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On Anthems, Protests, and the Hive Hypothesis

Written by: on February 24, 2020

On September 5, 1918 in Game 1 of the World Series the Boston Red Socks were playing the Chicago Cubs. Tensions ran high in a nation where 100,000 soldiers already died during the US involvement in WWI. A heaviness was palatable at this lower-than-usual attendance game.

In an effort to lift the spirits of all present, the US Navy Band played the Star-Spangled Banner, a song that was not yet the US national anthem and was typically reserved for rare occasions. When the song began, Fred Thomas, a Red Socks infielder and Naval sailor, turned toward the American flag and saluted. Players and fans also turned toward the flag, with hands on their hearts, and began singing. When it was complete, the stadium erupted in thunderous applause. Because of the solidifying response, the song was then played at the rest of the 1918 Series games and would soon find its way into National culture as the Anthem in 1931. By the end of WWII, the National Anthem was being played at every NFL game, and eventually made its way into other sporting venues.[1]

In The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt takes a deep dive into social psychology to examine human tribal tendencies. He notes humans are 90% chimps and 10% bees. To highlight his theory that “human beings are conditional hive creatures,”[2] he tells of how soldiers training for war developed “muscular bonding (which) enabled people to forget themselves, trust each other, function as a unit, and then crush less cohesive groups.”[3] Haidt proposes this transition from individual to unified group is facilitated by the “hive switch,” which occurs as a survival mechanism for the group to thrive. This primarily happens through emotive capacities, rather than logical or strategic processes. It is solidified when an everyday experience moves from the profane into the transcendent realm of the sacred, where individuals feel as if they are part of something bigger than themselves. Culturally, we see this hive effect kick in for sporting, political, and musical movements. Haidt also discovered a nation that is full of hives, is a happy nation, as people are able to find like-minded community within a particular hive, be it a school, church, business, etc. Sadly, while unity is found within smaller hives, it does not always translate from hive to hive, or to the general population.[4]

In our current culture, the effects of this hypothesis are evident, as those who stray from the norm are seen as deviant, or worse almost treasonous, especially in regard to National Anthem decorum. Images of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee or sitting during the National Anthem “because of his views on the country’s treatment of racial minorities” abound.[5] The outrage from Kaepernick’s actions reverberated throughout the sports world and beyond, causing great divides between individuals typically united by a sport or particular team. It’s interesting that Kaepernick’s actions led to a hive effect, though not due to a proximal, repeated experience like soldiers in training. Unlike the unifying experience of the Anthem being played at the 1918 World Series, players on different teams and from different levels of the sport began to follow suit. Degrading language by the US President led to a wave of solidarity, both for the protesting players and against them. Megan Garber, in her cultural analysis, noted how this wave of solidarity progressed much like a game of football where small incremental movement happens initially, but within a moment, the whole game changes.[6] Sadly, it seems in this instance, no team really wins. Particular hives may survive, but few really thrive.

So how do we bridge the great divide separating various hives? In a TED Talk interview, Haidt notes it takes an awakening of sort, where people realize that living angry and scared is of no benefit for individuals or society. He remarks that it is important to make the effort to meet someone on the other side, initiate a conversation that begins with appreciation of common ground, be willing to listen and learn, and be quick to apologize when needed. He said religious groups usually embody belief systems that position them in such a way as to be bridgebuilders and peacemakers.[7]

Jon Huckins, Co-Director of The Global Immersion Project, reiterated this stance at a recent conference for peacemakers. He highlighted four core principles everyday peacemakers must take to not only bridge but also mend the divides that separate people and groups. They include:

  • see the humanity, dignity, and image of God in everyone;
  • immerse yourself in the reality of another by moving toward conflict with tools to heal and transform rather than win or destroy;
  • contend for others, not by getting even, but getting creative in love;
  • and restore relationships by sharing a table with former enemies to celebrate the big and small ways God is healing our broken world.[8]

The obvious question is, “What hive do we belong to? One that ascribes a civil religion that divides, conquers, and excludes; or one that seeks justice, shows compassion, extends mercy, and is compelled to love others through the righteousness of Christ Jesus?”

As Christians, I want to say we must immerse ourselves in Jesus’ “hive” which welcomes all through a posture of humility and grace, and then actively engages in peacemaking solidarity to bring forth restorative healing and reconciliation to individuals and communities that encounter damaging divides every day of their lives. But the reality of which hive we choose is more complicated than that, and often, we choose poorly. In fact, often, I choose poorly.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

 

Photo by Iva Rajović on Unsplash

[1] Becky Little. 2017. “Why the Star-Spangled Banner is Played at Sporting Events: The Tradition Began During a Time of National Sorrow.” History.com, Sept 25, updated August 31, 2018. Accessed February 24, 2020. https://www.history.com/news/why-the-star-spangled-banner-is-played-at-sporting-events.

[2] Jonathan Haidt. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. New York, NY: Random House, 2012) 258.

[3] Ibid., 257.

[4] Ibid., 257-284.

[5] ESPN.com News Service. 2016. “Colin Kaepernick Protests Anthem Over Treatment of Minorities.” The Undefeated. Accessed Feb 24, 2020. https://theundefeated.com/features/colin-kaepernick-protests-anthem-over-treatment-of-minorities/.

[6] Megan Garber. 2017. “They Took a Knee.” The Atlantic. Sept 24, Accessed February 24, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/09/why-the-nfl-is-protesting/540927/.

[7] Video shared by Paul Constant in a published article from three years ago. “Why it’s Hard to Talk about The Righteous Mind.” Seattle Review of Books, 2017. Accessed February 24, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/09/why-the-nfl-is-protesting/540927/.

[8] Personal notes taken from lecture and PowerPoint presentation slides of Jon Huckins, at Alongsiders Church, Portland, OR. February 22, 2020.

About the Author

mm

Darcy Hansen

13 responses to “On Anthems, Protests, and the Hive Hypothesis”

  1. mm Dylan Branson says:

    One of the things I’ve been reflecting on in the last year is the issue of identity when it comes to nationalistic tendencies. Jason touched on it a bit in our Zoom call the other night about how much of our world is going through an identity crisis. We want to know who we are and what our purpose is. Maybe it trends toward our postmodern world where everything that was concrete is now up to debate again, but I think this is part of the reason for why we see so many nationalist leaders rising around the world.

    These leaders are able to gain support because they are able to create or cultivate a shared identity among different people. When it comes to politics, the base appeal one can make to identity is their country of origin. Trump’s “Make AMERICA Great Again” campaign ultimately appealed to a base identity: We are Americans and we want to make it “great” (whatever that actually means). But it gives a common identity to fall back on when we don’t know who we are.

    Part of my research has been on what it means to recultivate an identity within the church on this “Christian hive mind.” When our identity is not centered on who Christ and we put some other aspect of our identity at the forefront, it ultimately crumbles in on itself.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      In my research on death-care, one key driver for our fears and disembodied practices is our lack of ancestral and communal identity. This lack of identity really bubbles up when people are near death, as one foundational fear is being forgotten. Many are afraid their memory will be forever lost, their impact in the world but a blip on the timeline. Identity is key, especially when grounded in Christ. Maintaining that identity in Christ is very difficult when there are countless other competing factors and when such an identity is counter cultural. Everyone wants to belong, so belonging to Team Jesus is hard when most others, even good meaning Christians, are clearly wearing colors of a different team.

  2. mm Greg Reich says:

    Darcy,
    “Sadly, it seems in this instance, no team really wins. Particular hives may survive, but few really thrive”. Is it possible for all hives to thrive? Even those who choose to be part of Jesus’ hive disagree on issues.
    You are correct that our choices are complicated. Bridging the obvious divide is going to be a challenge. But is won’t start unless we can all sit down and begin the conversation. How do you propose we begin?

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      Greg,
      Great questions. I don’t think all Jesus hives will thrive. I think evidence of that exists in the reality that churches a freed to close their doors everyday because their particular community cannot make ends meet. I think there are denominations that have been more prevalent at different times inhibitory than others. Does prevalence and attendance define thriving? Often times it does. Evangelical mega-churches are on the rise, whereas mainline Protestant are on the decline. Is there a way for them to all work together? It would take leaders filled with humility, a teachable spirit, and vision to initiate such cooperation. But when “other churches” are seen as competition, I don’t think it will work. There’s a group here in Portland working to bridge the divides, especially on an interfaith level. Check them out: https://www.commontableoregon.org.

  3. mm John McLarty says:

    Woah…you went there! I’ve been fascinated this week about Haidt’s understanding of tribalism (the hive) for both its contributions and its liabilities. Our culture will- from time to time- celebrate a non-conformist, if just for novelty’s sake, but is often quick to correct course if it seems like things are getting out of hand. What’s scary is how much we do just out of habit. How many of our behaviors and biases are so deeply ingrained in us that we’re completely unaware of them? And to your point about the anthem, what are some of our other cultural rituals that we honor (even worship) without any real thought to their origin or purpose?

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      John,
      What non-conformist can you think of where culture correct course and moved back to conformity? I believe it’s true, and I think it’s why we have yet to elect a woman president, though other nations have. I’d argue most holidays fall into the category of participation without examination. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter are up near the top. Rituals within the church definitely fall into that category. Some rituals are more habits and are rarely examined. You’ll discover them when you try to change them. Can you identify some in your community?

  4. mm Jer Swigart says:

    Hey! I know Jon! 😉

    Great stuff here, Darcy. I really appreciate how you highlight the evolution of what once was a unifying action of solidarity (anthem) has now become a fractured symbol that creates different kinds of solidarity.

    I want to press into Haidt’s idea of “meeting someone on the other side.” While it seems so simple, its proving to be the practice that is perceived as next to impossible. I say this only because so few seem to be walking across the room and into the lives of another. What are the practices you embody to move toward those with whom you disagree…specifically those whom you once understood as your own people? What have you identified as the presenting obstacles (internal/external) that interrupt your good intentions to immerse into their lives?

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      Jer,
      I am not overly skilled or confident in walking across the room to the other side. When I tried to do that within my previous church context, I was met with silence. When I continued to pursue dialogue, I was given empty answers and told things would not change. So I walked away. Pissed. Which wasn’t great. Thankfully, those that love me have walked the roads with me. They still attend that church, and know where I stand and why. They still support the institution and its values, and they still love me. Relationship with them is more important than me being right, so I have to let it go and continue loving them. I am also one who tends to avoid confrontation, so now that I’ve had an experience that was deeply personal and that did not go as hoped, I’m pretty hesitant in stepping into that realm again.
      Obstacles:
      Internal: fear, pride, mixed with some level of wisdom and a deep knowing things won’t change anytime soon, still healing wounds.
      External: the shear size of that establishment makes change difficult, proximity (as I have decidedly walk away from that environment), lack of interest in leadership to engage in conversation outside their core group consisting of teaching pastors and elders (all dominant culture males).

      To meet others on the other side requires a willingness on both parties part to figure things out. If one walks across, but is met with continuous opposition, then they will eventually walk away, frustrated and distraught. I was listening to a interview NPR about a lady who goes to colleges to talk politics. She is always asked about ways to get clubs with polarizing views to have healthy dialogue. She suggested going and doing something together, as a team building exercise, something that has nothing to do with the topic that divides them. This builds relationship and establishes common core values and mutual understanding. I think it’s a great idea. So maybe it isn’t meeting someone on the other side, as much as it is inviting people to a neutral space to build relationship through a shared experience?

      • mm Jer Swigart says:

        I really appreciate the strategy of “doing something” in order to broker meaningful conversations. Wouldn’t it be something if we could cultivate communities of people who span the spectrum theologically and politically who are committed to experiencing the implications of our theologies and politics by actually getting close to those who benefit and are burdened by our rigid thinking? I wonder what kinds of conversations those experiences would catalyze. I wonder what kind of transformation would occur. I wonder what kind of community would be forged.

        • Darcy Hansen says:

          It seems you’re doing this, if even in part, via TGIP? The immersion and experiential aspect is key. Until I got out of my box, I just didn’t know. It’s a phrase God continues to whisper to me when my frustrations with broken systems rises up, “Darcy, they just don’t know.” So in essence, it begins with an invitation, and I would add more specifically, an invitation into communion. This then circles back to the take aways from our texts- embodying the practice of presence and demonstrating a generosity of spirit toward all humans, not just the ones we deem worthy or which fit into our comfortable constructs. I find the people who do this best are often those who have suffered that most and have allowed suffering to shape them into something new, holy, and good.

  5. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Darcy, nice shout out to Global Immersion Project! I liked the 5 track musical equalizer metaphor Haidt offers (I forget if that was from his book or from an interview I watched). I almost brought up the anthem as an example, too. One side is about the Sanctity of an anthem and many who have sacrificed for our nation, while the other side is on the Harm/Care and Fairness about an oppressed people. There will be no mutual understanding until people realize these are multiple conversational foci.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      Shawn,
      Right?! The timing for that event was perfect!

      My husband is a West Point grad and Army veteran. We’ve been married 26 years. I have yet to figure out a way to engage with him in conversation regarding the Flag/Anthem issue. I try, but I think it is one of those areas we just agree to disagree. In the larger settings, it ends up being more of a shouting match about who is right. The truth is, as you noted, both are. But we really don’t do well with paradox in a dualistic society.

  6. mm Chris Pollock says:

    I never knew that about the US National Anthem. Very cool history!

    The “Hive switch”. Yes, the struggle when people decide to be unique; it’s a risk. What are we willing to compromise of ourselves in order to fit in? I see how Colin has paid the price. He has been targeted for his stance. At least, for now. Seemingly, he has stayed the course walking the walk and talking the talk. Something real, refreshing. Message and reason to the defiant stance. Unfortunately, he did not care to learn the language of oppression’s elephant.

    In high school, I decided to not talk my shirt in, just because. This was useless. Simple defiance without an iota of care or deeper reason. How could the message of Colin have been shared in a way that he possibly wouldn’t have been made an outcast?

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