I have been thinking about Harvey Updyke for a while. I guess since the news about his arrest. What I am about to write is written under the hypothesis that Updyke is guilty. Perhaps he is not. But I am writing under the hypothesis that he is.
One of the points of this column has been to temper fanaticism with good sense. I believe that we have forgotten how to be fans and to retain our dignity, how to be fans and to grant the dignity of our rivals. And I have been writing first and foremost to myself: I am the first of sinners. I knew something had gone wrong when I found myself reacting to anyone wearing Alabama gear as if he had been lobotomized. Dressing children in Alabama gear struck me as pre-schooling them in bloody pagan rites. But that is crazy. Absolutely crazy. Nonetheless, I had such reactions; I was so struck. My guess is that you have been, too, although you may have to change the teams named in order fully to recognize yourself.
I confess this craziness, and I ask you to confess it, because we are all potential Updykes. No trees are safe; no chimes secure; no statues inviolable. We have all lost our minds. The difference between Updyke and me, or Updyke and you, is that he added that sort of craziness to an already systemic craziness. His roots were already poisonous. That pre-existing craziness is the reason why we should pity Updyke. He was and is a crazy man made crazier by fanaticism. He is not an icon of the fans of the Crimson Tide, or he is not only that. He is an icon of the college football fan, particularly the SEC fan, who seems to know no moderation, no self-imposed limits, no fan tact. We all need to keep those unflattering photographs of Updyke in mind: There, but for the grace of God, am I.
“Ok,” you might be saying, “I admit I get a little out of hand. But a potential Updyke? No way. That is crazy talk.” Really? Is it? When is the last time you endangered a family relationship, a friendship, a good working partnership, a pleasant acquaintance, by fan crap? Was it as long ago as Saturday? Is alienating your brother, or your best friend, or a co-worker, or just the guy who serves you coffee at breakfast—is any of that less evil than poisoning a tree? Less public, sure; it involves fewer people, sure: but less evil? I’m not sure.
So am I pleading for everyone to go lightly on Updyke, for the law to go lightly on Updyke? A bit, I guess. The man is crazy, after all. But he will have to face whatever punishment he is given. What I am mostly pleading for is a little relentless self-examination. Will I enjoy an Auburn Iron Bowl victory any less because I respect the dignity of Alabama fans? No. And if your answer to that question, or your version of that question, is Yes, then you are taking pleasure in something that corrupts character. To take pleasure in the suffering of others is itself evil. And it is an evil that goes deep—you might even say: right to our roots.
Leisure with dignity, folks, with dignity.
Dr. Jolley is a philosophy professor at Auburn University. He works in the theory of judgment, the history of 20th-century philosophy, metaphilosophy and philosophical psychology. He was recently profiled by The New York Times. He also likes football. His book “The Concept ‘Horse’ Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual Investigations” was published in 2007. His column “Leisure with Dignity” runs bi-monthly to monthly to whenever. He blogs at Quantum Est In Rebus Inane. Write to him at [email protected].
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