“In life, there are winners and there are losers!”

Our life is not really a mutual helpfulness; but rather, it’s fair competition cloaked under due laws of war; it’s a mutual hostility.
Thomas Carlyle

Our society is built on the principle of generalized competition: that every aspect of life is a game which one must engage at a personal level (internalizing its rules and taboos), that every other person is a competitor or potential competitor (because competition is generalized to most parts of society, including justice, politics, economics, sports, group communications and personal relationships, which all together have a major impact on the rest of our lives), that there must always be winners and losers (with a great deal more losers than winners), and that the losers deserve to be losers (because they didn’t have what it takes to win).

This spills over to child-rearing as well, in a major way. We have this strange belief that we must force children to compete because they must be “toughened up” for their adult life. We believe that, because society works in a dysfunctional way, we must raise dysfunctional children so they can adapt to that society. This manner of reasoning is laughable in its child-like simplicity, but people actually believe this.

And we see the diseased results in a schooling system that fails to engage children and fails to educate them; schools that force children to compete socially, fucking up their self-image and their capacity to relate to others; the shoehorning of children into organized team sports which gives them continuous stress, gets them addicted to the win/lose cycle, turns their parents into raving lunatics, and burns them off true play, all in the name of “building character”; the systematic destruction of child naivete and curiosity, and its replacement with the manichean worldview; children who have to compete for their parents’ affection and develop crippling neuroses. I could go on and on in this vein but the basic result is what we can call “soul murder.” The basic goal of a competitive society is to kill individuality and kill the true self, to produce robots.

This may seem strange to some people, as capitalism has been often labeled an individualist philosophy. But competition by its very nature is conformist. When you compete to win, you have to perform the same actions as everyone else, or you have to be compared to everyone else on the same grounds. This is a strong pressure to not take risks and follow familiar grounds which are easy to evaluate. Also, when we compete, our focus changes from performing some actions to being better than other people. We lose creativity and become preoccupied by following the rules of the game. We conform to the mold that the game presents to us, we become no longer an individual but a competitor, as our actions are defined not by our own values but by our relation to the game. “Successful” people all look, dress, talk and think the same.

It is true that competition is “every man for himself,” and that it appeals to a very narrow sort of greed. But this in itself is not individualism. The individual may be driven by his values to enter a game, but while he is within it, he subverts his true desires in order to attempt to “win” in the long run. Trying to be an individual by competing is a trap because all competition in our society molds the individual to itself, forces the individual into social roles which he must adhere to, and forces him to see his actions in relation to other people’s. There is no way to “win” except by losing your individuality, the only thing you were supposedly seeking in the first place.

A competitive society is one where everyone must conform to the games they are stuck in. We become game-players, more aggressive, stuck on others and their opinions of us, and the needle of our moral compass starts turning towards “win at all costs.” Our thinking is muddled, and we start objectifying people for the sole reason that they are our competitors. The ethical end point of competition is “might makes right,” a principle which is reflected everywhere in our society’s structures: those who “win” are the most powerful, and they are the most powerful because they are “winners.”

When people are fully engaged by it, competition is a drug. “Losers” get desperate for a fix, and “winners,” after a brief triumph, start jonesing for their next fix.

Winning doesn’t satisfy us — we need to do it again, and again. The taste of success seems merely to whet the appetite for more. When we lose, the compulsion to seek future success is overpowering; the need to get out on the course the following weekend is irresistible. We cannot quit when we are ahead, after we’ve won, and we certainly cannot quit when we’re behind, after we’ve lost. We are addicted.
Stuart Walker, speed boat racer

… even after you’ve just won the Super Bowl – especially after you’ve just won the Super Bowl – there’s always next year. If “winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” then “the only thing” is nothing – emptiness, the nightmare of life without ultimate meaning.
Tom Landry, former head coach of the Dallas Cowboys

The longer you stay in it, the highs aren’t as high and the lows are much lower.
Joe Gibbs, former head coach of the Washington Redskins

Addictions destroy our self-esteem, destroy our free will, and destroy our relationships. Addictions to competition are no different.

Capitalism and democracy are especially important, in that they demand, and require, a heightened level of competition. Not only do they produce winners and losers, but they require massive, structural defeats in order to even function properly. Capitalism requires massive unemployment in order to maintain corporate profits. Democracy requires massive coercion in order to enforce its class-motivated laws and policies. Whatever happens, the survival and flourishing of the capital-democratic system requires massive amounts of losers at all times. We’re going beyond what we would call a “dog eat dog” system or a “survival of the fittest” system: these expressions assume a struggle between people, when what we actually observe is a struggle between people and of people against structures. Not only are dogs eating dogs, but PETA is killing them left and right too (which they actually do in reality, sadly enough).

One may reply that I am no longer talking about “healthy competition,” but rather about something entirely different. But it is the very definition of competition that some people win and most people lose. Furthermore, if those who win have any power, they will use that power to ensure that they keep winning and that others keep losing. Despite the pretenses of advocates of this competitive worldview, there is nothing egalitarian about competition whatsoever, and thus there is no reason to particularly fault it or call it “unhealthy” for not being egalitarian.

There is no such thing as “healthy” competition. Even competition in the most innocuous of areas, like children’s games, changes the psyche and turns individuals into competitors.

The same applies to ideas. People who compete with each other for popularity and agreement do so by parroting what everyone else says and what everyone else approves of. This is why ideological groups are always dens of vipers, no matter their denomination. There are few things more vicious than people trying to prevent others from being accepted. Group-think is never a good substitute for self-think, no matter how benign the group.

No doubt all I’ve written here can be dismissed as “loser-talk.” The belief that anyone who quits a game is just a sore loser is an easy way to dismiss criticism out of hand. It is merely a form of machoist thought-stopping. Many children drop out of organized sports because they are tired of competing. They are not “losers” or “quitters”: the “losers” are the adults who try to break children’s psyche in the name of “building character.” They are the ones who deserve to be insulted and vilified.

Are you a “loser” because you don’t want to compete?

One cannot play chess if one becomes aware of the pieces as living souls and of the fact that the Whites and the Blacks have more in common with each other than with the players. Suddenly one loses all interest in who will be champion.
Anatol Rapoport

Competition is an activity which is done for the sake of some external reward. People will do anything they can to get that reward, and who controls the reward controls people. Anarchism is associated with the ludic- play, that is to say, an activity which is done for its own sake- for good reason. Competition is a means of control, play is a means of expression.

The proposition “there are winners and there are losers” is an accurate statement about our society, and Anarchism is the ideology which seeks to abolish this state of affairs. Competition does not improve man’s condition, and neither does it help him become a self-realized individual. Competition sets the individual up to believe that he must eat or be eaten, that this is the way life goes. To disconnect from these systems of corruption is an act of compassion, not desperation.

The fact is that we do not need competition. A common excuse for competition is that resources are scarce and that competition tells us who “deserves” more resources than others. “Winners” win the right to these scarce resources. But competition creates artificial scarcity in the first place, by restricting access to resources until “there isn’t enough for everyone.” There isn’t enough for everyone because any monetary system is a rationing system, and if the rationing system bars millions of people from getting what they need, then they won’t get what they need. This scarcity has nothing to do with whether there are enough resources to provide what everyone wants, but rather has to do with the system not providing an egalitarian access to resources. So the belief in competition as the answer to scarcity is actually a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Competition is hostile to Anarchist goals. The case of early Iceland proves that competition inevitably creates nexus of resources, and subsequently hierarchies (if you want to read about this, the AFAQ has a whole section dedicated to the political devolution of early Iceland). But we don’t need to look at history to prove it when we see it happening right in front of our eyes. I have discussed how games conditions in our social institutions exist to control other people. I’ve given a lot of quotes in this entry, but the only quote appropriate to end it is the famous line that “[t]he only winning move is not to play.” By refusing to engage, we free ourselves to build alternatives.

16 thoughts on ““In life, there are winners and there are losers!”

  1. alleee February 6, 2011 at 12:38

    Competition: that thing which makes gambling an addiction.

  2. Lori February 8, 2011 at 01:16

    I hope cooperation wins out over competition, and decisively. Otherwise we are all doomed.

  3. David Gendron February 8, 2011 at 14:51

    Maybe I should distinguish more “competition”, “diversity”, “open out yourself”. I should be more critical against competition.

    Great post!

  4. Francois Tremblay February 8, 2011 at 16:32

    David- read “No Contest- The Case Against Competition”, by Alfie Kohn, if you can get your hands on it. It will really open your eyes. In fact, it is proven that competition for resources is the least effective motivator that we have. Not only is capitalism completely bunk theoretically because of STV being false, but it is also completely bunk pragmatically because its basic premise that we need to motivate people using money is false.

  5. Lori February 8, 2011 at 23:43

    “No Contest” is a great read. Really does the subject justice. I was in kollege when it was published. Put in a request at the library and waited 5 weeks to get my hands on it, and read it in one night. In more recent years, Cohn seems to have gone the HR consultant route, as sadly seems to be the case with Robert Fuller (who also has some brilliant ideas) if the list of corporate clients on the linked-to page is any indication. You know what I think sucks more than anything else about recessions? The pressure people are under to “reinvent themselves,” which is basically a euphemism for “hitch their passions, ideas and creations to a business model.”

  6. Francois Tremblay February 9, 2011 at 01:45

    Yes, I have been very saddened by Kohn’s joining of corporate interests.

  7. Daphne January 30, 2012 at 12:29

    you just saved my life

  8. […] Tremblay’s Feb. 6 line that “Our society is built on the principle of generalized competition” is sort of […]

  9. […] His last, “you’re on your own” laissez-faire capitalism, is more credible. This incidentally ties the topic very much to atomism, since refusing to support the lives of others is like treating them as individuals living in a vacuum. There is also the belief that anyone who refuses to follow market diktats or the law “gets what they deserve.” Capitalism, because of its competitive nature, is inherently conformist and collectivist. […]

  10. LD July 20, 2012 at 03:27

    All there is is some viral strands in a petri dish. The strands which use up all the resources are the winners. But their winning just accelerates the demise of all strands, including themselves. That’s not very elegantly expressed, but you can try or not try, the world is heading to a bad place regardless. Succeed or fail it all gets erased. Not sure how much temporary ego-satisfaction is worth, but it makes you as much of a dick to self-actualise as to compete. Which is why people compete…like the man said; life is something to do at least. Takes your mind off the fact that it’s better not to have existed at all.

    • Francois Tremblay July 20, 2012 at 03:33

      Eloquently said. The passion to compete comes from the desire for the bliss of ignorance.

  11. MarkR307 September 13, 2012 at 23:04

    Well, my problem with “winners and losers” approach is that there are no objective rules in this thing. Essentially, each “player” is free to make their own rules for himself. For example, I look at office workers scurrying during their lunch hour, and I consider myself a huge winner compared to them, because I make my own schedule; I relax all day and I amuse myself by watching them scurry, if I choose to do so. But many of them who make more money than I do, would consider themselves winners compared to me, because they may afford a bigger house, a newer car, etc. We have different value systems, and there is no referee, as there would be in a sports game, to decide who is objectively the winner and the loser. Therefore, I consider this “winners and losers” thing moot.

    If you are doing what you want to be doing, call yourself a winner and you don’t have to care what anyone else says. Call them all losers if you want. Or be generous and say “we are all winners in different ways”. It’s your call!

  12. Sarah Lee January 16, 2013 at 09:11

    thank you. I am posting this on facebook.

  13. […] resources and to produce (backed by fake versions of “personal responsibility” and the worship of competition). More importantly, people come to believe that capitalism is the only way we have to fulfill that […]

  14. […] power; they merely agree that there is such a thing as “excessive” power (like “unhealthy competition”) and an excessive amount of differentiation between inferiors and superiors (e.g. liberals want […]

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