a community. A college football game is a superb analogy for religion. 2 From a naive perspective, focusing only on what is most visible (i.e., the game being played on the field), college football is an extravagant, costly, wasteful institution that impairs people’s ability to think rationally while leaving a long trail of victims (including the players themselves, plus the many fans who suffer alcohol-related injuries). But from a sociologically informed perspective, it is a religious rite that does just what it is supposed to do: it pulls people up from Durkheim’s lower level (the profane) to his higher level (the sacred). It flips the hive switch and makes people feel, for a few hours, that they are “simply a part of a whole.” It augments the school spirit for which UVA is renowned, which in turn attracts better students and more alumni donations, which in turn improves the experience for the entire community, including professors like me who have no interest in sports.” — The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt https://a.co/3vsFOmj
Anchors up and jump right in! Lucian