Sports and national pride

Some time ago I was still somewhat skeptical towards the national pride people feel during international sports events: countries playing against each other, trying to win and beat the opponent, shooting goals, scoring points and so on. I felt that such national pride was a step towards a more extreme national feeling, one that might end up in nations and people waging war and trying to obliterate one another. At the same time I felt that at least in sports the national pride is channeled in a less harmful way than in the event of open war, sports hooligans being the exception.

When the UEFA EURO 2016 tournament started in the beginning of July, I noticed two things in my hometown. First, people with their origins in different countries were driving around with their national flags fluttering on their car tops and side mirrors. Second, people of different nationalities were driving in the same line and seemed to be enjoying themselves in the spirit of the ensuing sports competition.

This made me adjust my opinion on the national feeling brought about by sports. That feeling is a healthy feeling, as long as it involves respectful behavior against others and is about coming together, regardless of nation and origin, showing others the best sides of me, being proud of my and my country men’s good qualities and admiring the good qualities in others. It is just wonderful how people of different nationality and origin can, in a foreign country, openly express their background and cheer for their home country. Contrasting this with the national feeling usually felt during war made me realize, how different the two situations are. I find it more difficult to imagine people showing their background and nationality in a foreign country during wartime, especially if their country of residence and their home country are not allied, not to mention on the opposing sides.

During war time it would be difficult to try to show your good qualities in a foreign country and being appreciative of those of others, if you in fear of being identified as an outsider do not want to stand out. But during peace time you and your country men can show through sports how good people you are, how well you treat others, co-operate with and respect others and how skilled you are. Then you use that national pride to stand out of the crowd and improve the lives of those around you.

Sports brings people together and helps us accept each other just as we are, without paying too much attention to the differences between us, rather accepting everyone as they are and embracing them and their contribution to the society. Sports helps us form stronger bonds and use those in other areas of life to achieve greater deeds together than we could alone.

Do we want data privacy or publicity?

In the beginning of April the Panama Papers were all over the news, with the 2.6 terabytes of data providing examples of most exquisite constructs to hide funds, their origins and owners.

As the Panama Papers provide information on un-taxed funds, governments are sure to be more than happy to have their hands on these pieces of information. At the same time data security is an issue, at least in the EU, and was exacerbated by Mr. Edward Snowden’s disclosure of NSA data in 2013, followed by other data leaks.

Surely illegal funds should be revealed and taxation carried out according to the spirit of the law. At the same time, the question of the used and acceptable methods for uncovering such funds is crucial. If potentially illegally leaked information can and will be used by governments to get their hands on until now un-taxed funds, what does prevent the same governments from using such means in other cases? When is Big Brother allowed to step in? And how could he be kept from peeping into all areas of life? If we accept and make possible the breaching of confidentiality and privacy in some cases, how can we guarantee that such breaches will not take place in others, if the technology is already there?

From a game theoretical perspective it is worth pointing out that it is not promises themselves that make people keep their word, but the consequences of keeping or not keeping their word that give them the respective incentives to act.

A question about the value of data privacy was presented in a case where FBI wanted Apple to provide access to a customer’s phone. Although FBI allegedly found a way to break in to the phone without Apple’s help, Apple’s publicly declining to help gave some hope that data privacy is something of value. The next chapter in the same storyline was written by WhatsApp, introducing shortly after the FBI vs. Apple case encryption to all communication between users. As Mr. Koum from WhatsApp argues, even if you trust your government today, you should not give away your privacy, since you do not know the government of tomorrow.

Quoting Theodore Roosevelt: “The government is us; we are the government, you and I.” Do we want the government, you and I, to have access on all of our data, to know all about our lives, to be able to intervene and look in as it pleases? Do we want to make it possible or acceptable? If not, how do we act against it?




About trust, yoga and economics

In my last blog post I wrote about fear and trusting each other to build a better future. Pretty quickly I almost fell prey to that very fear and mistrust.

During the holidays I checked when my yoga studio would continue with the regular Saturday sessions after the holiday season.  I saw that they would be open right after New Year’s. Reading a bit further, I also noted that they had increased their prices by a few percent. On seeing the new prices, which were still on par with the market, I instinctively took a defensive stance and started thinking about the impact on me and my consumption behavior: Why were the prices increased? Should I reduce my visits accordingly to keep my spend on yoga constant? Should I reduce my visits to imply that I disapprove of the price increase?

Having had a few days to think about it before the first yoga session last weekend, I noticed that I was fearful and mistrusting. I was afraid that the price increase would have a negative impact on my well-being, though I am far from living at the subsistence minimum. I was also mistrusting me yoga instructor on increasing the prices for “the wrong motives”, although the content of such motives were not quite clear to myself either.

Taking my thinking a bit further I realized that such fears may also be a significant factor for the lagging economy in Europe. If we do not trust each other, or ourselves for that matter, we become paralyzed. We do not dare to take action, but prefer to evaluate and mitigate all possible risks and drawbacks. If we mistrust each other, cooperating becomes difficult, because we will be concentrating on outwitting each other, or at least avoid being outwitted, instead of concentrating on the future and our goals.

The economic problems in Europe are certainly more complex than this, but I think that not seldom more action and less analyzing would be of benefit. If we want to avoid the wrong step, we will not take even the first one.