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  • Reverend James Squire

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

CNN had a documentary on the history of sitcoms which communicated that their popularity was so great with the viewing public that they became an anchor for the television industry.

We examined the sitcoms of Seinfeld, Cheers, and Friends in Ethics class to see why this was true as we looked at the four loves in the Greek of Storge, a parent’s love, Eros, sexual love, Philia, the love of friends, and Agape, God’s love for us. This unit was based in The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis where I wove psychology as well as philosophy with the theology of Lewis. It was an interdisciplinary approach. For the unit that included why the sitcoms were so popular, we focused on Philia, the importance and power of friendships and the dynamics of groups. I also examined how every political movement could be analyzed through the template of Philia by understanding the basic ingredients of friendship or groups.

Philia always starts with a shared purpose that brings disparate people together like fighting in a war. Your background doesn’t matter. That’s why sports teams become a model of a shared purpose of winning. Philia has a moral imperative where the group understands what is acceptable and what is not. Its moral code may not make sense to anyone outside of the group. It is hard to understand why the KKK has their immoral code, but it makes perfect sense to them. It also makes good intentioned people better and bad intentioned people worse. Philia sets up an us versus them perspective. It is a resistance movement. Whenever you say “I”, you have to say “they.” Philia is the basis of the isms as it solidifies the group by pushing people out of the acceptable circle such as Jewish people during the Holocaust and other designated groups. The isms become the glue that bonds the group together. Two very important ingredients are “I may be inferior, but we are magnificent.” Philia is a buy one, get one free of two very important human needs, self- esteem and a sense of belonging. Philia can be irrational. We can have friends that others are wondering what we see in one another. We see what others can’t see.

My experience is that students are more concerned with friendship or group dynamics than most adults. It is a young person’s lifeblood because more so than most they are aware of their self-esteem and their sense of belonging.

Why were sitcoms so popular? Certainly, they were funny, but did you ever see anyone go to work? What a life! There is something seductive about people who are always seeming to hang out and not doing any real work! It emphasizes being over doing. The sitcoms communicated the power of friendship. The Cheer’s theme song captured the issue. Everybody wants to be where everyone knows your name. When we are known, it boosts our self-esteem, and we feel as though we belong. Don’t underestimate the power of self-esteem and the feeling that we belong. If they were food, and we were starving, that is what we would want to eat. You hit the jackpot when you can get them both at the same time. Philia also requires the least from us with the largest return on our emotional investment.

Let’s see how the ingredients of Philia were key to the personality/political popularity of Hitler and Trump to answer the question what enabled them to rise to power.

For Hitler, the self-esteem and sense of belonging for the German people was down after World War I through the 1930(s). Hitler told the people that they were not just good, but they were great, the Aryan super race. He created a sense of belonging by starting with the German Youth Movement where everyone should wear the same uniform. He pushed an unbridled spirit of nationalism. Let’s make Germany great again. He had a moral code recorded in Mein Kampf. Hitler made bad intentioned people worse. He gave the German people a shared purpose to restore Germany to the world stage. It was a resistance movement of them against the world.

Keep in mind that it seems that a great number of Trump’s base have been isolated from others. His followers tend not to be part of larger communities. They also tend to be those who can be struggling in life for whatever reason. There are three things that they yearn for like people who are hungry. They want to have better self -esteem. I doubt, however, that we would see any of his followers at one of Trump’s golf courses. Ironically, they are the type of working-class people that Trump has refused to pay over the years threatening to tie them up with lawsuits.

They have a sense of belonging with others who have a sense of purpose, however misguided. That and the mindset of “I may be inferior, but we are magnificent” is a powerful combination. They have their own immoral code which encompasses many of the isms, particularly racism and white supremacy. It has made bad intentioned people worse. Certainly, Trump’s followers are a resistance movement. Their shared purpose is to make American great again. His emphasis was on nationalism and removing us from the world community. Of course, attempting to convince his followers of the complete irrational nature of the “Big Lie” is fruitless. Their sense of belonging to something seen as very important to them and the uptick of their self-esteem make it impossible for them to trade reason for those feelings of belonging, self -esteem, and a purpose that they didn’t have before.

In essence, that is why the lie continues!

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