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Olympics, Sports and National Identity -- A Philosophy of Individual Excellence, Not Collective

Updated: Apr 15

Why the Olympics Captivate Us

The Olympics, a spectacle that unfolds every few years, ignites a global collaboration unlike any other. Athletes from across the world compete on a single stage, pushing their limits to achieve the pinnacle of their sport, similar to the premise of the Tekken games. On the surface, it resembles countless other competitions – the pursuit of romantic validation, workplace dominance, or academic excellence. And in general, it represents the competitive nature of human reality, where the victor is rewarded for displaying the most merit.

However, the allure of the Olympics, and similar international events, stems from a fundamental misconception. It's the fallacy that a single victor, or a select group of representatives, can embody the essence of an entire nation. An entire nation with its diverse citizenry and a large range of skillsets, both great and poor.

The national pride associated with Olympic victories therefore raises a critical question: Why should the triumphs of a few be seen as a reflection of the entire nation? In logic, that is known as induction, whose opposite is called deduction, a far more logical concept, compared to the pitfalls of inductive reasoning.

Why National Pride in Sports is Misplaced

National pride prospers with every Olympic victory, but let us further dissect the logic behind it.

Imagine a weightlifter, whose body endured the agony of years of training, winning a gold medal. How exactly does this singular feat translate to national pride? How is this unique bodybuilder, a representation of a country that might not necessarily be as physically powerful as him?

Here's the disconnection that's overlooked: a nation's sporting prowess isn't synonymous with the physical fitness of its entire, or even most, of its population. A champion weightlifter could hail from a country with a high obesity rate, like the United States. The victor, in this case, represents themselves, not the collective health of their nation.

Can you say, for example, that American weightlifter Katherine Vibert is an accurate representation of the average American woman, despite being one of the best athletes in her class? According to Fitnessvolt, the untrained woman can bench-press 80 to 90 pounds, which is around 36 to 40 kg. Vibert/Nye, on the other hand, managed to clean-and-jerk 136kg, or 299 pounds, becoming the youngest U.S. woman to earn an Olympic or world title.

Can you really say this is a national feature, when the first olympic games began in 1896? That victory isn't American. That victory is hers, just like my work and development on this massive site isn't Israeli, but my own. Most Israelies might as well not be aware this large site exists. Our lives are separated, not united just because of a social category.

This fundamental mismatch between individual achievement and national identity is how national-based sports events lose their rational appeal. Nations are vast networks of skill sets, a far cry from a singular identity. These networks haven't necessarily even have anything to do with one another, let alone when it comes to the members within them.

Don't think we have anything in common just because we're men, because we're on the spectrum and so on. A deeper connection and collaboration takes more than one or few things in common.

National borders, in today's globalized world, hold less weight. The internet unlocks a world of learning, making geographical origin less relevant in shaping an individual's skillset. It even diminishes much of the need to socialize. While a nation might nurture talent through funding and programs, such benefits don't boil down to every citizen, and much of their accomplishment, in the first place, comes from their own willpower and inner strength.

Beyond Borders: The Mismatch Between Individual and Nation

National representation in sports often overlooks a crucial aspect: the individual's identity transcends national boundaries, as well as societal in general. Athletes, artists, or anyone representing a nation have personal lives, passions, and skills that may or may not align with their national identity. This mismatch between individual and nation applies universally, regardless of skillset or profession.

And it's only when you actually prove your worth on such historic scale, is often when your nation actually cares about you, the individual. Without your demonstration of skill, your country might as well leave you to starve on the streets. That is the hypocrisy of many nations without a regard to welfare.

Let's consider Israel. Our national prowess in martial arts, like Judo, doesn't imply every Israeli citizen possesses excellent self-defense skills. It doesn't even imply that most Israelies are these bad-a** survivalist commandos, contrary to stereotypes.

Even national dominance wouldn't change that, as that's just a minority representation, not a representation of a whole. It's a representation of a minority that isn't persecuted or victimized but cherished. For true representation, the hasty generalization fallacy needs to be addressed. The representative needs to have a common connection with the average citizen, fostering a sense of "They represent not only my nation, but also myself as an indiidual."

Without this personal connection, it becomes a detached act, disregarding the individual who forms the foundation of the collective. And thus, our affinity with the olympics, when generalized, turns into the para-social fallacy as well.

Bonus: A Glimpse into North Korean Patriotism

However, there might be exceptions. North Korea, or other authoritarian regimes, exhibit a different dynamic. Oppressive systems may instill a deep national identity within individuals through carefully-planned strategic communication, potentially blurring the lines between self and nation.

If I may, I would like to share with you a beautiful North Korean music video, not because I love that country (not at all! I hate it!) It's just because I want to show an example of how patriotism is done: By using the national identity and combining it, with little distinction, with the individual identity. It's also where the collective actually recruits the individual to its cause, and not forsakes him or her if they don't demonstrate their own excellence.

The song in question is about encouraging education, not only for your own sake. It's also for the sake of the country. I actually think it is a great message. It gives the individual a purpose that extends beyond his or her own egotistical pursuits. Can you say the same about contemporary South Korean KPOP music?

Let's study, study, for our fatherland,
Let's study, study for our future,
Let's construct this paradise in our own way,
Let's devote to the fatherland, the knowledge your learned all your lifetime,
our science and technology is already flourishing,
Let's study, study, for our fatherland,
Let's study, study for our future,
Let's construct this paradise in our own way.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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