Wendell Berry’s insights on competition are good. Early in his essay “Land and Pleasure” he points out the ineffectiveness of economic and competitive idealism. As I read on, questions arise to guide me when trying to determine what sort of competition is healthy and what sort is destructive:
Can the participants trust the body that enforces the rules of the competition to do so fairly and appropriately? Do the participants know those rules before entering into the competition? Heck, Does the competition have rules? And perhaps most importantly, do the participants know what they stand to lose or gain?
Obviously there are a lot of competitive situations we’re thrust into where these question’s can’t be answered affirmatively. For the most part, I would say these are examples of unhealthy competition. If you can’t trust those charged with enforcing the rules to do their jobs properly, or are not entirely sure what you’re wagering, the way you handle the result of the competition is going to be heavily influenced.
There are many Americans right now who feel they’ve never gotten a fair shake, and do not accept the results of competitive job hiring and promotion, or the bank loan process.
We all agree any competition we’re going to participate in *should* have rules, and we should be able to educate ourselves on those rules before we confirm our participation, and we should be able to trust the body that enforces those rules once the competition is underway.
That’s just not the case for many Americans.
For those who willingly and knowingly enter into competition with these criteria met, losing should not be a problem. That is the nature of competition. If any of these criteria are *not* met, how does that change our expectations of the participant?
When it comes to capitalism we are all learning the rules on the fly, and because the participant stands to gain or lose that which is essential to his or her humanity, it is important to ask…
WHAT THE HECK WE DO WITH THE LOSERS.
There is an ultimate affirmation of Berry’s prediction currently unfolding. The self-identified losers of the Obama Presidency put their trust in the ultimate economic idealist. They voted for a fully approved acolyte of unrestrained competition. A man who has no values outside of this vein. And who’s only driving is to win again. And again. And to make it easier for himself and his cronies to do business in the future. Because if it’s easier to do business, then it’s easier to make money. And there we are. Back at the beginning.
Ladies and gentleman, please welcome the 45th President of the United States of America.
“In fact, the defenders of the ideal of competition have never known what to do for the losers. The losers simply accumulate in human dumps, like stores of industrial waste, until they gain enough misery and strength to overpower the winners.”
There will be losers here as well.
“As a purely economic ideal, competition does not contain or imply any such instructions” to “ameliorate the divisions” in our society or to “help the weak”.
There are no codes of behavior that encourage Americans to move beyond the divisions.
“The idea of competition always implies, and in fact requires, that any community must be divided into a class of winners and a class of losers.”
Is it possible competition is the problem? Certainly there are problems that must not be defined in a competitive way. And perhaps these
I had a conversation on Facebook with a cousin today. It began when I asked a question— Is there a problem that has no solution. She responded and our conversation did what many conversations do— it wandered. During the conversation she astutely pointed out that certain problems can’t be solved until they are seen outside of the lens of competition.
She said that certain problems are unsolveable as long as we see them in the light of winners and losers. The two examples she used were gun control and police brutality. I see what she means. There is a solution though. To see these problems not as unsolveable, but as requiring more than one step to be solved, i.e. in order to end police brutality we must first convince those who are capable of doing so to see it outside of the bounds of competition.