I respect his hyperbole, I really do, but if the Birmingham News' Mike Bolton is really that concerned with escalating levels of extremism in the Auburn-Alabama rivalry ...
In most states the love of college football is a healthy diversion from the rigors of daily life. I don't believe that is true in Alabama. It is often said that football is a religion in Alabama but I don't believe that is true, either. In religion the Baptists don't sit around dreaming that the Methodists will suffer horrendous indignities. The Methodists don't call radio shows to express their glee if a Baptist church has inner turmoil.
Imagine for a second that Alabamians monitored every move made by politicians in Montgomery and Washington with the same fervor they monitor every move made in Tuscaloosa and Auburn. I think it's safe to say that if that were the case many Alabamians would not be suffering the indignities of losing their long-held jobs and seeing foreclosure signs posted in their yards.
The fascination with college football is unhealthy in this state. It has left the realm of good-natured fun and evolved into hatred.
... maybe he should get his hands on a copy of the new Cass Sunstein:
Now Sunstein has written Going to Extremes, a short book about the nature and roots of extremism. ... He finds that sitting people down to deliberate does not necessarily lead them to compromise or to converge on their mean opinion. They tend to radicalize in the direction of whatever bias they had to begin with.
If you bring the two clashing sides together, they don't find middle ground any more than like-minded people do. Each side digs in. If you give "a set of balanced, substantive readings" to a group that is at loggerheads over abortion or affirmative action, Sunstein shows, each side simply mines the readings for support of its own position. Ideology, it turns out, is not just a matter of opinions or positions — it is a predisposition to receive some kinds of evidence and not others.
In sports, a little tribalism and extremism are part of the point. This is why I hate it when, for example, players from opposing teams exchange anything more than a cursory, unsmiling handshake before or after the game, and love it when there's a little minor pushing and shoving. It seems natural and right that my adult self occasionally has to repress the same basic instinct that led me to growl at my upcoming soccer opponents in the lunch line when I was six. In certain contexts, well-adjusted hate can even be impressive.
But in general, the key to that formula, as I'd like to remind the belligerent Spurs fan who humiliated his girlfriend and set the entire bar on edge with his inept tirade against a pair of Laker fans last night as the clock wound down on L.A.'s win in the NBA Finals, is repression.
On that note, the middle of the offseason, that point when hazy memes about the fall start to harden into conventional wisdom and the taunting lines are clearly drawn, seems like a good time to remind readers that the things you feel strongly about make you crazy. They make you antisocial, at least. In football terms, most of the message boards, blogs and comment threads you frequent are doubtlessly turning you into one of those people who calls into late-night, tinfoil-hat radio shows, breathlessly railing again one-world government, the media conspiracy against USC, the conspiracy against schools in the South, the double-standard applied to Penn State, the obvious anti-Texas bias. In Alabama, they call Paul Finebaum.
"A predisposition to receive some kinds of evidence and not others" sounds par for the course in debates about sports as much as in debates at large, which probably puts shrill groupthink firmly in the camp of inevitable human nature. The Web only makes the tendency worse. If society is lost, though, you can still save yourself: Get out of the niche every now and then, get out of the trees for a look at the forest, and above all, revert your opinion to the mean. Your rival's not that bad, and your new quarterback is definitely not going to be that good.