Friday, May 25, 2012


The struggle to be on top is part of the hierarchical model. Competition is lauded as a positive and exerts unconscious influence on every area of life. When it stimulates doing the best you possibly can, like in sports, or developing a product, it’s beneficial. But it’s invaded every area of life interfering with personal and social relations. People compete in conversation, making points and striking down other points, in friendships, how many and who they are as well as material possessions. Though competition is implicit in status, I’ve seen people compete in virtue, vice, and even piety. The closer to the top the more control one has, and control is important to the health of the immune system. The lower one is on the pyramid the more helpless one feels, one of the worst emotions for health. An executive of Goldman Sachs said the golden rule there was, “he who has the gold makes the rules”. The flaw in the system shows in the statement. Having the most money doesn’t make people more sensible in other areas, they would likely make rules that would make them more money- required safety features, unnecessary medicines and tests. He also said everybody at the firm was in competition to make more money than “the guy next to me”. When making money is the goal and ultimate good, the greediest win, and the greedy are not known for their scruples. Everyone else suffers. When a company that makes something and employs people, is bought out by a financial firm that sells all the assets and closes the firm to put the money in the stock market, they are doing real harm to society for the sake of making more money. They’ll point to the balance sheet and say they’re winning. And they won’t be wrong. The problem is the underlying model. Competition interferes with the pleasure in the process. If there is something to be won, then attention is directed to the outcome. Instead of paying attention to the thing you’re doing, you pay attention to results and to how you’re doing in relation to how someone else is doing compromising attention to what’s being done. Here are the roots of envy, jealousy, resentment and the other deadly sins that come with a competitive attitude. In their book, “The Mark of Cain”, Marguerite and Willard Beecher point out how jealousy makes a person feel like a nonentity because attention is on the object of jealousy. They write, “Keeping up with the Jones’s makes for a sterile, destructive condition, not unlike slavery.” And suggest that “addiction is a purposely engineered incompetence” making it impossible to compete. It’s hard to maintain a sense of community and connection to others when you look at those you’re engaged with as competitors. All the satisfaction that comes with involved activity is undermined by a mindset that heaps up individual accomplishments like points on a scoreboard. The actual experience is reduced and abstracted by the cultural obsession with quantification. When time is reduced to units on a clock there’s never enough. Yet the single moment, truly experienced, expands in all directions. The organs of community, society and region work best in cooperation, using true expertise to make common sense decisions instead of control from a top less knowledgeable and more prone to corruption.

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