Saturday, September 20, 2008

Red vs Blue

Utah and especially Utah County is a place that takes Red vs Blue very seriously. First, and perhaps most important, Red vs Blue symbolizes the rivalry between the University of Utah (Red) and Brigham Young University (Blue). I went to BYU, I work for BYU, I used to visit BYU as a child and play with the vending machines. It's not surprising that I have arrived at a fairly Blue state of being. (I have a niece and nephew who are Red, but seem otherwise normal.)

I am also Dodger Blue, as in the Los Angeles Dodgers. For the Red counterpart, you can pick Cincinnati or the Cardinals, I guess, but any true Dodger fan knows that the real issue, the one that really matters, is Blue vs Pinstripe (or perhaps Blue vs Orange--you know who you are, and no, we still haven't forgiven you). This is because the New York Yankees are (and I say this with complete objectivity) Evil Incarnate. (I have a son-in-law who is a Yankee fan but seems otherwise fairly normal.)

For me, the interesting question is Why? Why do I still get a small thrill when the Minnesota Vikings win? (Yes, they are Purple, but work with me here. I'll be back to Red and Blue in a minute.) My association with the great state of Minnesota consists of 1) a total of maybe 30 hours spent in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport waiting for connecting flights over the past 15 years, 2) driving across it in a rental truck and staying one night in a motel, and 3) listening to Garrison Keillor. But I still think the Vikings are cool, and have a better defense than most teams and are much, much better than the Dallas Cowboys, who are evil and smelly and a bunch of convicts anyway. I have absolutely no evidence for any of that, and I don’t even care enough to look up the facts and make a case. Why, then, do I believe it?

Well, because in junior high, my friend was a Viking fan. He was a Viking fan because he went to visit his cousins, who live in Minnesota, for a couple of weeks once. That's it. Because of that two week visit, I had to suffer the agony of watching the Vikings lose to the Cowboys on a last second Hail Mary from Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson in the NFC playoffs in 1975. I remember going on a long lonely walk in the cold and snow after the game. Not that that has anything to do with my feelings about the Cowboys, of course.

I am a Dodger fan probably because my brother is a Dodger fan, and he is a Dodger fan because our older sister is. She followed the Brooklyn Dodgers on the radio in the 40's and 50's. He followed them from Los Angeles in the 60's, and I followed them in the 70's. I hate the San Francisco Giants because of the New York Giants and the 1951 Pennant game. I wasn't even alive then; I caught it from my siblings.

This is irrational under any possible definition of the word. Of course, I'm as good as anyone else at coming up with excellent reasons why my particular team is the best. If they don't play better, they have more heart. Or more class. Or at least they aren't dirty players. Or unlike others, they play for love of the game instead of money. Or they have more tradition. Or God loves them more. Or something. But all of it-- and here is my point -- all of it is justifying the choice I made after I made it.

Now, back to Red vs Blue, which has also come to symbolize the political spectrum, at least in the last couple of elections. Utah and especially Utah County takes this particular Red vs Blue very seriously as well. True, Utah County ranked only 27th on the list of the 100 most Republican counties in the 2000 presidential election, which I'm sure is a source of embarrassment to Utah County conservatives. But political opinions are pretty deeply held here, and they are definitely heavily slanted toward the Red side.

More and more, I am thinking that the foundations of all these Red vs Blue battles are pretty much grounded in the same kind of logic, that is, essentially none. I know we all like to think we stand on principles, and that while the other guys are knee-jerk-whatevers, we really see things clearly. But I’m not so sure. I think I may have been a Republican most of my life for the same reason I’ve been a Dodger fan and a Viking fan: my family and my friends.

In 1980, a social psychologist named Robert Zajonc (ZY-awns) published a paper called “Feeling and Thinking: Preferences Need No Inferences.” He talked about his experiments that showed people don’t need to process things cognitively at all before making an affective (emotional) decision about them. In other words, we often judge what we like and don't like before we think about it at all. So I’m suggesting that maybe we decide about baseball teams, and political parties, based on what feels good (being part of the family, agreeing with friends, sensing which group is more fun to hang out with) and only then begin to justify the choice with our reason. And of course, over time, it becomes a habit to react positively to Red, and negatively to Blue, and to justify it more loudly and with more conviction.

Of course, we can and do change our opinions after studying things out, and we probably should do that a lot more than we do. But it only happens if we are willing to take seriously the possibility that just maybe, the other guys don’t suck as much as we thought.

So in that spirit, here’s to you, Yankee fans, Cowboy fans, and accursed Utes: Just for today, I’m gonna pretend you’re as smart as I am and maybe, just maybe, you have a valid point to make.

Monday morning, you’ll probably suck just as much as usual.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

An Olive Branch

I need to hurry and apologize to all the Stephanie Meyer fans out there, because I really can't fight on two fronts and I'm planning to aggravate a lot more people in my next post. So, using the time-honored methods employed by a man when he knows he's defeated (especially by women), let me just say:

I'm sorry. I now recognize that Stephanie Meyer deserves a Nobel Prize for Literature, and Peace, and probably Medicine and Economics as well. I see nothing but genius in the literary device of having a teen-aged girl fall in love with a vampire, and I fully recognize that there is only nobility in the feelings women might have for Edward. I personally have witnessed readers of her books cured of leprosy. Go buy the books. Buy several, one for each room of the house.

As for me, I'm going to put reading Eclipse right on my list of things to do. After I lose weight and get in shape and get the family finances under control once and for all and read the Old Testament and clean out the garage and refinish all the furniture and run a marathon and schedule a colonoscopy and learn to play jazz harmonica, you won't be able to keep me away from it.