A propos our next book event on Oct 15 on the theme of identity: here is an excerpt from an item by Eileen Reid from today's Scottish Review, an excellent online magazine supported by donations.
...the question of who we are is fraught with confusion. That part of our identity is tied up with various groups is undoubtedly the case: family, club, workplace, city, the nation. Problems, however, seem to emerge with over-identification with a group. For example, I have noticed that people of the far left and certain nationalists often absorb ideological or political criticism as deeply personal. When this identification is excessive, problems arise.
In the case of the Old Firm rivalry, Rangers and Celtic fans have come to identify their own wellbeing with the fortunes of their respective club. When Rangers lose, the Rangers fans have been harmed. When Celtic loses, the well-being of Celtic fans is compromised. When they lose to each other, each has been harmed by their greatest enemy. This causes extreme anxiety and frustration. Unable to assuage anxiety on the park, the desire for revenge on the aggressor is impossible to satisfy immediately, so they resort to violence at the first available opportunity – often in the safety of the home.
This kind of analysis of post-Old Firm match violence is commonplace. But I do think it is largely right. If so, solutions must focus on the mechanisms and triggers of Old Firm violence. The solution proposed by the Ancient Greeks is clear enough. Each individual has to re-assess their beliefs about their self-identity, and develop a rational detachment from their tribe. But this solution requires of fans a degree of self-awareness and moral seriousness that is not to be expected. We're not dealing with ordinary decent rational people who accept there is a problem. We are dealing with profoundly ignorant, drunk men. So Scottish society needs to think of alternatives. It must make it more difficult for people to self-identify with the Old Firm in the first place, and, failing that, reduce the number of encounters - although in the latter case vicarious rivalry would likely emerge.
If you think about it, what use is Old Firm tribalism to contemporary Scottish society? What good is the Old Firm to Scottish football? What would Glasgow lose without Rangers and Celtic? What about a truly revolutionary solution to a smelly conservative tradition: a merger of the two clubs? We are merging universities and colleges, why not football clubs? Glasgow United – now wouldn't that be something to be proud of?
Frankly, measures short of this rather drastic proposal will not address the problem. Clubs issuing anti-sectarian bromides are doomed to fail, and are too complacent because they do not distinguish aggressive tradition from destructive hatred. Mary Midgely in her book 'Wickedness' claims that there is a strong tendency for social scientists to hold that hatred and violence is not innate but a result of external forces. Well, if true, good: presumably then, these forces can be removed. But they won't be removed. Scotland will have to tolerate this tradition for another few centuries. Hold your nose.