I can see this has turned into yet another heated forum discussion. Heck, why not? At least we’re able to talk about the more difficult subjects in life and history without going Glassy Sutil on one another (oh, the advantages of computer screen protection, never to be underestimated).
I thought I’d drop a few points as personal input here, hoping to add a little flavour to the discussion without adding any extra heat (it’s spicy enough as it is).
1. Patriotism does not equal nationalism as some have pointed out. To bring into the discussion the horrors of Hitler seems a bit inappropriate to me. It was merely a label made of words put on a political movement that was actually quite short-lived. Supporting your country through one or more means (such as having a natural tendency to prefer or at the very least keep a closer eye on a specific athlete because you share the same nationality) has nothing to do with ideologies that are profiting from severely troubled economical times in a given territory to put the blame and hatred for the difficult life a given generation is being put through on an innocent target. Any social group that is going through generalised hardship when it comes to meeting the vital needs of each individual (loss of financial means through major unemployment waves meaning hunger, housing issues, degrading health, no health care, and so on: it’s a vicious circle) will close down on itself and look at the ones who appear not be going through as difficult times as being the “thieves” of what used to seem balanced and fairly distributed. A political party around a very charismatic and slightly disturbed (you could consider that a euphemism) character who is in the middle of an era during which many false theories about the human species were put forward will of course thrive very well. You can literally point out and show who the culprits supposedly are by mixing phenotypes (and religion in this case as we know that Judaism has historically linked itself through blood lineage) and personnality traits/social traits. Eugenics were very fashionable throughout the entire Western world at the time. May I point out to the horrible example of what the Belgian colonists did in Congo for example with the superior race ID cards distributed to the Tutsis? It is one amongst many. But we had very little proper scientifical knowledge of us, humans, from a genetic point of view. People still measured the skull to try and deduce how big the brain inside was (not that a larger brain means more activity actually)… This type of thinking and uncertainty (scientifically speaking) makes it so much easier to talk a mass into at first disliking, then rejecting, finally hating a certain “ethnic” group.
2. So why would we as humans tend to more often turn towards a person with whom we can identify quite easily? Why would nationality matter? Well, it’s quite simple: nations were built on that particular concept. One same people on one same territory sharing one same language (most of the time). Break one of these rules and things get complicated. In the past, you also had one same religion as a “liaison officer” but thanks to the progress of Science (and the consequences such as secular education), the input of religion has profoundly decreased on patriotism in the Western world. A few simple examples to illustrate this (and again, there are exceptions in the world!): my country has overseas departments (a French department is a territorial subdivision of the nation) yet these departments appear to be less taken into account generally speaking (less visits and campaigns during election periods, less coverage in -oh, the irony- national news,). Basically, they are less regarded as being France (hence the phrase “en métropole” to speak about the traditional European hexagon France). The geographic distance plays a lot into this (some would argue that the main difference in “ethnic” backgrounds is also quite important although being from very multicultural city I’m a bit less impressed by this argument). If you break language unity, you get the same sort of problem. I don’t wish to speak for any other nations, not knowing their history as well as mine, but in France all regional languages were actually forbidden for quite a while after the French Revolution. The “français” (which was regional language itself up until a few centuries before) had to be the language of all and any other would be suppressed through penalisation of use of these in order to artificially create a sense of coherence. You may wonder how this could eventually have worked… Obviously, there were quite a few rebellions within certain regions, including mine (Provence). However, historically, it did work very well: the public school education system was put into place and children were soon obligated to get a minimum education, no matter one’s social background. That’s a beautiful right. However, obviously, this education was nationally dispensed and thus regulated meaning these children would hear proper French for most of the day. A few generations later, this means that regional languages are part of the family circle, not the wider social circle and not that of knowledge, thus career opportunities. And so on.
3. Patriotism is like a huge revolving door. To keep a country stable, you have to continue giving it sense. Most countries we know today are actually quite recent. they weren’t around just a thousand years ago. You had, in most cases, similar territorial outlinings that corresponded to different kingdoms/principalities and other types of estate claims. Once the prospect of a certain country is born within the mind of a given political group/elite (no matter whether they’re royal or anti-royal), the aim is to give a true reason for the country to exist. Certain things are put into place to artificially create that sense of unison. Sport is definitely a major competitor (ha, too easy a pun to pass) when it comes to this. The history and evolution of the Olympics is the best example I can find. It used to be that the most important and flourishing cities, kingdoms and states of Ancient Greece would send out their best athletes to compete against one each other. It hasn’t changed that much these days. Whichever country can afford to train and send out athletes does so… That’s how simple it is. Other variations are World Cups. Nations are going to invest in this because not only is it a sign of prosperity and a lovely picture of the general health of their nation (which is why, as Zadak and Todfod pointed out, skills are rather important: you rarely stay supportive of someone who never really showed any sign of particular strength in its discipline). It’s a “my-daddy-is-stronger-than-your-daddy” type of thinking except this inherent human psychological state of mind is applied to a larger (note that it is called “patriotism”, a clear reference to the pater familias concept from the Ancient times) social circle than the first one you have in your life (your family), your country. Having the national hymn played on almost every podium of a big sports event (even outside inter-nations championships) is very telling…
4. However, it’s not an exclusive rule. Your brain is not wired to only support those with whom you share some sort of socio-historical (and, alas, as some trouble makers would love to make others think, genetic) platform. You will support whomever you most identify with and that emotional component (even if you believe it’s rational and/or logical such as supporting the best-skilled: it still is merely your opinion that person is the better skilled on the field – you never know what the younglings could be worth when they finally peak, for ex. – and obviously you’d be neglecting the fact that, as humans, we do have that lovely “perfectionist” streak Kant so properly described: having the best and most doesn’t make you the all-round better person). The emotional component has a large variety of possible connections (Hamilton and Webber’s “honesty” when they say something to the media you won’t hear most of the others on today’s F1 grid claim, for example: that’s just a rather common human value associated with the bravest knight thematic, etc.) and is quite complex (which makes it so fascinating to study, by the way).
So, I’m sure Hamilton has fans of many nationalities because he has created major emotional branding at the start of his career. It might not have been on purpose, mind you! Same goes for the Ferrari team. It stands for F1 royalty which gives it that historical impact and does play on people’s feelings.
Because I think it’s only fair I play along in this thread and reveal my own little preferences: I’m a rookie gal. I love to support the incoming F1 drivers. Why? I can only speculate that having moved around very, very much during my entire childhood and having to get into a new school and new class several times each school year means that I’ve had to become quite the extrovert and to quickly make a place for myself in a new group (it could’ve gone the other way and I could’ve become very shy and silent). So I tend to naturally stick up for the newcomers and get a fuzzy warm feeling about them, wanting to give them an honest chance. Again, this is a simplified introspective 101 self-psychoanalysis theory but it does seem to explain my personal sense of favouritism within the sport.
There you go, my emotional F1 supporting lock is exposed. I don’t mean to say everyone should theorise over their favourite driver(s)/team(s). But the idea of supporting someone is definitely beyond reason when it comes to things where competition means becoming number one over all the rest. This is no philosophical debate around tea & crumpets… It’s a friggin’ sport with cars on a track (which has no real reason to exist besides the entertainment factor although obviously, over time, it’s been coupled with a few other benefits such as car safety).
Why would the cavemen run to reach a line first if there is no mammoth meat to be grabbed?
Ah, Sports, often forgotten as a sign of civilisation and luxury because of its prestigious big brother, Arts.
EDIT: wow, this is long, my apologies.