Snarky Behavior

Learning from Your Elders

August 13, 2007 · Leave a Comment

My grandma hates sports.

More specifically, she hates sports fanatics. She hates men who paint their faces. She hates tribal affiliations to symbols, colors and mascots. And she hates irrational hooliganism.

You see, my grandma lived through Nazi Germany. She witnessed her friends and family irrationally buy into the political fervor of social democracy. She chaffed at the nationalistic pride, later deemed facism, that was embodied by Nazi propoganda.

To put it bluntly, sports fanatics remind my grandmother of her shame for being part of a society that could exterminate 6 million Jews. The face painters and obscenity yellers remind her of a time when her individual voice, her conscience, was drowned out by irrational group-think.

In this context, social identity theory would classify my grandmother as a CORFer : Cutting Off of Reflective Failure. She has lived the second half of her life– the part as a German-American immigrant– distancing herself from her portion of the collective shame of WWII.

It’s fascinating to me how huge of an impact the experience of Nazi Germany had on my grandmother’s self-esteem, and really, the self-esteem of all Germans. The historical embarassment and shame of a failed and despicable facist state is deeply damaging to one’s personal narrative; so much so, in fact, that my grandmother was compelled to write her memoirs about how powerless she felt during that period of time.

The American narrative, of course, is spun in a much more positive light (Basking in Reflected Glory), despite Manzanar and the two atomic bombs we dropped on Japan. We constantly hear about how “history has judged Harry Truman much more favorably” than his popularity would’ve indicated at the time he left office; and this is presumably how George W. Bush contextualizes his own legacy.

So in today’s context, it seems the contemporary role of the American president has become advancing a foreign policy agenda abroad while managing the collective ego of the American public at home. That is to say, we can tolerate being duped into supporting a war, if it means replacing a dictator and promoting freedom/democracy in the Middle East.

However, as the success of a stable democracy becomes increasingly unlikely, are we strong enough as a society to accept and sustain the blow to our collective ego of a reflective failure? Or will we blast the Iraqis for their inability to manage the fledgling democracy we “provided” for them?

…if America were a sports team, we would all be Yankee fans.

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