Last night, the NFL playoff games were played. The New England Patriots managed to pull a win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Philadelphia Eagles decimated the Minnesota Vikings.
I am not really a fan of American football (or any spectator sport, for that matter), but this will be the first time since 2005 that I will see my home team play in the Super Bowl; a staggering thirteen years since Super Bowl XXXIX. Funny enough, back then, it was the same two teams as this year. Even more amusing is that Super Bowl XXXIX was held in Jacksonville, FL, just outside of which my family and I had relocated the previous year, not to mention was one of the teams that almost made it to the Super Bowl this year.
That last musing, about the Jaguars being in this year’s big game, is actually something I would have liked to see. At the very least, the Patriots would not be playing in the Super Bowl again, but I am sure other, more avid fans of the sport could more eloquently discuss the nature of sports fandom and rivalries.
Ultimately, I am simply proud to be from Philadelphia today. Even though I do not put much stake into football, the knowledge that my hometown has the opportunity to win a national championship that millions of people all over the country hold up as some sort of Holy Grail of cultural identity—one which is independent of race, religion, background, or politics—is uplifting.
And in such a tumultuous time in my life right now, not to mention in American history—dominated by vitriolic civil discourse, an ever-widening ideological gap between the citizenry, corporate manipulation of the federal government, and our President lashing out like a child at anyone who criticizes him in any way—I need some uplifting moments to maintain some semblance of stability and sanity.
But my sense of pride in where I was born is in no way overwhelming or blinding. I hold no delusions of Philadelphia for what it is. Yes, it is a historically significant city. The Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were adopted there, at Independence Hall. The national symbol of freedom and independence, now known as the Liberty Bell, is housed there. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin was born in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia also holds its own significance in the realms of art and culture. It is commonly referred to as the City of Brotherly Love. Musical artists and bands such as the Bloodhound Gang, CKY, Joan Jett, Taylor Swift, and countless others hail from Philly. Actors, directors, authors, and other icons such as Dick Clark, Kat Dennings, Tina Fey, Kevin Hart, David Lynch, Will Smith, M. Night Shyamalan, Isaac Asimov, and Seth Green all got their starts there.
It instills me with pride to know that such influential and talented people from all walks of life came from the same place I did. It gives me hope that some day I, too, can achieve similar levels of success and accomplishment.
But I know Philly is by no means perfect. Comcast practically owns the city and has their own tower dominating the skyline. While crime rates have gone down in the past decade, there are still over 1,000 reported shootings per year as of 2014. Out of all 304 schools in the city, both public and charter, only four of them scored above the national average on the SAT in 2014, with the other 300 scoring below average. The quality of the city air is abysmal. And honestly, if it were not for my grandparents and my godfather being there, I am unsure if I would willingly return for an extended period of time, much less live there again.
The rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia can only tide one over for so long, it seems. But when wearing those glasses, red flags just look like flags.
I bring this up in order to contrast it with the blind patriotic fervor which pervades a not-insignificant portion of the US population that has become increasingly vocal in support of President Donald Trump. “Make America Great Again”, “America First”, and so on display an overwhelming aura of patriotism the likes of which I have not seen…probably ever.
There is nothing inherently wrong with supporting the interests of your own country and working to solve the problems from which your nation suffers. But when one of those problems is a portion of the population not questioning the state of the world around them and blindly abiding by the rule of law simply by virtue of it being the law, what is there to be done?
I have spoken with people who have told me numerous times that they will not, under any circumstances, break the law. Even if following the law was against their interest or infringed upon their most basic human rights, they would abide. “Because that’s the law, and I will not break the law.” They do not question the law. They refuse to think about it; they merely obey. They will turn in anyone they know who has broken the law, regardless of circumstance, simply because they feel it is their duty as a citizen. If a dehumanizing dictatorship should rise up overnight and upend everything that the United States has stood for, “well, I guess that’s the way things are now.”
Ah, such a brave, new world. And such people in it.
By no means do I believe one should break the law or defy authority for the sake of doing it. What I do believe is that one should always be skeptical of the forces in power at any given time, and to question authority when they seem to be abusing their power or suppressing the rights and well being of the citizenry. The law does not exist in a vacuum; it was written by human beings, who are fallible. Does this not mean that the word of law, by nature of being a creation of humanity, is also fallible? When one breaks the law, they are put on trial by either a judge or a jury of their peers, but they are also merely human, and thus fallible.
If a person or group of people holds a different viewpoint than your own, do not merely shun them after hearing their views on the surface; speak to them. Discuss each other’s views. Share the experiences in your lives which brought you to your respective conclusions. Actually talk with them, not down to them. Even if you still don’t agree, you can each, at the very least, walk away with some perspective.
But when someone approaches conflicting ideologies with staunch confidence in their views, a closed mind, and an iron-clad sense of self-superiority as a paragon of morality and justice—regardless of what their views are—they have already lost.
This is when one starts developing the notion of the Other. The Enemy. If you are not with them, you are against them.
And that is when pride is twisted into something dark and sinister: prejudice.