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Sport hatred redux: Hating arch-rivals

I am a Tottenham fan. (I accept your condolences.) One duty of a Tottenham fan is to hate Arsenal. And I am nothing if not a dutiful lad. Is such hatred justified?


I wrote about this some time ago on this blog. I suggested that sport-hatred was sometimes justified, and that it was when the reasons for sport-hatred mirrored reasons that justify strong emotions such as hatred in non-sports contexts. Here is what I said about hatred for arch-rivals.


. . . we often come to sport-hate arch-rivals. This might seem to be motivated by biases, and thus obviously unjustified. But maybe not. Conflicts between rivals resemble certain kinds of very rare moral conflicts, between good and evil. I say such moral conflicts are rare because it seems to me that transporting the good vs. evil dynamic outside of sports is usually ill-advised (the world is not so clear-cut). But sport, as many have argued, does seem to provide a training ground of sorts – one in which we can identify with one side in a contest, and thereby experience all sorts of emotions and attitudes (including sport-hatred) directed to the other side. Sometimes there exist moralized conflicts in life in which hatred of the opposing side is morally justified, and in which hatred plausibly motivates morally praiseworthy actions (exhibitions of courage, for example). If the reasons for sport-hating another team (because they are your team’s arch-rival, for example) legitimately mirror these conflicts, I would say that sport-hatred of the arch-rival is thereby justified.


The claim is that when one’s hatred of an arch-rival mirrors clear-cut moral conflicts, this hatred is justified. Behind this claim is a view of sport as, among other things, a kind of moral training ground: a place where some of the stronger emotions and reactions can find relatively safe expression, giving us a chance to learn how to live with them and use them for good (or ill, as the case may be).


I think this view of sport is right, and I think that various forms of sport-hatred are justified. But the more I have thought about hatred of an arch-rival, the more problematic the phenomenon has seemed to me. Given that clear-cut moral conflicts are virtually non-existent in ‘real life,’ how useful is it to develop serious hatred towards players (and sometimes fans) of arch-rival teams? I suspect it is detrimental – in hating arch-rivals, we give in to darker motivations to paint the world into obviously good and obviously bad, and to dehumanize those who fall on the wrong side. (And dehumanization is a real problem for human beings. It sits behind a wide range of societal and personal failings. We should practice overriding the natural tendency to dehumanize those who are strange to us.)


Don’t get me wrong. I still hate arch-rivals, and I admit I often relish the hatred. I just don’t think it is morally justified.


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2 Comment on this post

  1. I welcome the more resonable conclusion you substitute for the former one.

    I think an analogy between sports and fiction is useful here: just as works of fiction make us feel certain emotions targeting fictional characters and events by means of a narrative created by the author of the fiction, sports make us feel certain emotions targeting actual people and events by means of a narrative created by the audience, spectators and media alike.

    But whereas in fiction it is always appropriate to feel the emotions we feel provided they are prescribed by the narrative we engage with, it is not always apppropriate to feel the emotions we feel provided they are prescribed by the narrative the audience creates. For no such narrative ought to prescribe feeling violent, negative emotions targeting any real person on which the narrative is grounded. After all, the crucial difference is that audience create narratives that are grounded, among others, in real people and events.

    This means that as potential participant to this narrative, we should either reject the whole narrative if it consistently prescribed having violent/negative emotions targeting real people, or step out of aspects of it if those aspects carry this prescription.

    The upshot of this reasoning is not that we are never justified in feeling violent emotions triggered by sports-narratives. The upshot is simply that we are never so justified if such emotions have targets and if those targets = real people.

  2. I agree having aggressive/negative emotions towards evilness is morally desirable, and hence training such capacity in sports or fiction is also desirable. Moreover, I think there are, in fact, several things that are evidently evil in the world towards which we currently do little (e.g. poverty). The world would be better off in the long term if people felt more negative emotions towards them. I don’t think that’s the problem with “sport-hate arch-rivals”.

    The problem is that it mirrors more out-group aggression based on accidental (even completely arbitrary) factors than it mirrors aggression towards wrong-doing or negative emotions towards evilness. Out-group aggression is arguably one of our current moral failings and seems like one of the things we would be likely to put in the “evil” category. In my view, it is a huge obstacle to creating large-scale global cooperation. Aggression towards wrong-doing, on the other hand, is not necessarily group specific. The other problem with sport-hate arch-rivals is that it always towards an intentional entity and humans seem to already have a bias towards noting intentional evilness over natural, non-anthropogenetic, evilness. For instance, many natural catastrophic risks on the scale of global warming often go unnoticed by the general population. (I wonder if Republicans started denying supervolcanos we would do something about them. I also wonder if they would deny global warming if it hadn’t made into the Democrats agenda.)

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