Monday, July 25, 2016

How ‘Competitiveness’ Became One of the Great Unquestioned Virtues of Contemporary Culture

A little bit of competition is a good thing. I have some great sounding Hi-Fi in my house designed by very clever people form different companies. But can we have too much of competition? In our society everything is about competition and all the time. We hear of competitive markets, how monopolies are bad and need to be broken up to become more competitive (which is true), how children are made to compete and get graded all through school often making their lives a misery. We are told that unless we play dirty we will won't win, how we have always keep ahead of the game. Well, it's just so fucking boring. 

I liked this story below:

I read about a group of mothers all boasting about their toddlers saying how clever they were. How one boy learnt to talk at a early age, how another started reading early, how one started to walk before other toddlers did, and so on. But the mothers noticed that one mother never said anything, so they asked her about her child, and she told them that her child was just a regular little boy and she loved him to bits. After that all the mothers stated competing with each other saying how regular their children were too.

The problem with excessive competition is that there are not many winners, so most people slide down the greasy pole to various degrees and work becomes a treadmill. 


Will Davies wrote this interesting article recently in Evonomics. 

How ‘Competitiveness’ Became One of the Great Unquestioned Virtues of Contemporary Culture, How did mounting inequality succeed in proving culturally and politically attractive for as long as it did?



Excerpts: 

Widening economic inequality is the academic topic du jour, but the trend of growing wealth and income disparity has been underway for several decades. How did mounting inequality succeed in proving culturally and politically attractive for as long as it did?

The years since the banking meltdown of 2008 have witnessed a dawning awareness, that our model of capitalism is not simply producing widening inequality, but is apparently governed by the interests of a tiny minority of the population. The post-crisis period has spawned its own sociological category – ‘the 1%’ – and recently delivered its first work of grand economic theory, in Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-first Century, a book dedicated to understanding why inequality keeps on growing.

What seems to be provoking the most outrage right now is not inequality as such, which has, after all, been rising in the UK (give or take Tony Blair’s second term) since 1979, but the sense that the economic game is now being rigged. If we can put our outrage to one side for a second, this poses a couple of questions, for those interested in the sociology of legitimation. Firstly, how did mounting inequality succeed in proving culturally and politically attractive for as long as it did? And secondly, how and why has that model of justification now broken down?

It struck me, when I began my Sociology PhD on which the book is based, that competitiveness had become one of the great unquestioned virtues of contemporary culture, especially in the UK. We celebrate London because it is a competitive world city; we worship sportsmen for having won; we turn on our televisions and watch contestants competitively cooking against each other. In TV shows such as the Dragons Den or sporting contests such as the Premier League, the division between competitive entertainment and capitalism dissolves altogether. Why would it be remotely surprising, to discover that a society in which competitiveness was a supreme moral and cultural virtue, should also be one which generates increasing levels of inequality?

The outrage with the ‘1%’ (and, more accurately, with the 0.1%), the sense that even the rich are scarcely benefiting, is to be welcomed. It is also overdue. For several years, we have operated with a cultural and moral worldview which finds value only in ‘winners’. Our cities must be ‘world-leading’ to matter. Universities must be ‘excellent’, or else they dwindle. This is a philosophy which condemns the majority of spaces, people and organizations to the status of ‘losers’. It also seems entirely unable to live up to its own meritocratic ideal any longer. The discovery that, if you cut a ‘winner’ enough slack, eventually they’ll try to close down the game once and for all, should throw our obsession with competitiveness into question. And then we can consider how else to find value in things, other than their being ‘better’ than something else

10 comments:

Matt Franko said...

Its just 'survival of the fittest' the whole Darwin/evolutionism edifice is based on it... this is the way that rationalist theory works ... why are we surprised when people apply it?

Matt Franko said...

The 1% could simply be branching off into a new superior species... textbook Darwin 101...

Kaivey said...

It could be argued that when we have all blown ourselves off the face of the planet that it was also survival of the fittest too, even if it wasn't a very bright thing to do. Dog eat dog. That might have been fine when we were primitives but we have moved on since then. And were have bigger weapons too.

Matt Franko said...

If Darwimism is true then it should never stop....

Roger Erickson said...

Matt,
You're missing the entire evolution of component adaptation vs multi-level adaptation.

didn't Social Species figure this out ~450 million years ago?

Didn't reverse-entropy figure this out at least 13 Trillion years ago?

And we call ourselves homo "Sapiens" ?? Seriously?

"If we want to be incrementally better off: Be Competitive.
If we want to be exponentially better off: Be Cooperative."
Anonymous
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGKogwbO240

Schofield said...

The analysis of the Human Genome shows competition subordinate to cooperation so far, all those nasty viruses "de-fanged!" Try William B Miller's Extended Hologenome Theory, Buddhism does biology.

Matt Franko said...

Roger you are anthropomorphing scientific theories here...

All of this could very well be just part of the process of evolution... Some parts of the species don't advance... Zinjanthropus didn't advance, etc... It's not "losing" it's just the way it works...

Bob said...

Competitiveness is not a universal virtue, yet they act as if it were. Can we not share the planet?

Tom Hickey said...

Competition and cooperation come together in coordination.

Competition is often misunderstood as being oppositional, aiming at beating the opposition in a zero sum game. Cooperation is win-win, but it doesn't challenge the participants.

When competition is conceived of as doing one's best while keeping one's eye on the ball, then group coordination results in greater return on resources invested - knowledge, skill, time, energy, etc.

Group coordination can be intra-group as with a team, or intergroup, as with alliances.

Bob said...

No argument there, but why is it seen as a virtue? There is more to life than overcoming challenges. There is a segment of the population that does not regard competition as a virtue or even as a personal value. If we compete, it is because we are forced to.