A Philosopher's Blog

Patriotism & Football

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Uncategorized by Michael LaBossiere on October 4, 2017

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After President Trump tweeted his way into the matter, the question of patriotism and protest became a hot issue in the public eye once again. A reasonable way to begin the discussion is to consider the nature of patriotism, which has been said to be the “last refuge of the scoundrel.”

One caricature of patriotism consists of shallow flag waving, the uncritical obedience to the dictates of the ruling class and the exaltation of popular prejudices.  Unfortunately, this caricature is often the reality and is, unsurprisingly, what is often pushed by the ruling classes upon the masses. This is, of course, not the only viable account of patriotism.

One alternative approach is to go with the easy and obvious definition—patriotism is the love of one’s country. This simple definition leads to the philosophically complicated question of the nature of love. One way to look at love, at least a positive form of love, is that it involves a devotion to the higher principles, a commitment to what is truly and properly best for the loved one, and an exaltation of the best ideals. This sort of love has a strong moral component and is dedicated to what is truly best—something that might run contrary to what the loved one thinks they want. In the case of patriotism, the love would be for what is best about the country and would commit the patriot to doing what is truly best for the country. This is likely to make such a patriot unpopular for it often requires the patriot to oppose the dictates of the ruling class and to fight against the popular prejudices. While the definition of “patriotism” is a matter of semantics, the idea that it is a love for one’s country that commits one to trying to do what is best for that country (in the moral sense) seems rather appealing and should be adopted. I will now turn to the matter of the NFL players protesting (or showing solidarity with protestors) during the national anthem.

One standard criticism advanced by Trump and others against the protesting players is that these wealthy players are ungrateful. As others have suggested, “ungrateful” seems to be the new “uppity” although most critics are reluctant to utilize the n word. Ironically, some are quite willing to call black players by the n-word while also asserting that they have nothing to protest.

While the players should certainly appreciate their good fortune, to reject what the players say because they are wealthy would be a mere ad hominem fallacy. This would be the same error that would be made if the tax plans of rich, white Republicans were dismissed out of hand simply because they were made by rich, white Republicans.

A more substantial version of this attack is to argue that the players have no grounds for protest about how blacks are treated in America because they are proof that their criticisms are invalid. While this is better than a mere ad hominem, it is easy to counter. First, wealthy black athletes have still been subject to the sort of unwarranted police violence they are protesting. Second, the unusual success of these athletes does not invalidate the truth of their claims about what happens to other people. To use an analogy, if famous athletes urged people to take action against a serious disease, it would be a foolish objection to say that they are wrong because they are healthy athletes and do not suffer from that disease. It does, in fact, make the most sense that the famous should protest—they are the one who will get the most attention.

Another criticism against such protests is that people watch sports to be amused and to have a break from serious issues. While this does have some appeal (people do deserve leisure time), one reply is that people who are oppressed do not get a break from oppression. If the fans want their break, they should certainly recognize that the oppressed want their oppression to end. There is also the fact that the protests, as conducted now, do not actually disrupt the game—the players still play and the game goes on.

As might be suspected, some people try to counter the protests by contending that they should not have to deal with the protests because “they did not own slaves.” One reply is that while they did not own slaves, they most likely benefit from the system that arose out of slavery and that now serves to systematically oppress some while conveying unearned advantages to others. Oddly, this position does seem to acknowledge the existence of a problem, since the person is claiming they are not part of that problem. However, there are those who deny there is a problem.

One approach is to assert that the protests are pointless because there is nothing to protest—everything is just fine. This is obviously not true and can be rejected in the face of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Somewhat ironically, when people engage in racism while denying racism, they merely prove the existence of racism.

One interesting criticism is that the protests are just empty theatre, perhaps even some sort of marketing ploy aimed at improving viewership (albeit at the risk of alienating some fans). This criticism does have some appeal. However, there is the interesting fact that the playing of the national anthem at games was originally itself a marketing ploy that somehow became something more. It would be quite appropriate if the protests were marketing and even more so if they became more than mere marketing. In any case, even if the protests are marketing, this would not show that they are thus unpatriotic or unwarranted. At worst it would call into question the motives of those involved.

As far as whether the protestors are patriots, this question can only be answered by knowing their motives and goals. If they are protesting what they regard as injustice and are doing so to make America better, then they are engaged in true patriotism: they are trying to make the country they love be the best it can be. And that is a far truer patriotism than someone who just wants to wave a flag and uncritically praise their country be she wrong or right.

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The Return of Vick

Posted in Ethics, Sports/Athletics by Michael LaBossiere on July 28, 2009
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After serving his sentence, Michael Vick has been allowed back into the NFL. However, at this point he does not have a team and is still under some limitations. Naturally, the question arises as to whether he should be allowed to play again.

Since I have a dog, I am a bit biased against him. From an emotional standpoint, I feel that he got off too easy and shoul not be allowed to return to playing football. But, how a person feels is hardly a good indication of what is morally correct.

From a moral standpoint, Vick should be allowed to return to the game provided that he has, in fact, paid his debt to society (that is, he has been properly punished for his misdeeds). After all, to deny him a return to his job would be to punish him more and if he has been justly punished, then this additional punishment would be unjust.

It might be argued that he should not be allowed to return to football because his misdeeds show him to be a bad person. In reply, people should not be punished merely for being bad, but for what they have done. Of course, bad people do bad things-and that is what they should be punished for.

Of course, people who have done their time are often subject to being denied certain liberties. For example, someone who did time for being a child molester would (one would presume) not be allowed to work at a day care. After all, someone with such a record most likely can still not be trusted around children. However, as bad as Vick’s behavior was, it does not seem to disqualify him from being a football player. After all, there seems to be no special character requirement to be a football player that Vick would fail to meet at this point. After all, football players are neither expected nor required to be good people (over and above what is expected of anyone).

It could even be argued that Vick’s return would be a good thing. After all, he has been working hard to “buy” a good reputation and there seem to be plans for him doing public service by speaking out against dog fighting and such. If he were to return to the NFL, his words would be more influential-after all, many people listen to celebrities.

If Vick has been justly punished for his crime and there are no special moral requirements for being an NFL player, then he should be allowed to return. Of course, he could be something of a PR problem for any team that decided to pick him up. Then again, may people do find redemption stories very appealing-so a reformed Vick might do just fine.

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Affairs, Ads and Ethics

Posted in Ethics by Michael LaBossiere on January 16, 2009

While the quintessential Superbowl ad is about beer, the folks in charge of approving the advertising have started taking what might appear to be a moral stand. To be specific, they are refusing to accept advertising from  from Ashley Madison.

Ashley Madison is an online dating service for married people. As such, it is a service intended to facilitate adultery. On the face of it, this seems to be an immoral service. After all, it seems reasonable to regard adultery as an immoral activity and to knowingly aid another commit an immoral act is, intuitively, also an immoral action. Thus, it would seem that it is right for this service to be denied advertising time during the Superbowl. After all, selling advertising time to this service would be aiding in an immoral activity. Of course, the immorality of selling advertising to a company that helps people engage in immoral behavior would no doubt be a somewhat “small” immorality.

While it might be tempting to praise the advertising people for refusing such advertising, it seems unlikely they are primarily motivated by moral purity. If they were, the advertising they did accept would have a considerably different character.

One possible reason is that they are trying to avoid offending the growing number of female football fans. While women obviously do have affairs or are involved in affairs, women seem to be more inclined to condemn such activity. Hence, it makes sense to refuse to accept the Ashley Madison advertising so as to avoid offending an important and growing demographic.