Author Archives: Bethany

The Primaries: what doesn’t kill them makes them stronger?

That special time of the election cycle is approaching us—the primaries. A time when members from the same party begin a four to six month cycle of in-fighting that makes even the nastiest of family arguments look like a walk in the park. I have always found the American Presidential Primary system to be fascinating because of the quick shift that the Democratic and Republican (and…Tea??) Parties must undergo between competition and unification. They compete heavily and often ruthlessly for the nomination amongst their own party, but then everyone in the party is expected to turn around after the convention and promote a unified stance behind whoever the nominee may be.

Essentially, what we see in American politics is that our entire political system was established to be a very deliberately adversarial institution. Americans believe that a one-party system, without debate and negotiation, can lead to corruption, or—our Founding Fathers’ biggest fear—a non-representative monarchy. But, within this system we have developed political parties, which are not deliberately adversarial institutions. Yet, every four years the parties break their norm of cooperation and, essentially, become adversarial institutions in order to attempt to elect the candidate who will win the White House.

This seems pretty unusual, right? Well, I would argue that this is actually a commonplace practice amongst many institutions that are not necessarily adversarial in and of themselves, but must compete in a larger adversarial context. Law firms are perhaps the greatest example. The American legal system is very adversarial, but law firms themselves are supposed to be cooperative bodies that are working towards the same goal. However, in order to motivate employees and attempt to rise to the top of their field, law firms often create inter-office competitions that pit employees against one another.

After: It's a different story after the primary, when party unity trumps all.

 

The American Presidential election system is often criticized, and as we begin yet another election cycle the pundits and criticism will rise anew, but maybe we should all think more about why it is designed this way and how effective competition can be first.

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Bipartisan or Bust?

It seems that nearly every time President Obama or Speaker of the House John Bohener makes a speech the magic B word is somewhere in it—bipartisanship. Just yesterday when the Senate passed a stopgap measure to avoid a government shutdown, Obama said, “I’m pleased that Democrats and Republicans in Congress came together and passed a plan.” Throughout his campaign, Obama also crafted an image of bipartisanship. I can’t help but ask the question, do Democrats and Republicans truly want to work together like they claim? If they do, then there actions (like voting to repeal “Obamacare” by the Republicans or walking out of the Wisconsin state legislature by the Democrats) don’t seem to match their words. And if they don’t actually want to be bipartisan, then why do they insist on spending so much time on it?

The American political party system is an example of an adversarial institution. What makes this institution so interesting is that nothing in our Constitution creates a party system, in fact our founding fathers warned against the influence of parties. Now, however, we have a highly regulated system with complex rules and the party system is one of the foremost features of American democracy. There is a common notion, however, that the party system is somehow detrimental to our democracy and that being an “independent” is a matter of pride.

Nancy Rosenblum, a Harvard professor of government, writes in her book On the Side of the Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship, that there is a notion in America that anti-partisanship is an ideal to strive for. In an interview with the Dartmouth student newspaper, she said that “Anti-partisanship is as old as politics and as old as the dinosaurs.”

Rosenblum, however maintains that partisanship is exactly one of democracies strongest positive features, and without it the system of American democracy that exists today would look totally different—and worse. “We don’t need independence or post-partisanship, but better partisanship.”

So, maybe instead of always throwing out empty words about bipartisanship and “above the Beltway” rhetoric, our political leaders could do well to reexamine their own party politics.

The Ethics of Crazieness: A Follow-Up

I can’t resist writing a quick follow-up to the “How Crazie is too Crazy?” piece from earlier this week. If you follow college sports will know that the previous post came shortly before the storied Duke-UNC rivalry game. The game did not disappoint (especially for the Duke fans), as the Blue Devils made an historic comeback from a 14-point deficit at halftime to win by a final score of 79-73. Given the nature of the last post on “fan ethics” during sporting events, I think this game is a great case study of what should and shouldn’t be acceptable behavior for sporting fans.

Throughout Duke’s second-half surge, ESPN’s commentators’ voices could barely be heard over the broadcast as the Cameron Crazies filled the stadium with cheers. At one point, Dick Vitale called Cameron “electric” and after the game Coach K and Duke players all gave credit to the Crazies for motivating them. It was the first time Duke had overcome a deficit of 14 points to win since 1959. In rivalries like this, the crowd can play an important role. And surely that is what makes college sports so attractive to spectators. But should we allow more “extreme” measures from fans (obscene chants, gestures, etc) to be permitted in these cases? Does the fan’s passion for their team and game allow them to chant with a free conscience “Go to Hell Carolina, Go to Hell!” ad infinitum? (Ed. note for Carolina fans: that means “again and again.”) Interestingly, at Duke this is not only an acceptable chant, but is also frequently worn on t-shirts and so commonplace it’s simply abbreviated as “GTHC.”

To avoid rehashing the last post, I’ve decided to make three lists based on the latest game against UNC. Most of the things on the list can apply to any home game, but I’m using this particularly heated rivalry as a case study of sorts.

The “innocuous cheering” list which nearly any sports fan would condone as 100% within the realm of sportsmanship; the “borderline cheering,” made up of the gray area between being a good fan and violating an ethical boundary; and the “dubious cheering,” or just plain “jeering,” list, made up of actions nearly everyone (arguably even those of us performing the chats) know aren’t quite right. Obviously, this is only a personal opinion; and if you disagree with where I’ve put what, please feel free to comment. It’s up for debate!

Innocuous:

  1. The ever-present, always loud “Let’s Go Duke!” Cheer, or its equivalent (“Here we Go Devils!”, “Go Devils go!”)
  2. Jumping up and down and screaming while the opposing team has the ball. As in all sports cheering, the tactic is meant to distract the other team when they have the ball but has no mean intentions. This constant noise is one of the things that makes Cameron one of the hardest home courts to play on.
  3. Cheering when Duke makes a 3-pointer or Dunk.
  4. Body paint and face paint in support of Duke’s team colors.
  5. The “hex”. When an opposing team player fouls out, the Crazies are known to “hex” them by waving their hand and cheering until they sit and then yelling “See you!”.

Borderline:

  1. The Duke fight song with the student modified lyrics, “Carolina go to Hell! EAT SHIT!” sung the loudest (particularly during this game).
  2. The classic “Bullshit” chant following what the fans believe to be a poor call by an official
  3. Normally, I would put this clearly on the “innocuous” list, but a comment on the blogosphere about the physical presence of the Crazies made me bump it down. When the opposing team has the ball, in addition to cheering, the Crazies wave their hands at them while in-bounding. The students never touch the players, but the visual is compelling and the proximity of the students to the court is meant to intimidate opposing players. Some find this physical presence wrong, but as the students do not intend to physical harm the players I find it hard to categorize as “over the line.”
  4. When opposing team’s players are introduced the students “greet” them by chanting “Hi (insert name!)”. Although this alone I would find hard to object to, it has been tradition in years past to add “you suck!”, though in recent years Coach K has emphatically asked students to refrain from this (a cheer, notably, imported from the Maryland fan base).

Jeering:

  1. At one point a student was identified by a referee for attempting to have thrown something at Harrison Barnes, one of UNC’s top players.

Overall, however, I would say that more than anything the Crazies cheer for Duke rather than directing nasty things against UNC or their opponent. Sure, they want to get under the skin of the team they’re playing, but I would argue that the nature of the adversarial institution of sports allows for most of the Crazies type of behavior. Although, I must admit I am a bit biased as Cameron Crazy myself.

Judge for yourself based on this clip, taken from inside the student section: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta09JvSoIsU

Adversarial Ethics and the Sports Fan: How Crazy is too Crazie?

We can all agree that athlete’ s behavior falls under the purview of a deliberately adversarial code of ethics. In a basketball game, a player who fouls another as she’s shooting isn’ t considered immoral, rather she is violating a rule of the game. Further, we hold athletes and coaches to a code of “sportsmanship” that extends both on and off the court. They shouldn’t cheat even when they can get away with it; they shouldn’ tfake injuries to draw a foul or penalty on the other team, and they shouldn’t ingestperformance-enhancing drugs while training.

But, what about the fans? Is a team cheating if its fans behave in ways that give the team a strong home-court advantage? Very few of us will ever rise to the level of collegiate or professional athletes, but that doesn’ t stop millions of people from being heavily invested in the outcome of sporting events. Fans are often the worst perpetrators of both pre and post-game “ trash talk” and have been known to direct demeaning and even vulgar chants at opponents. Does adversarial ethics engage with this type of fan behavior? Or is does this kind of behavior simply fall under codes for what it is to be a decent person in general?

Consider the “Cameron Crazies”, Duke University’s die-hard, bleeding-bluemen’s basketball fan base. ESPN writes that the “Crazies have earned a reputation as the rowdiest, wittiest, best-organized college basketball fans in the land.” Known for camping out for the notorious Duke-UNC game in Kryzewskiville for up to two months,the Crazies are notorious for their rambunctious behavior in games.

A few years ago,ESPN’s “Page 2” series wrote an article on “Cameron’ s Craziest” moments. Some of the more controversial moments included:

  • After disagreeing with referee Dick Paparo’s call the Crazies chanted: “You suck, Dick!” (The comma wasn’t as evident in the verbal chorus.) It’s worth nothing, however, that Coach K was not a fan of this chant and demanded the Crazies, “ keep it classy.”
  • When a Maryland player was rumored to have sexually assaulted another student, the Crazies mockingly chanted: “HEY, HERM, DID YOU SEND HER FLOWERS?”
  • Although not listed in the ESPN article, I myself, as an admitted Cameron Crazy, have witnessed a few borderline offensive cheers. While playing an opponent where one of the team members was accused of sexual assault this year, some in the crowd chanted “NO MEANS NO!”

Often, chants are aimed to intimidate or  psych out”opponents, taking aim at their personal lives. Some chants even include profanity, although recently Coach K has encouraged Crazies to “be more creative” than that in his pre-game talks. So the question is, where do we “draw the line” between appropriate cheering and offensive, even unethical, fan tactics?

Certainly there are clear examples: when the Crazies cheer enthusiastically after a dunk or 3-pointer for instance, or when fans shout “Defense!” Such cheers that are simply in support of the fan’s team seem clearly within the appropriate range of fan tactics. Things become murky, however, when fans like the Crazies draw in personal attacks on players. It’s worth noting, as well, that these are not professional athletes, but rather 18-22 year old “student athletes.”

Is it right to mock these players for their personal lives, is it right to make light of subjects as sensitive as sexual assault in a sports atmosphere? And perhaps most importantly from the perspective of adversarial ethics, is it fair for the Blue Devils to gain an advantage on the court because of some of these dubious fantactics?

I certainly don’t have the answer to these questions, and I must admit that while in the mob mentality of the Cameron Crazies the answers clearly seem to be YES! Although I believe that much of our thinking about the adversarial ethics should extend to fans, I believe there is a strong case, particularly in college sports, for drawing a distinction between fun, competitive cheering and derogatory or mocking jaunts aimed directly at the personal lives of opponents.

[For a follow-up post, taking the historic Duke-UNC game of 9 Februrary 2011 into account, click here.]

Cheating in Adversarial Institutions: The Viral Effect

[Ed. note: here is the first of (we hope many, many) posts this spring by our Duke University student bloggers.]


If you were wondering how adversarial ethics is different from our “normal” conception of ethics, I think this passage from Joseph Heath’s paper “An Adversarial Ethics for Business” (published in the Journal of Business Ethics in 2006) is a good place to start.

“In a non-adversarial context, the fact that one person acts unethically does not in itself create any additional pressure on others to do so. For example, if one surgeon performs some unnecessary procedures, it does not necessarily give other surgeons a reason to do so. In a competition, however, the fact that one person is deriving an advantage from unethical conduct necessarily generates a disadvantage for everyone else, and therefore creates pressure for everyone to follow suit.”

In a non-adversarial setting, we don’t take one person’s ethical violations as an invitation or reason to follow suit. Heath uses the example of healthcare to illustrate this. (Note: Heath is approaching healthcare with a system like Britain’s or Canada’s in mind. In principle, these systems are much less competitive and profit-oriented than America’s system.) If one surgeon is using “unnecessary procedures” — perhaps to expedite the surgery or be able to bill for more — this does not necessarily motivate other surgeons to act the same way. Doctors swear to the Hippocratic oath and are generally expected to adhere to strict ethical standards and codes. And in any case, one surgeon’s cheating the system in this way does not take away business from the others, or in any other direct way threaten their livelihoods.

Now, take this same situation, but substitute in “baseball players” for “surgeon” and “steroids” for an “unnecessary procedure.” Baseball, like all sports, is a deliberately adversarial institution, a zero-sum game. Here we see, as Heath says, that one player’s getting an advantage from unethical conduct gives all the others player at least a reason, and maybe a very compelling reason, to do the same.

We might say that in adversarial settings, certain kinds of cheating or unethical behavior can spread like a virus, infecting even those who had no prior interest in cheating.