ONE OF THE THE ATTITUDINAL REQUIREMENTS of life among the opining classes is the need to balance loyalties to the global and the local. We are concerned, for example, for the well-being of both poor farmers everywhere and the post-industrial farmers trying to make a go out of forty acres in the Berkshires. It's important to demonstrate that we are aware of multitudes on multitudes of layers between total global and total local (lest we be called naive or, worse, thinking within an insufficiently broad context), but most of us concentrate our effective energies on intermediate levels: the United States of America, for example, or the regional high school district or – that most insidious of all arrangements – the regional youth travel-soccer federation.
The older I get, the less attached I am to the construct of the national state. I do love the USA, but mostly because of my familiarity with it and my appreciation of its general entertainment value. When it comes to things I regard as important – immigration policy, say, or environment, or security – I want to operate in no context smaller than North America. Naturally, this big-planet perspective carries with it the danger of being, or appearing to be, another meddlesome American who wants to impose projects to improve other societies without the bother of improving his own. That I feel justified in my overseas meddling because of a complementary passion for small third-growth New England forests is a pretty frail excuse.
A much less troublesome impulse is loyalty to entities for whom loyalty once was (literally) a matter of life and death but now means little in any consequential sense. Hence I seem to be increasingly faithful to things that no longer matter. To Ireland, for example, and to Irish national sports teams in particular. Despite its recent doleful financial misfortune, Ireland remains a mildly-prosperous, generally-enlightened, beautiful small island country off the western fringe of the European peninsula. Independence and EU membership and recent Irish music and the revolt against the Roman Catholic Church have all contributed to making the place far better than it was when the country was a cause celebre of anti-imperialism. Not blaming England for everything unfortunate has been a major cultural achievement.
So in terms of international sport competitions, rooting for Ireland these days doesn't mean you're making any kind of statement about proud little venerable nations gaining payback for the oppression of hegemonic neighbors. Well, maybe a little bitty statement. In any case, I have now become a spirited Ireland fan. In rugby especially. Two years ago, we shocked the world (more or less) by winning all five matches to capture the renowned (more or less) Six Nations Cup. This year, in the quadrennial Rugby World Cup, the lads upset Australia but were ousted in the quarter-finals by the fellow Celts of Wales. They did paste England, though, dealing a hard blow to the invidious Saxon invader who, with God's help, will someday be driven from these islands for all time.