the sad theme of winning

it should have become clear by now that i’m not in love with australian culture. and while i’m not one to winge too much, it made me reflect on how the narratives created in societies can make basic interactions be so dramatically different between cultures. one of the main issues i have run into, put simply, is that of the winner and the loser.

if one is to promote this idea of winner and loser, that being, an idea that everywhere you are and anything you do is a race to a finish line and you must come on top, i would like to argue that it entails a side effect that is rarely noted and has real effects on what kind of human beings will be created with it.

what are the requirements of a win-lose type situation? someone wins, everyone else loses. to the winner, it is not necessarily clear that those that lose are part of his victory as much as he is of their loss. but most importantly, whoever feels good in a winning position needs to develop their capacity to not empathize with anyone they ever beat. the best analogy is obtained with the following question: what type of human being feels good in a winning position knowing that it requires that many of his fellow human beings lose? in my opinion, a very dangerous type of human. one that would rather climb an artificial ladder than reflect on its artificiality, one that would rather ignore their peers’ emotions than give up the win or the award. the nature of winning and losing, is, obviously, richer, but it is richer insofar as it creates both situations in equal probability. what i am discussing is how this winning narrative creates a distorted personality simply by creating the desire to be a winner more strongly than creating the capacity to be a loser. what it does is create hordes of individuals that become so driven by being winners, that both they lose the capacity to empathize with whoever they have to bully to get ahead (hello any mid manager wanting to get ahead), and they ignore that losing is where learning happens.

and so we’re left with endless isolated winners, each one at the peak of their own self-built mountain, blindly following the narrative their culture imposed on them and failing to see that their condition implies that they are not winners in the sense that they are better, but they are winners in the sense that they are capable of trampling others using skills that should embarrass any human being.

and what about the losers? whoever gives up this race is automatically labeled and pushed aside. but what does it mean to not want to race, to compete, to climb? in my opinion, it mostly means that the race is not relevant, and that accepting a lower position most of the times does not mean one isn’t skilled or talented, but means simply that one is not willing to give up basic human traits for an opportunity at the top of the hill.

this is where i realized i didn’t fit the culture. i am not ruthless and unempathetic and certainly do not recognize the validity of any ladder (be that the employment, career, music scenes, sports, etc). i do not enjoy being bullied, but i do not bully myself. and certainly, if someone pounds their chest in front of me, i will step aside. not because i am afraid, but because it disgusts me to engage at that level. to an observer, this might as well be cowardice. so how can we ever say we know the true motivations of the one that steps away from a fight? clearly competition as a race with winners and losers can’t guarantee that the winner is the most talented or skilled, it can only guarantee that the winner is the most skilled at winning at any cost, whatever the activity may be.

i’d make the analogy with a political campaign. the one who wins is the one that has the best team working to make them win, because the winning itself is what matters. if a politician was to be judged based on talent, they would not need to compete, since their talents would be both comparable and easy to measure between them and their opponents. in my opinion, it follows that any political or organizational system that allows a hierarchy based on anything other than empirically verifiable talents or skills will always promote professional “winners”, people who develop the skill to compete with others and win, irregardless of what they’re competing for.

let’s compare that to a competition between, let’s say, musicians. each one of these musicians will not need to worry about anything more than their own talent. if the jury is capable and impartial, their choice will be unambiguous. but most importantly, whoever would be considered a winner would be also recognized as so by their peers. if the qualities for which winning or losing is defined are empirically testable, then no member of the win-lose group will feel emotionally distressed, since mastery is an opportunity to learn.

the key distinction here is how testable one’s talent is, and to what extent it can be unambiguously defined. even competition breaks down at high levels, when mastery becomes so intertwined with interpretation.

without wanting to dive too deep in this matter, i’d like to come back full circle. here the ladders to climb are the car, the career, the body, the fortune. none of these require any mastery, other than the capacity to make money and get ahead no matter what. and more often than not, when an aussie pounds their chest to assert dominance or supremacy over me, i’ll gladly step aside. what i wonder is if living away from this unidimensional pyramidal way of looking at things is sustainable in the long run as a way to live here. what i’ve found is that if the precedent is set, then there is little to be done, and the chest-pounding horde will just trample through. what ended up being very interesting to me, is how not being involved in these schemes opened up a whole new world of understanding of how things work, and how those who shy away from situations sometimes might end up being the bravest and most interesting after all. and with it, a new found complicity with others that also chose not to play games in their lives, like a newly discovered brotherhood that exists beyond all these false idols of an individualist society.