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The late French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, expanding on the philosophical tradition most famously initiated by the German Freidrich Nietzsche, believed that the logical extension of Nietzsche?s ?Death of God? thesis was for every human to create their own lives purely through their own actions, the ?intolerable necessity? of their own free choice. Without a genuine belief in God, life could no longer be based on any solid moral or existential foundation, but must merely be choosing for choice?s sake, and living for life?s sake. Humanity no longer had an essence, and for Sartre, to continue to believe in any essence was ?bad faith?.
Despite these revolutionary views, humanity has never truly confronted it?s own lack of essence. Bad faith has been a constant throughout history, from the Medieval Crusades to, well, the current Crusades. Attempts to narrowly define what is right, what is holy, and what is true, have overridden any universalising goal of international, interracial and intercultural harmony. As my friend Mark might once have said, what we need is peace, love and understanding. Hip-pop superstar Nelly, a closet Sartrean, perhaps summed it up even better in his single ?N Dey Say? with the words ?I only deal with what I can see, cos over history mystery brought us nothing but misery?.
And yet still, in this ostensibly enlightened epoch, mystery, essentialist metaphysics, and bad faith reign. People base their lives on the teachings of God, Buddha, Mohammed, and Steve Prefontaine (perhaps the only prophet of a truly humane and empowering bad faith). Souths fans still predict an improved effort from their team every year. Warriors supporters cling desperately to the impossible dream of a season not marred by awful officiating. Cronulla fans truly expect their charges to finally display the necessary starch and Trojan qualities to bring home their first premiership.
Yes, when it comes to bad faith, the NRL reigns supreme. The ethics of rugby league are deeply and fundamentally religious, with right and wrong strictly defined, and pure, baseless faith placed on a pedestal high above rationality. Rugby league is fertile Sartrean ground, because at its best it is a beautiful game. It is a showcase for athleticism, skill, strength and speed. Once we fans have made our pointless, arbitrary, intolerably necessary decision to follow rugby league, we are confronted by the glorious reality that we have made a pretty firkin good choice (unlike the Sartrean choice to post at FFB, ironically). And yet, idiotically, we turn our game into a bastion of religious fundamentality. Thou shalt biff when biffed. Thou shalt complain about every obviously correct refereeing decision that goes against you. Thou shalt not throw risky passes when leading.
Thou shalt never stop supporting your team.
In an increasingly tumultuous global climate, where believers in conflicting ideologies are involved in bloody clashes on a daily basis, rugby league provides us with little respite. After all, whose belief has more foundation- a young Iraqi, inured to hate everything he perceives as Western, or a young Eels fan who thinks Tim Smith will lead Parramatta to the promised land of premiership glory when it is patently obvious that Smith is set to be the next Matthew Rodwell? Am I the only who is spooked by the fact that there are still dissidents lurking on the fringes of society, such as the seemingly innocuous Auckland suburb of Whenuapai, who honestly believe that Clinton Toopi can one day become a competent first grader?
And yet maybe, just maybe, there is something positive in all this. Sartre never said that humans would ever be capable of going blithely through life without aligning themselves to any pithy causes. Pithy cause alignment is fundamental to the deeply flawed existence of humans, just as believing Todd Carney is the second coming of Joey/Christ is fundamental to the deeply flawed existence of Raiders fans. It takes a special kind of people to escape the habituating effects of a society still struggling to step out from the long shadow of organised religion, and frankly, rugby league fans just aren?t those people. We are simple, deeply prejudiced folk, still prone to judging someone solely on the colour of their jersey. Perhaps we still need arbitrary rules and false idols to make our lives worthwhile. And yet, I can?t help but feel acutely anxious that there lurks a lunatic somewhere, sitting at his computer, foaming at the mouth, rabidly composing lengthy dissertations on the excellence of Clinton Toopi?s defensive positioning?
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