Winners and Losers

I’m suspicious of “winners”.  Probably this is because I am not one, but I also think there is some good reason to be suspicious of the general social and moral mania for “winning”. 

If some people must be winners, others must lose. And in the binary world of conventional ideology, where everything is seen in black & white, winning is generally judged to be all that counts. To struggle against others, outfox them, outlast them, ride roughshod over them — this often seems to be the only “good” that humans can be concrete about. This notion is well-expressed in a famous sports quote: “Winning isn’t everything, men, it’s the only thing!” (UCLA football coach “Red” Sanders, 1950.)  The 99% must lose so that the 1% can flourish.

This “only winners matter” dictum contradicts the basics of the social contract: It posits that only he who becomes the Boss counts, and everyone else is only a Means to the winner’s end.

This conventional, polar, black-and-white, “winners-only” mentality cannot be right for everyone; one size does not fit all. To be desperate to be a star or to somehow win absolutely when you are not gifted that way, is a kind of foolishness, a kind of self-castigation and self-hatred. If everyone were to adopt the “Only winners matter!” judgment, then they would likely embrace oppressions of all kinds, since others no longer matter, restraint is only a handicap, and one rises a little closer to the elusive top by pushing others down.

Moreover, those who accepted the “Only winners matter!” dictum but still had some sense would see the futility in their own lives, knowing they are not REALLY winners, not when compared to the best among us (for there is always someone better, faster, tougher). From this — the notion that most people around them, and even themselves, are losers, and so simply have no right to life or happiness — wouldn’t the would-be-winners grow angry and desperate? In their bitterness, why would they eschew suicide or homicide as ways to assuage their dismay?

There is also a question of individuals:  What constitutes a “win” for him or for her, as opposed to me or you? Do we all have to be Red Sanders, or Angelina Jolie, or Bill Gates? Or should that kind of absolute, top-of-the-heap, superstar “winning” just remain a kind of hazy general fantasy for the general run of men, a dreamy wish accepted as less important than the here-and-now choices of daily life?

But what if living — just living, itself — were a kind of winning? Or learning to cope with life’s various problems were considered a win, a thing of value? What if reconciling one’s dreamy desires with one’s actual station and prospect in life were counted a “win”? What if we just left “winning” alone and concentrated on “living”? To unfold the false nature of misplaced desires and un-do the misplaced judgments of contempt for others and self (which such desires create) — to balance desire, effort and reality — wouldn’t these be much better goals than “winning”?

This “Only winners matter!” dictum contradicts the basics of the social contract: It turns people against each other within society, makes kindness and cooperation irrelevent and foolish, makes suicide a virtue.  I think that for each person, what matters more is to understand certain things:

(1) what one can control and what one cannot;

(2) what one’s particulars are – talents, limits, efforts – what one’s nature is; and

(3) what the dictates of his or her situation in life are, what he or she has to cope with, here, on earth.

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