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Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Soul as Competitor

Competition is an interesting and often unchallenged foundation of western society. In America it is the unfettered absolute of social interaction – espoused as the way to move and motivate individuals to make themselves better, and to provide society with social and economic growth. In Europe it seems to take a softer tone, finding verbiage in business and ‘right-of-center’ political circles, and has only been a part of the vanguard since the privatizing 80’s. I myself – having been raised stoutly within an ultra-competitive athletics atmosphere – was once called ‘the most competitive person’ my coach had ever seen (and he’d coached several world class athletes). This motivation has begotten me a great deal of what I am in life, yet today I find myself at war within myself over this drive and determination. After all, competition by another name is the drive to be better or best – the unquenchable thirst for self satisfaction in relation to others; or better termed as the drive to make someone, or everyone, worse than you – inferior to yourself. Do I really want everyone else to be worse than me?

Society today rewards the ‘winners’ and puts more pressure on the ‘losers’ (See the movie Bigger Stronger Faster), as our present day society – capitalist society – is at its core based solely on the ‘individual’ as the primary actor and motivator. But this motivating force in-turn puts the individual at odds with their surroundings and all others inhabiting them. Competition has innocuously seeped into all realms of society. It starts to get indoctrinated into us as culture with youth sports and gold stars in school classrooms, then with placement in schools, athletics, and status groups; upon which it is finally realized in the jobs, material items, and money of our adulthood. Capitalist society is based upon this competition between wage-laborers, and it relies upon the reserve (unemployed) labor pool to always have another person to fill your post unless you are ‘better’ than them (or they are ‘worse’ than you).

Most people in Anglo-American society are ok with the above concept; after all, if you work hard you can achieve anything, right? But look at the world around us. And no, not just the one outside your country’s borders (often personified as being lead by 'barbarians, heathens, and other distasteful interlopers') but the one within our borders. The poor, the disparate, the crime, gang violence, school shootings… the list goes on for days. Western society is not healthy, and it is tough to justify promoting a sickly model to other parts of the world especially while selling it off as idyllic. The current system is not fundamentally based upon ‘success’, but upon competing amongst our selves, our groups, and our countries – competition that easily turns conflictual, and is never ‘successful’.

Put two individuals (solely focused on themselves) into a vacuum with one plate of food, and they will compete over said plate as within this scenario it is their sole motive to think of their own self and survival. If their mindsets are night and day, self versus group, they will come into conflict as it is me v. you. Only within a cooperatively motivated environment can this situation not actually come to conflict, as the option to share would now be a possibility as they could think about more than themselves. You may of course then say, yes but we don’t live in a vacuum there are so many other societal factors that come into play: altruism, compassion, charity, even negotiation and compromise. Of course, but if at our core – in our soul – our intrinsic motivations focus on the self, opening the door for conflict, then it is a paramount need for society to counteract this competition and subsequent conflict. This is specifically why it is of the utmost importance to create/live in a society that minimizes these singular self motivations. This is not to say that human nature is negative or ‘evil’, but that as we see society today it leads to competitive conflict (if man is a ‘social being’ then it is in his/her nature to compromise the space around themselves in order to share it with others). To create a systemic social, economic, and cultural setting that decreases the chances of competition, thus decreasing conflict, should be our goal – not to expand the institutionalization of individualized competitive scenarios that pervade Western society to other areas of the world.

Think of it like this: today’s society idolizes selfless acts (‘taking one for the team’, taking the bullet for another, accepting responsibility for another’s failure, etc.), yet at the same time society does not ‘set itself up’ to actually facilitate or reproduce these acts, never mind to truly or tangibly reward them, either literally or from within its systemic infrastructure. Singular rewards chosen from 6.5 billion people like the Nobel peace prize are not given to the ‘average’ person. ‘Regular’ people don’t think about this award past a fleeting glance, never mind receive it, and the selfless person that takes individual responsibility for a group’s failure is often ‘fired’ from their job. It is sad, but despite the rhetoric, the ideals and principles of ‘the self-less wo/man’ are but festering and decayed road kill resting under capitalism’s bus…

We can do better.

1 comment:

  1. It's tough. For one thing, every single "competitive" person that I encounter seems deeply unsatisfied with their own performance... whether it is athletic, professional, emotional (think relationships). There is something to be said for feeling secure with your current self, not feeling the need to "be more" than you are. What happens when we take this competitive nature on is that we stop paying attention to the effect we have on that around us. If you don't pay attention to that there is nothing.

    I can't imagine fighting over that plate of food.


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