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Philosophy of Soccer? June 25, 2008

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Culture, Nina Rosenstand's Posts.

I heard an interesting analysis on Danish public radio the other day about the political impact of soccer. So, in fond recollection of our interesting baseball debate (archived), I thought I’d share some of those ideas with you. An author and soccer expert, Joakim Jakobsen, was interviewed about a recent book, in which he speculates that soccer has accomplished what the United Nations and the European Union have failed to achieve: creating a universal form of communication. According to the author, soccer comprises both analytical and emotional thinking, and everyone can relate to the analysis aspect as well as the emotional highs and lows. So here is my first problem with that analysis: I grew up with soccer being played all around me, but I don’t understand much about the game, and I really don’t feel any emotional pull (not like baseball, which I have learned to love). So, I guess I’m on the outside there, not even looking in. For another thing, the author presents a phenomenon that is typical outside of the U.S., so if soccer is destined to be the universal language of communication, it is still in our future, not in our present.

The next interesting idea expressed on the show was that the universality of the soccer “language” has a tilt toward nationalism: prominent as well as smaller or emerging nations find a new identity once their teams start doing well, internationally—case in point, Turkey in the current European Cup games. Sometimes this takes the shape of aggression, and sometimes it is channeled into more congenial forms, but either way I see it as a nice little paradox of universality vs. group spirit. Interestingly, the analysts who are praising soccer as a unifying global force have to concede that a certain kind of radical nationalism may be a side product of it—a side product that, more often than not, erupts in violence among the fans, with occasional fatalities.

So what say you? Are you soccer fans? Is soccer to you really a language that transcends borders? Do you feel emotionally connected to humanity when watching/playing soccer, in a way that doesn’t happen when you engage in golf, baseball, or basketball? Or is your sense of group identity enhanced, at the cost of global connectivity?  


Individual or Group Responsibility? June 16, 2008

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Current Events, Ethics, Nina Rosenstand's Posts.

An interesting case happening in Denmark: a religious organization (Faderhuset, the Father House, a Christian organization) has been reported as having encouraged its members to use physical violence and other harsh methods as the preferred form of discipline toward their children, based on selected quotes from the Bible. Cases are being investgated involving severe corporal punishment of small children. This in itself will make most of us cringe, but here comes the interesting moral issue: According to Danish law, corporal punishment of children is illegal (I haven’t checked what constitutes corporal punishment, but it sounds as if it is a very sweeping rule: no hitting, of any kind). But freedom of speech is also a very firmly established principle, as everyone knows who followed the “drawings” debacle. So what the legal system can do now is prosecute the individual parents for child abuse/neglect, but not the Fatherhus organization as such, because their “advice” to their members comes under freedom of speech and freedom of religion. So this becomes a question of moral responsibility rather than a legal issue: Should an organization that exercizes strong psychological influence on its members be held accountable for encouraging illegal activity, or should it be up to individuals whether they want to follow the “advice”? A question that reaches way beyond this particular case, and relates to cases of Internet websites advocating violence against certain people and groups.

God’s Software June 3, 2008

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Culture, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Science.

There is a good deal of interest in evolutionary explanations of religious belief.  This research project is using computer simulations to mimic an evolutionary process.

The computer model begins with assumption that some people have a genetic disposition to communicate unverifiable information to others and then compares the reproductive success of people who communicate real information with those who pass on unreal information.

“Under most scenarios, “believers in the unreal” went extinct. But when Dow [the writer of the program] included the assumption that non-believers would be attracted to religious people because of some clear, but arbitrary, signal, religion flourished. ”

‘” Somehow the communicators of unreal information are attracting others to communicate real information to them,’ Dow says, speculating that perhaps the non-believers are touched by the faith of the religious”.

So what is this clear signal? Why would non-believers have been touched by the faith of the religious? Could it perhaps be the sense of psychological certainty possessed by believers, facing conditions of real uncertainty, that made non-believers willing to communicate with believers.