Reading Matt Hern’s One Game at a Time: Why Sports Matter, and some things jumped out at me, relating to polyamory, non-monogamy, and family every bit as much as community, nationalism, and radicalism.
From pp. 80-86:
Being a fan is about belonging to something bigger than you. It’s a pack mentality, it’s Us
requisite to the human experience in a cold, infinite universe. They are the basis of community, of kinship, of neighborhood, and so much that we long for and hold dear. But those exact same sets of feelings are also the seedbeds of prejudice, hate, xenophobia, and fascism.
… Sometimes what looks like a close-knit, loving team from the inside looks like a scary, insular gang from the out. Similarly, so much of the logic of community is built on an exclusivity, an In vs. Outness, and an ability to draw clean lines of demarcation between Us and Them, lines that have to be monitored, policed, and enforced.
…a striving for “Us” necessarily requires a “Them.” Knowing who’s In means making sure everyone knows who is Out…
The degree to which we can make those boundaries permeable may be the key measure of whether our affiliations are plausibly ethical and alive. As soon as those edges become fixed and intolerant, that’s the first and most critical ingredient for the ugly. …The yearning for a supposed hearth-and-home communalism that has been abandoned by modern society is not a particularly useful strategy, and tends to revert to naive nostalgia, a romanticized mysticism that informs strains of conservative and progressive thinking alike.
Part of the problem here is the movement from “I” to “we.” Fundamentalist individualism views each of us as hyper-autonomous concretized monads, while fundamentalist collectivist renditions subsume those diacritic bodies into equally bounded units that cannot be impinged upon, and think and act with unified presence and purpose. It is taking the impermeable “I” and writing it large, into a faceless sameness: “We are Americans! I am Canadian!” And of course, “You are not!” It is ultimately the fantasy of the lone individual that informs the fantasy of the impervious, fixed “Us.”
…We are singularities, but not really: our flesh is semi-permeable. There is a constant flow through our bodies of the natural world … The physical world is constantly infiltrating us, and us it.
And so are other people. … We are one, not in the big hippie one-love sense, and not only in the butterfly-flaps-its-wings sense, but in the most everyday, quotidian, physiological sense. Our bodies are endlessly, physically permeable: in a very real sense your health is my health. To understand the singularity of bodies is to understand and nuance our own limits and thresholds, and the possibility of community—of solidarity with others—requires a visceral encounter with those thresholds. But not in a “this is mine, that is yours” sense: as Jean-Luc Nancy suggests, your existence is a necessary condition of my freedom.
Nancy massages notions of community, using singularity and plurality, not as polar antagonists, but as necessarily requiring each other. His ontological argument is that “the singular-plural constitutes the essence of Being,” or put slightly differently, that “I” does not come before “we”: there is no individual existence before or beyond co-existence. The question, though, is how singular beings in plurality can avoid reducing the “we” to a singular identity: the position that spawns narratives like Serbs v. Croats, Hutus vs. Tutsis, Black vs. White, Us vs. Them. Nancy argues: “The community that becomes a single thing (body, mind, fatherland, Leader) … necessarily loses the in of being-in-common. Or, it loses the with or the together that defines it. It yields its being-together to a being of togetherness. The truth of community, on the contrary, resides in the retreat of such a being.”
That retreat has to view commonality as simultaneously singular and plural, imprecise, malleable, shifting, porous, and contingent, just as the point at which my singularity ends and yours begins is not fixed. Those thresholds, too, are contingent and malleable. … Fixing, or stilling, of a body’s identity in place is a precondition for fixing the “Us” in place. The limits of my body, your body, and the natural world are (semi-)permeable: a condition that is often revealed to us in collisions. Dancing, lovemaking, sports, physical encounters with (touching) objects, and the natural world create the collisions that are the soil of every-day commonality, a radical plurality.
And pretty much all the time (and as age encroaches, all the fucking time), collisions bring with them the possibility of damage and pain. Pain and recovery, suffering and soreness are integral to plurality (even vicariously), and risk is part of the package.
… Sometimes the pain is totally annoying, but mostly our damage is carried with pride, not just because we earned it, not just because it echoes pleasure, but because it marks our thresholds and the spacing [The distances between you and me, between people and things] of community. It’s common to gender pain relationships with narratives of manliness, or macho-posturing, but that misses the point. Stretch marks on a once-pregnant belly are not just lines on flesh. The scar on my temple is not just a dent on my dome.
In the residue of pain there is an inscription of vulnerability, and possibly tenderness.
…In collision, we sense (or in the Nancian terms “touch”) the thresholds of difference: not fixing identities, but confirming them and their spacing—a spacing that is possible to play with, work with inside of a flexible, malleable difference and a community that is bodily hospitable. It is a possibility that is so often misapprehended, but carries with it not only the promise of neighborhood, but ecological possibility.
You know, David Graeber has written about the point (or crux, if you will) of human sociality being constant creation, of ourselves and of others. That, while the contemporary mainstream imagines us as a society of consumers, humans are really producers, creators, and reproducers. And I like all of the above because it speaks to that creation, and to the fact that we do it all together, not as individuals, and not as homogenous solid groups, either.
In constant collision and interaction with each other, we are constantly creating and recreating each other. And ourselves, but what do we really know of ourselves without others to caress and bounce against?
I have lived much of my life in isolated fear, but it is the pain and scars of growth that make me who I am, and I cherish them. And it isn’t all pain.
Furthermore, I have been wary of feeling too much an insular part with my family, my closest non-monogamous partners. I cherish too much the safety of that belonging. In belonging so hard that I subsume myself, I can feel safe, but then I am forfeiting the risk of further creative collisions. I tell myself I have found what I wanted, but I arrest my own development. In reaction, I can easily begin isolating myself from the group, but again, I arrest my own development.
The way forward is through: to keep moving, but not necessarily like an arrow or a runner, but more like a gas. Keep bouncing around, see who you collide with, see what happens. Keep colliding against the same people, even, but don’t get caught up too much in the “Us”-ness, because it is its own destructive illusion.
…as Dave Renton wrote in his excellent bio of [CLR] James: “If Marxists are unwilling to think the language of sport, of cricket, and football too, and of all the other games in which millions spend their leisure, then for whom do we have any right to speak?”
Bam. Love that, Dave. But why do you think that you, or Marxists in general, or anyone really should be “speaking for” people? Instead can we speak with people, and more specifically with our neighbors? Can we learn to speak across difference? I think that’s a much more urgent challenge. If we, as radicals or progressives, want to speak with our neighbors, we have to be willing to think and act with respect. And that challenge is issued equally for sports fans and not, athletes and not. It is the specific and compelling challenge of neighborliness: to acknowledge and respect difference where we find it. To be able to speak across difference is to challenge, confront, and admire difference in the embrace of incommensurability.
I think we need to abandon the language of “education,” of experts, professionals, vanguards. We need to ask instead: what parts of leftist praxis legitimately support and foster people’s capacity toward self-determination?
I’m quoting this later part about “leftist praxis” needing to be more “live-and-let-live” neighborliness than “experts educating those who need it” because, I think, it speaks further to the creative, life-affirming aspect of collision and interaction. To be together, rather than trying to “be a ____” together, is the challenge of living.
You can’t just find a neighborhood or a family or a community. You must practice neighborliness and being-together, as the former “goals” are really modes of being rather than things one can achieve. They are created through activity, not found and inhabited. Granted, it requires the activity of others, and that can be frustrating when other people won’t meet you where you are and practice togetherness the same way. That’s where it becomes a radical challenge, I suppose, and where practicing acceptance and “live and let live” becomes an even more important component of individual well-being.