From the very onset competition is something that is ingrained into our psyche. The young boy is encouraged to be tough, come out on top at sports and start embodying a generally aggressive behaviour. Of course, the young girl is often exposed to cues which encourage her to be more docile in comparison to her fellow man but be competitive, nonetheless, in her docility with other females.
There are more than a couple of things wrong with this generalized scenario. Right off the bat, it is forcing children into the gender binary, enforcing patriarchal norms to place the man as the aggressor and generally making kids buy into the idea of social Darwinism. For the purposes of this column, we shall focus on that last part, because I believe it is at the base of all the violence (symbolic and material) that is inflicted through oppression.
An interesting exercise I conducted at a club meeting last week included asking all the members to list words or phrases that they connected most with the word “competition.” Several words came up – war, grades, hostility, drive, money, insecurity, hierarchy, superiority. Evidently, not many of those are very favourable events or states of being.
In fact, the only two things that could be said to be positives were the words “superiority” and “privilege” (and even that is debatable). The question that presents itself then is this: Is it really worthwhile wading through all those negative associations to get to those two positive-sounding ones?
Social Darwinism, a concept that found favor in the late nineteenth century in Europe and America, argues for applying the ideas of natural selection and “survival of the fittest” into sociology and politics. The stronger have a right to consecrate power and the weaker should have no qualms at being oppressed by the system. Not much thought was given to the fact that these radical extrapolations actually went against Darwin’s views on evolution, which was for him a very holistic and symbiotic event between the species and the environment. What it did do was create a valid moral justification for the idea of the free market – businesses will compete against one another and consumers will compete against one another to always keep the market in equilibrium.
On a micro-scale, there might seem little that is wrong with that scenario. Applied on the macro-scale, laissez-faire capitalism begins to exhibit disastrous consequences. The winners perpetuate their dominance through the consecration of more and more capital until the paradigm shifts into the corporatocracy and America’s infamous 1 percent. The cultural effects of social Darwinism and laissez-faire attitude have been equally disastrous. Everything becomes easy to commodify and the competition then becomes how much I, as an individual, can consume so as to make sure I consume more than others. The need to be better than everyone else, that competitive streak, that individualistic essence is hard to separate from our identities.
This is not a class issue; it’s an overarching issue. A brilliant quote by Steinbeck on the nature of poverty goes something like this: “The poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” Even when the system is working against us, we still harbor the hopes of coming out on top in that system one day.
But think of all the anxieties and the insecurities that we face every day due to the nature of this competitive society – all those headaches about the job market and the price of things and the “worth” of a college degree. It’s rather impossible to give up on competition altogether, unless some of us are inclined to live the hermit life.
But we can start affecting things on a micro-level, becoming less of an individual and more part of a community built on sharing and love.
All our lives, economics has told us resources are scarce and demands are unlimited. Well, how about we learn to share said scarce resources so as to make sure demand is satisfied more holistically? For my last column this term the message is one of love. There is no need to assert superiority, it’s too much hassle anyway.