Way back in the Reagan Era, at the beginning of my career as a college teacher, I had a student in a first-year English composition class who was devastated by the grade he got on his first essay. It was a C, and he told me he had never received in his entire life any grade other than A. Nevertheless, a C was what he deserved for that essay and a C was what he got. He came to speak to me several times about his pain at this assessment, but I told him that he should focus on doing better the next time, and he agreed to do so.
The next time he got another C, and while he was again distressed, he was a little less distressed. In fact, over the next few weeks, I observed a metamorphosis: A guy who had evidently always seen himself as a high achiever, an ideal student, gradually reinvented himself as a slacker. He became positively cheerful about his poor grades, and even changed the way he dressed. His neatly tucked-in button-down-collar shirts gave way to sloppy t-shirts and baggy jeans. He let his hair grow out and stopped combing it. Even though we were at a straitlaced Christian college I was a little surprised that he didn’t smell of pot. By the end of term, he had fully embraced his new identity—and, for what it’s worth, seemed much happier.
Jonathan Liew in the Guardian, asking why supporters of the biggest soccer clubs in the world are so unhappy:
Perhaps the answer lies in a common realisation, sharpened by the Super League protests and subsequent events: that wins and new signings are no real substitute for a genuine stake. For decades all fans, but especially those of big clubs, have essentially been commodified, patronised, seen not as partners but as eyeballs, a resource to be tapped. Supporter groups demand a place on the board and a share in the future. Clubs respond with viral content, soaring ticket prices and fan tokens.
The clubs’ supporters are protesting at this. But how long will this go on?
And so for the most part following a superclub has become a pursuit of ever-diminishing returns: a doomed search for lost meaning in an increasingly transactional relationship. “Our club,” the Paris ultras insisted. But it isn’t and [Nasser Al-Khelaifi, PSG’s president] has the documents to prove it. In a sense these protests feel like a natural end point: an overdue recognition these are no longer our clubs and this is no longer our game. You can’t bring down the church. But there comes a point where you may just stop believing.
But then what? What happens after you stop believing? One possibility would be: You walk away. You support another, smaller club. But I find it difficult to believe that many will take that route. The good vibrations that come from supporting a Big Winner are a powerful drug. And there are ways other than exit to reckon with the removal of one’s illusions. One can reconfigure the nature of one’s loyalty.
One group of Chelsea supporters has pointed a way forward, by demonstrating in an image their attitude towards the sanctions imposed on their club’s longtime owner, a Russian oligarch and friend of Vladimir Putin named Roman Abramovich. These supporters made a banner and hung it on a railing at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea’s stadium. It featured Abramovitch’s face alongside a Russian flag, on which was inscribed this legend: THE ROMAN EMPIRE. Like my student all those years ago, these people have openly abandoned illusions. Forget about the values of a democratic society, the British love of freedom, all that crap: We support the rich and the powerful against the poor and the weak.
Similar noises have been coming from some fans of another Premier League club, Newcastle United, which was recently purchased by a consortium of investors led by the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of the nation of Saudi Arabia. Given the vicious war that Saudi Arabia has been pursuing in Yemen, it is unsurprising that human rights groups protested this purchase, but many Newcastle supporters—tired of years of mediocre performance and the danger of being relegated to a lower tier of English football—just shrugged. Others actively celebrated. They like who they are now.
Money clarifies; so does war. As I write these words, news reports say that China may be willing to give military as well economic support to Russia in its invasion of Ukraine. If that happens, certain dominos will or will not fall. Will the United States impose economic sanctions against China? If the possibility is mooted, what will Apple Inc. (for example) say about that? And what will its customers say? We support Ukraine, we say so all the time; we’re willing to send money and offer military support, but can we do without iPhones? Or, if Apple is willing and able to move its manufacturing elsewhere, would we be willing to pay double what we currently pay?
The full implications of our involvement in a truly global economic order have long been invisible to us, because such invisibility has been in the interests of those who most profit from that order. Over the next few months and years, on multiple fronts, what was invisible will become all too visible, and we will be faced with choices that so far we have been able to avoid. Like my former student, we’ll have to confront the chasm between our self-conception and our actual behavior. How will we bridge that chasm? And how happy will we be with ourselves when our choices are made? Money clarifies; so does war.