The game is the game

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Liverpool lost the league by 2 points from 7 point lead. Manchester City won its 2nd successive Premier League title. But this post is not about politics.

What motivates footballers on the pitch to put in a good performance for their country? If a team does well and fights to come back from 2 goals down in the quarter final to win 3–2, what motivated them to put in such a performance? The easy answer that ‘makes sense’ is to say they love their country and that love pushed them to deliver such a performance.

But not really. Here’s one of the most important things I learned reading The Righteous Mind last year:

In September 1941, William McNeil was drafted into the US Army. He spent several months in basic training, which consisted mostly of marching around the drill field in close formation with a few dozen other men. At first McNeil thought the marching was just a way to pass the time, because his base had no weapons with which to train. But after a few weeks, when his unit began to synchronize well, he began to experience an altered state of consciousness:

Words are inadequate to describe the emotion aroused by the prolonged movement in unison that drilling involved. A sense of pervasive well-being is what I recall; more specifically, a strange sense of personal enlargement; a sort of swelling out, becoming bigger than life, thanks to participation in collective ritual.

McNeil fought in World War II and later became a distinguished historian. His research led him to the conclusion that the key innovation of Greek, Roman, and later European armies was the sort of synchronous drilling and marching the army had forced him to do years before. He hypothesized that the process … Read More...