When Team Loyalty Skews Moral Logic

Two ships in a harbor, one in the distance. On board, men stripped to the waist and wearing feathers in their hair throw crates of tea overboard. A large crowd, mostly men, stands on the dock, waving hats and cheering. A few people wave their hats from windows in a nearby building.

It is interesting to ask Americans whether they think the Boston Tea Party was a morally acceptable act. This was a polarizing question for the contemporaries of the time — Samuel Adams and Benjamin Franklin had starkly opposing views. For those who may not recall the details, the Wikipedia entry makes good reading. It was an act of high-dollar, coordinated, mob-driven vandalism, conducted by citizens dressed up like minorities/indigenous peoples. But because they were Americans (i.e., the home team), and because of their politics, many of my countrymen give this bit of anarchy a pass, and indeed hail the Tea Partiers as heroes to be emulated.

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Truth, Poetry, and the American Wall

Many may recognize this quote from Adam McKay’s movie The Big Short. My basic personality has a high tolerance and craving for repetition, and coupled with my love of cinema, I happily re-watch movies many times. I have watched The Big Short more times than I can recall. It is indeed a fine movie, in no small part because it was based on an excellent book by Michael Lewis.

This particular quote can be taken so many ways. Pregnant with cynicism and deeply contrarian, it leaves the audience with options. Dismissal of the negativity and condescension. Affirmation of a felt resonance. Perhaps a political snarl at the city of origin. And if you are one who savors poetry (I am), you may clutch something more literal from this observation. I probably feel each of those things, depending on the year and month I happen to be re-watching the film.

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Michael Seidel, writer

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