An Early Stanley Fish Moment
The Stanley Fish op/ed that I posted about on Sunday was shocking. I appreciate many of the thoughtful comments people made. I’ve had more time to think about it and I remembered an evening when I was about 14, a moment that I’ll describe as a “Stanley Fish” “might makes right” moment. It was creepy and I think it influenced me for the rest of my life. Specifically, it made me realize that I had a view of justice independent of the fortunes of those I favored–and that many people around me didn’t.
When I was 9 years old, I moved from a small town in midwestern Canada named Boissevain, to another named Carman. When I was about 14, the Carman Beavers, the men’s hockey team, played in a regional championship series against the Boissevain Border Kings. My Carman friends and I went to the first game of the series to cheer for our team. During the first period, a Boissevain player ploughed into a Carman player, a guy named Chapman, throwing him hard into the boards. It was a dirty move. I booed fiercely along with the crowd. During the break between first and second periods, we found out that the Carman player’s ribs had been broken and he would be out for the season.
In the second period, a Carman player did to a Boissevain player what had been done to his teammate. Instinctively, I started booing again, just as I had in the first period, until, a second or two into my booing, I heard something strange. Except for my booing, the crowd around me was completely silent. I stopped and looked around and noticed that I couldn’t see, in an arena filled with hundreds of people, one other person who seemed to share my view. When I looked directly at one of my friends, his eyes looked strangely vacant. I felt unsettled and unsafe, as if I suddenly felt I understood how normal people could turn into a lynch mob. It was then that I realized that much of people’s expression of outrage is based on their not getting their way rather than on any principle. It shocked me. I also learned that I really do believe in justice. To this day, when a player on one of my favorite teams does something dirty and gets away with it, my enthusiasm for my team wanes, at least for a while.
I wonder how Stanley Fish would have reacted.
There’s a bit of a happy ending here. Fast forward about 23 years to an NBA game a friend and I attended between the Golden State Warriors and the Portland Trailblazers. My friend and I started talking to two guys sitting beside us and we got along well. We were all cheering for our team, Golden State. At one point, the ref made a call against Golden State that the crowd, including us four, thought unjustified. We all started booing, as did the crowd generally. But then the replay on the screen showed that the ref had seen something we hadn’t. I stopped booing, convinced that it was a good call, but the guy beside me didn’t. I thought back 23 years to when I wished I had confronted a friend in a similar situation. So I looked at the guy point blank and said, “Do you think that was a bad call?” He stopped booing, looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “No. It was a good call.”