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Bullying, the NFL, Patriarchy Revealed


This Incognito thing just won't go away. It continues to strike deep for me as well. I'm going to try to be as explicit and clear as possible, though I have serious doubts I will satisfy my own need to describe the situation.

People, as social animals, need hierarchy in order to function in a group. But who gets power over what? Traditionally, there are roughly two ways to acquire power:

1) Establish dominance by winning the fight for it.

2) Earn it through making sacrifices and doing work that benefits the group.

Generally, based on my experience, observation, and reading, and probably other mysterious factors, real life situations always involve some blend of these two. As it happens, I just switched from sports radio to political, and someone was just talking about the massive amount of sexual assault in the U.S. military. So perhaps it is a good time to point out that the balance of harsh fights for dominance and gentler means of earning of power often depends on the broader agenda and needs of the group. Armies need harsh forms of order.

I think a lot of our pain and misery these days comes from our participation in groups based on forms of order that are severely out of balance with our current human needs. More specifically, we assign power through dominance struggle in a few consistently immiserating ways:

1) We reward dominance behaviors and skills that are irrelevant to group function.

2) We punish dominance behaviors and skills that promote group function.

As Marx or Chomsky will tell you, this creates a class system, and as many of us are noticing, serious threats to the survival of all people as well as much of life on the planet.

OK, I'm feeling a lot of doubt that my grandiose proclamations actually capture the entire phenomenon. As I predicted I would, so that's reassuring. But hopefully I've gotten my creativity flowing to the point where I can proclaim in a slightly more humble way about the lesser matter of football locker rooms and patriarchal relations between men in the U.S. circa 2013.

Men pretty much can't express love directly because we aren't "emotional;" or, as a man might put it, we aren't a bunch of pussies. So we do it indirectly through what on the surface appear to be insults, but in reality are expressions of affection. Problem: sometimes if it looks like an insult, it really is one. Other Problem: sometimes it's both. I actually heard a former NFL quarterback on the radio discussing the situation, and I'm paraphrasing him very closely in many ways here.

So what's the problem that the guys on the radio aren't addressing? 'Cuz you knew there was one. It's the issue of power and dominance. They talk about a 'gray area,' a 'line' that you don't cross when you are doing 'friendly hazing' of a rookie. But that's very much what I call 'hand-waving'– a magician's trick to distract your eye while he pulls the card out of his sleeve. But they never even pull out the card, they just dance along to the next topic. Standard journalism. Well, let's call it 'journalism.'

Anyway, you can't really blame a person in power for crossing the line. They have to. My guess would be that in this situation John Martin, the victim of the bullying, is actually a very strong person. He succesfully resisted the entire team's united efforts to dominate him, so they had to keep ramping up the pressure. When he reached a crisis point, he had to decide: do I relent and join the borg, or do I get the hell out of here and throw away my career? Meanwhile, Incognito, the head bully, is in a less difficult spot. It's his job to keep ramping up the pressure until Martin submits. If he backs down, he loses his stature. But even though Incognito has less to lose, he assumes it is inevitable that someone else will take his place, and that he has no power to actually change the rules of the game at a group level.

Commentators and participants throw around lots of blame, but no one is talking about how we actually assign power in groups, the central issue here I would say. Me for prez! Then we can solve it.

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