Excerpted from Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain, by Patricia S. Churchland. Copyright © 2013 Patricia S. Churchland. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Co., Inc.
The Joy of Hating
Sometimes play fighting crosses the line into real fighting. Sometimes defensive combat emerges when trust should prevail. Sometimes the wiring for impulse control is overwhelmed. By ideology. By rhetoric. By fear and hate. Sometimes . . . all hell breaks loose.
Fans of the San Diego Chargers football team are full of hate for fans of another California football team, the Oakland Raiders. They taunt each other, donning costumes to intimidate or humiliate the opposing team’s fans. Some of the fans engage in ritual fight displays, not unlike those of aggressive birds such as the Noisy Miner.
Chargers fans say the Raiders are evil, disgusting, and subhuman. And vice versa. Maybe it is just play hate. Evidently it is fun. All sides hugely enjoy the hate fest. Any casual observer can see that the fans derive enormous pleasure from belonging to a group that is united in its hate for the other group. The very hate itself seems to be exciting, invigorating, and pleasurable. Not incidentally, an astonishing amount of time and expense goes into this ritualistic hostility.
Nevertheless, in the United States, fighting between the fans at football games (U.S. football) is quite rare. On the exceptional occasion when it does occur, fans generally express horror and outrage. In England, however, one group of fans having it out with another group is not rare. Fighting among male fans after matches, and sometimes during and before matches, has been disturbingly popular among a subset of men. Football brawls happen routinely. Hooliganism has been exceptionally difficult to wipe out.
The BBC documentary on football fight clubs shows that for many young men, brawls between rival groups are terrifically exciting. Brawls are a major reason for attending matches, whether in the hometown or in France, Italy, or elsewhere in Europe. In the United Kingdom, the gangs are referred to as “firms.” Football firms are well organized, with a “top lad” who plays a leadership role and organizes fighting events around football matches.
What are the men of football firms like? To judge from the BBC documentary, they are charming, articulate, and bright. They were not beating their chests or frothing at the mouth. They did not look crazed. They could be your brother or cousin. The normality of their manner seems incompatible with their love of brawling, and yet it is not. This is essentially brawling without cause. It is brawling for the sheer fun of it.
The Los Angeles riots of 1992 erupted as racial and ethnic tension boiled over following the acquittal of three white policemen who had been videotaped viciously beating a black man, Rodney King. The outrage at the unfairness was profound, and suddenly all hell was unleashed: arson, looting, and shooting were occurring all over South Central Los Angeles.
I saw the video images of the hapless white trucker, Reginald Denny, forcibly yanked from his truck at an intersection by four black youths. They savagely kicked him and smashed his head with a brick, almost killing him. Watching the event on video again now, I cannot but be stunned, as reporters were at the time, by the joyous body language of the youths as Denny lay semiconscious on the ground. They danced with joy. Mostly unconcerned, people were milling all around the intersection. Fortunately, four black citizens, having seen the Denny beating on television, went to his rescue and took him to the hospital. But for their kind actions, he likely would have died.
Utter chaos reigned in the city for several days. The police had to back off because they were so deeply mistrusted and hated that they had become a popular target of gunfire. The National Guard had held back because their ammunition had not been delivered. Some Korean shopkeepers tried to defend their property by shooting looters, while others elected instead to simply watch as their shops were looted and burned.