the things we inherit.

I grew up in Germany.  Naturally, I was a soccer—–properly: fussball–fan.  When we were kids, we played fussball, because that was what you played.  There were other youth sports, of course, but I was only vaguely aware of them.  Swimming, running, basketball, and handball were something you watched other people do on TV; fussball was what you played with the neighborhood kids outside.

We played fussball in any kind of weather, even in rain and thunderstorms.  When a match was underway, nothing short of a major natural disaster (or a parent angry enough to actually come down to the pitch instead of just yelling from the apartment window) could end that match.  We all played fussball every day, and naturally, we all thought we were going to be the one kid on the block good enough to make the Bundesliga, playing for our favorite team.

We had favorite teams, of course.  Asking a kid about his favorite soccer team and getting an “I don’t have one” in return was as unheard of as asking someone their religion and receiving the same answer.  Everybody had a favorite team.  You wore their colors, knew the names of all the players down to the third tier reserve bench, watched their matches on Saturday afternoon TV, and got into fights with the kids who pledged allegiance to that other team, the local and traditional rival of your team (something that every sports team in the world seems to have.)

In our house, we were Schalke 04 fans.  There was simply no debate about this.  We wore the Royal Blue of Schalke 04, and we got into arguments with the neighbor kids who were dumb and misguided enough to like Bayern Muenchen, or 1.FC Koeln, or (worst of all) the blood enemies of Schalke, Borussia Dortmund.  (My brother will to this day not speak the name of that team out loud, and instead use the traditional Schalke insult of referring to Dortmund as “Doofmund”, or “Eintracht Luedenscheid”.  “Doof” means “dumb” or “thick” in German, and Luedenscheid is a small town near the location of Dortmund’s home stadium.)

We were Schalke fans, no doubt about it.  I am now far removed from the fussball-crazed turf of my childhood home, and I only take a mild and passing interest in the trials and triumphs of Schalke o4 these days, but my brother is still part of the Royal Blue culture.  He goes to most of the home and away games, and he’ll travel to Spain or Scotland to follow his team to important international matches.  (His wife is very patient and also very tolerant–she takes care of their three kids while he’s out for two days on a bus trip to a fussball match halfway across Europe.)

It never really occurred to me just why we were so solidly in the Schalke camp from the time we could kick a ball and pronounce the name of the team.  That was just the way things were.  Schalke is no more successful than most of the other old fussball teams in the Bundesliga–in fact, they haven’t won the national championship in fifty years.  There’s nothing about Schalke that makes them markedly different from, say, Bayern Muenchen, or even the loathed Borussia Dortmund.  Every team has its own history, but all those histories are strikingly similar in many ways.  Every team has its own culture, but those are just as similar.

These days I know precisely why we were Schalke fans, and the answer is quite simple: because our father was a Schalke fan, and he preached the gospel of Schalke to us when we were kids.  He was a Schalke fan because our grandfather was a Schalke fan, too.  We inherited a lifetime of tribal allegiance to a fussball team simply because our father and grandfather passed it on to us.

That got me to thinking:  how many allegiances that are profoundly serious and integral to our lives are simply the way they are because we inherited them from our parents without question?  How many beliefs and preferences we hold dear are merely factors of geography and familial heritage?  If you grow up near Gelsenkirchen in Germany, chances are exceedingly high that you will be a.) a Catholic, b.) a Social Democrat, and c.) a Schalke 04 fan.  If you grow up in the greater Boston area, chances are pretty good you’ll turn out a Red Sox fan.  If you grow up in Baghdad or Tehran, chances are you’ll grow up a Muslim. 
We like to think that we arrive at our convictions by choice, and that our particular choices are superior to all others.  (Why else would we have picked them?  And why else would our parents, the people we hold most dear in our youth, have picked them to pass down to us?  Wouldn’t questioning the inherent superiority of those choices constitute a rejection of one’s own family history?)  I did have the option of choosing allegiance to some other fussball team, or some other religion, of course, but how often do people go against the grain when it would mean that one’s entire family and circle of friends would consider it strange at best, and heretical at worst?  (In the case of choosing Dortmund over Schalke, it would have been all the way at the heresy end of that scale in our house.)

How often, then, do we then use our rational faculties to not examine our beliefs, but instead rationalize our emotional preferences, and then tell ourselves that we would have arrived at the same conclusions anyway because of the superiority of our choices above all others–in sports, religion, political philosophy, or even consumer brands?

People don’t like to think of themselves as being led around by the nose.  We all like to think we’re independent thinkers who arrived at our philosophies, beliefs, and preferences by way of reason and independent thinking.  Too often, however, we’re either denying that we were led to those beliefs, or we’re telling ourselves that we would have ended up at that particular destination, anyway.
For some people, it’s heresy to even consider that their religion or sports team allegiance is largely an accident of geography.  But when you think about it, it’s deplorable to see people argue with each other–or worse, kill each other–over matters that were largely decided by the location of their birth, and the preferences of their parents.

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16 thoughts on “the things we inherit.

  1. Jay G. says:

    Welcome to the intricate muddle that is the human animal, Marko.

    Some of us are capable of breaking the cycle – my dad’s a sports nut. If he can’t find a football/baseball/basketball/hockey game on, it’s Nascar or F1 racing. Then golf or bowling.

    Me? Can’t stand organized sports. Never could.

    (Hence why I’m such a fan of Calvinball…) :)

  2. Jack in TX says:

    Marko,

    A post on the inheritance of attachments and opinions would have been very compelling in longhand.

  3. Tam says:

    It sometimes makes me wonder if some folks are also just natural iconoclasts. Would the fervent market capitalist in Beijing be marching for socialized medicine were she born in Atlanta?

    Mildred: “What are you rebelling against, Johnny?”

    Johnny: “What’ve you got?”

  4. pochp says:

    We surely did not inherit stupidity but it seems that it’s still the number one problem of the whole world.

  5. perlhaqr says:

    Tam: I think even that might be inherited. I was pretty happy reading this post because it gave me cause to reflect on how I’ve gone through and evaluated most of my philosophical structure for holes and irrationalities. I also tend towards iconoclasm, but in discussing it with other people, I realized that I was given the toolset to engage in that behaviour by my parents, who were smart people who encouraged smart children and the dissection of things that would have normally been heresies.

    (My father was a Navy officer during the Cold War, and when, at the tender age of 6, I invented moral relativism and queried about whether or not the Soviets saw themselves as “the good guys” too, he actually sat down and talked about it with me instead of just telling me I was wrong and that I should shut up. I mean, my premise was correct, they did see themselves as the good guys [I think everyone does, really] but he explained to me why they really weren’t. And in later years, nothing I’ve ever read or pondered has led me to alter my opinion of Communism, really.)

  6. Weer'd Beard says:

    I wonder. My Folks were raised in non-practicing religious households, one Catholic the other Protestant….neither really thought that much about it until they announced their engagement and there was a stink.

    I was raised in an open-ended spiritual household. Spirituality was discussed right beside concrete science, and it was my parent’s wishes that I be allowed to choose my beliefs myself and not from them.

    This may have gone further than just that. I’m a conservative, while my folks are liberal. I love guns, they fear them (despite my father being a standard farmboy growing up), I spent much of my boob-tube time watching cooking and decorating shows with my Mother (Tho my skills in both are not impressive) rather than watching sports with my father….of course with Dad I’ve watched just about every Bond film, as well as just about any Action, Suspense, or thriller film we could consume.

    Still I have a burgeoning collection of Classic and Silent movies, and 50s Creature-Feature Films that neither of my folks have any interest in.

    I wonder if their avoidance of Dogma had any impact on my personal distaste for it myself.

  7. M. Philbrick says:

    In my experience this concept has varied. Just like Beard above, my interests and choices have deviated from my parents’ in many ways.

    My father and brother are into sports; I appreciate the social aspect of playing and watching them but I have no particular favorites. I like the Red Sox because I’ve lived in New England for the last 8 years and enjoy going to have a pint and watch the game with my buddies.

    I enjoy firearms and joined the military, something that no one else in my family shares outside of those few drafted during WWII and Vietnam.

    I think there is far too much variation in my life to determine one way or the other. I think we can all safely say that our parents had an affect on who we are, just not an overwhelming one in my case.

  8. Marko,

    Danke!

    Your post hit two points on me. The first was all the little things I have inherited from my father, and his father, my mother and so on. Aunts, uncles, Dad’s best friend, etc. all had nudging, yet definable impacts on who I am and their contributions are important to me.

    The second was you got me thinking about Germany. I spent a few very formative years there, in a little place called Bad Kissingen, a bit north of Weurzburg. I was serving in the U.S. Army, at the time. Your post also reminded me of a conversation with a then girlfriend on how there were certain parts and aspects of the US that she did not like, but could not explain why. She had never been there, but the hill country I come from was just full of backwards hicks. All this because I compared much of the beauty seen from Bodenlaube castle to views of my eastern Kentucky mountain neighborhood.

    Thank you for refreshing this very favorable and pleasing memory.

    P.Blacksmith

  9. Rusty P. Bucket says:

    Spot on Munchkin.

    This is why I gave you hell on that post about the nazies raising their kids to be nazis. What possible libertarian good can be accomplished by allowing racist militant ideologies to flourish and grow? Expecially when those ideologies are dedicated to the destruction of yours and others that cherish personal freedom and rights? What if, instead of inheritting a soccer fetish, the kid inherits a pant load of militant fascist propaganda?

    Great thinking starts with great questions. Raising kids forces one to question alot of things if you are doing it right.

  10. Erica says:

    Fantastic post…and it reminded me of one of the great turning points of my youth. My dad watched a lot of baseball in the house, regardless if it was his team or not…he was just a regular Sports Guy.

    Around the time when I was first able to process the world in my midst, I recall that the great baseball player of the time, in New York, was Reggie Jackson of the Yankees and, thinking he was the greatest, one day, to my father’s disdain, I announced (at all of three or four years old) that I was a Yankees fan.

    (~record scratching halt~)

    Well, not knowing from Branch Rickie, or Jackie Robinson, or “Dem Bums,” at my then-tender age, and as the only child of a lifelong fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers, whose team had hightailed it off to the West Coast leaving Bum-shaped holes in peoples’ hearts, my poor daddy quickly corrected my faulty way of thinking.

    “We’re Mets fans in this house,” he said, referring to the team, which was supposed to heal the wounds inflicted upon New York’s National League fans. After losing nearly every single Spring Classic, but one, to the dreaded New York Yankees, my father would not tolerate his only child rooting for the team that was his and every other Brooklyn fan’s mortal enemy.

    I am glad that I am not a Yankees fan and, in small part, feel the ugly pain of desertion inflicted upon Dodgers fans. To me, the Dodgers are Luke Skywalkers, and Charlie Browns of baseball, the trod-upon, brow-beaten vanquished, with their “Wait’ll next year” mentality, whereas the Yankees have always been the writers of history, the victors, a lineage of royalty, the best team money could buy, and there’s something about the Brooklyn Dodgers…their scrappiness, and their heart that, as a team, embodied in baseball uniforms everything that Brooklyn is (or was), on a whole.

    Sorry for the long comment but, it was such a lovely, trenchant post and…I felt like I just had to share.

  11. pochp says:

    You don’t have to be sorry. You did good Erica.

  12. Marko says:

    Erica,

    thanks for the kind words, and don’t ever feel you have to apologize for a lengthy reply. The comments are half the fun to me.

  13. Yankeeluso says:

    FIFA Fussball Weltmeisterschaft 2010 – Die Mannschaft or Team USA?

  14. Marko says:

    That’s easy: both.

    (If they happen to meet each other in the knockout phase, I’ll have to flip a coin.)

  15. ChrisB says:

    “What possible libertarian good can be accomplished by allowing racist militant ideologies to flourish and grow?”

    Maybe because when you make the state powerful enough to dictate what names are politically acceptable you’ve made them powerful enough to take quite a bit more away from you.

  16. ChrisB says:

    A few thoughts: people inherently seem to like to divide themselves up into tiny tribes, it makes us feel special and exclusive. I mean, embracing universal brotherhood is just kinda boring, clubs with ‘no girls allowed’ and secret passwords are a lot more exciting. There’s also a Darwinistic component to it when it comes down to resource distribution, who are you going to expend your limited resources to aid? Your family, which makes sense since you have a genetic interest in seeing live, and those who you have a reasonable expectation that will aid you when needed.

    So, tribalizing is a very natural human process, but a very interesting thing about sports is how passionate it can make us feel. If you’re really into a sport and a particular team it can be such an emotional ride, especially when they beat a team you hate. I hate to say it but when I was working a really crappy job and living in a less then ideal situation, watching the Patriots play (07) was the best part of my week. For people with even less going on in their lives sports can be even more exciting.

    Finally, is it possible that the sports organizations themselves work to promote that level of fanaticism? The diamond industry certainly has done a great job convincing women that their man doesn’t love them unless he spends 1/3 of his salary on an engagement ring for her. How many of our other spending habits are born from clever advertising telling us we need something to be happy?

    Anyway, when you combine all of the above factors you have a very potent means of creating identity, so take note if you want to go into advertising or become a fascist dictator.

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