Winning: A Losing Proposition

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Soy un perdador. I’m a loser, Baby, so why don’t you kill me? – Beck

The idea that life is a contest in which it is the natural goal of each individual to distinguish him or herself as a “winner” has been at the core of neurotic Western values since the heyday of the Roman Empire. The imagined superiority of the individual over his peers in some specialized discipline or another is the promoted aspiration from which we are taught to seek our sense of worth and purpose. With this subconscious drive informing our every decision, those with the pre-existing privilege of power, wealth or influence attempt to exert this “superiority” over large swaths of the planet while those of more humble backgrounds usually aspire to a more local celebrity. Since this attitude is the baseline from which all of us in Western culture operate, we willingly elevate some of the most despotic people to positions of honor and influence precisely because of our fucked up definition of what constitutes honorable behavior.

Maybe this is just due to the fact that I grew up in the 1980s, but it seems that this vague but persistent promotion of personal victory just for the sake of it was comically apparent in the pop culture of that particular decade. Sports movies with the underlying cliched theme of “underdog defeats formidable rival” were all the rage and their accompanying soundtrack music encouraged listeners to “rise up”, “go for the glory”, “reach for the top”, “go for the gold” and “defy the odds” in order to…what? They never really specified how exactly one should define this elusive “glory” other than implying that it has something to do with winning — preferably in as public a way as possible. How else can we possibly explain to future generations the inexplicable popularity of movies about arm wrestling and bands like Survivor other than to acquiesce to the fact that in the eighties, we all thought that a championship trophy was the ultimate symbol of someone’s worth?

Since the turn of the millennium, two public figures have done more to advance the notion of “winning” at all costs than any others I can call to mind. One of them lost his gig on Two and A Half Men over his public arrogance. The other got elected to the presidency of the United States. Drugs had much to do with the resulting downfall of the former individual. The latter is a flawless illustration of the ignorance inherent in such a value system as it becomes clearer by the day that this attitude in its most egregious form is more potentially dangerous than the Black Death. In the 14th Century, the bubonic plague laid claim to about one third of the European population. But what we are facing today as the result of the glorification of narcissism quite literally has the potential to eradicate the species. Remind me again why this is considered “winning”?

The root of the problem lies in our erroneous conception of individuality. Despite comparatively recent and extensively documented discoveries in the realm of physics that utterly demolish the notion of independent islands of cohesive and self-regulated matter, as a culture we have chosen to ignore the implications of these findings that weaken our sense of independence. Egoism is so hard-wired into our psyches that we are capable of ignoring direct evidence that calls our sense of self into question. And it’s remarkably easy to defend such willful ignorance when everyone else harbors the same point of view. “I’m just not interested in science. It’s all so boring to me.” Very rarely does anyone feel motivated to question such a stubbornly myopic mindset because most of us feel exactly the same way, even if some of us have styles of explaining it that sound loftier in their expression.

Our very lives depend on blowing this suicidal philosophy right out of the water. And the only way to do that is to awaken people to reality as it is. If the interdependent and impermanent nature of all phenomena were truly understood, it would become apparent that there is literally no such thing as “winning”. The very word implies an imagined independence of every organism that exists and the ability of each to distinguish itself as superior through sheer force of will. But an organism cannot possibly exist independently and our wills are anything but individual. They are an amalgam of aspirations and values adopted from the cultures we inhabit. They are a mass hallucination induced by the dispensation of the idea that every individual is in complete control of his or her own destiny. They are the direct result of the anxiety that arises from ego.

Every atom — every proton of every atom — owes its existence to every other atom in the Universe. The reason matter and energy are neither created nor destroyed is because the removal of one single atom from the whole would cause it to collapse into nothingness. The “stuff” that currently coalesces as your physical body has always existed in one form or another and it will continue to exist long after you’re dead. The grand process that is the Universe persists because it is constantly in flux. If just one molecule decided to sit out the next dance, all movement across the 13.8 billion light year wide dance floor would cease, leaving not even an errant party streamer as evidence of what once had been.

So why can’t we try to behave more like our constituent molecules and trust in the fact that the law of interdependence is exactly what allows us to be, to think and to live? If our collective subconscious view evolved into one that takes as a given the necessity of your existence to support my own, how could we possibly continue to feel motivated to delight in the perceived “defeat” of others or in our own personal “victories” over them? The very idea would strike us as the outright nonsense that it is and our struggles would invariably be resolved through collaborative and cooperative solutions that don’t seek to elevate any party over the other.

And the only reason that last sentence just struck you as impossibly idealistic is because you, like most of us, find the idea of letting go of your own perceived preciousness as distasteful a proposition as can possibly be raised. Either that, or you just have a really unhealthy aversion to Hillary Clinton and Ashton Kutcher.

37 thoughts on “Winning: A Losing Proposition

  1. It’s November and you have returned! By Kracky, you’re brilliant. There is no way in the world I could have expressed this thought in the same manner as you just did. Curmudgeon is one of the rare blogs worth the read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! The messages behind your Reboots always come through loud and clear to me and even that is sort of an example of what I just posted: my own ideas cannot be isolated from yours or any others from which I draw inspiration.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh. You stated your point so eloquently. I’ve never thought of society reduced to the level of atoms. Very interesting perspective. I don’t know if we’ll be able to get humans to let go of their narcissism. It seems to be ingrained into the very atoms that work interdependently. And I find it interesting that some people have very few narcissistic tendencies while others have a great deal. Which tells me that the environment has an effect on those atoms zinging around in our bodies, wouldn’t you agree?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I like the idea that all is fluid, all is connected. Our isolated forms have to assume there are solid, permanent, separate things, or we would have nothing upon which to pin our laws.

    This is great, Paul. It fits in perfectly with the will to power/neo-nihilism stuff I’ve been reading over the last few days, and has given me some additional angles to ponder. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Two very distinct but somewhat-related concepts are floating around inside my cerebellum as I read this. One, another mass shooting in America kills 26 people in what was clearly a disturbed man procuring a deadly weapon and using it in an act of vengeance, on another person in his family or on the world in general. In the wake of this, news stations are competing for scoops, tweeters are competing for tweets, and democratic and republican supporters are competing for which storyline is most important: the fact that this disturbed person had a gun in the first place, or the fact that it could have been worse if someone ELSE nearby didn’t have a gun.

    At this point, nobody knows who is #winning that one.

    The other thought floating around in my head is the fact that my Los Angeles Rams went to New York yesterday and smacked down a Giant opponent by the encouraging score of 51-17, one weak after defeating a division rival 33-0.

    The better part of me wants to buy into the wisdom of universal cooperation.

    The lesser part of me wants to squish the guts out of the Texans next week.

    My atomic makeup lacks consistency.

    But take heart, my friend. In this, we are 98% aligned. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As more spotty information comes out, we can see this necessity to “win” in this Texas wackaloon, too. Most people who feel the need for vengeance against a spouse, ex-spouse, mother-in-law, ex-mother-in-law, ex-girlfriend, etc., do so because they were rejected. In other words, they LOST, and they cannot let things stay that way, so they seek to regain their sense of dominance through violence. And I think we can say we’re 100% aligned on this. At the heart of the human animal may be a certain competitive drive. If one can use sports as an outlet for it — whether participatory or spectator — I see that as a good thing. Harmless, fun and cathartic. And think about those 80s movies I referenced: very few of them centered around team sports. They were all metaphors for personal victory — boxing, wrestling, running, arm wrestling (seriously, fucking arm wrestling), karate, etc. In other words, the message wasn’t “do it for the team” , but rather, “do it for your glory”.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha! I was going to make the point of individual vs team sports, too, but I suddenly found myself in a situation at work where I had to look busy on something other than WordPress blogging. I was forced to hit “send” before I could elaborate. Or proof-read. Thus, my “week” was “weak.”

        Hopefully the rest of it made sense.

        Obviously, the nature of my post was half-jest. A friend of mine at work and I lament the nature of humanity regularly, discussing the root problems facing our species. The bottom line almost always comes back to competition which leads to competitive imbalance which leads to societal inequality which leads to individual dissatisfaction which leads to … almost everything else we abhor.

        So, I think, in reality, we agree 110%.

        And isn’t that what they tell us to shoot for in practice?

        Liked by 1 person

  5. You come to the most thought provoking conclusions. Time after time. —I’ve been off the grid in a self-imposed hiatus from WordPress, ranting instead on Twitter over what’s become of Puerto Rico.
            Coming back to your profound understanding of De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things)* is refreshing. We are so behind in our understanding of life. Sigh.

    *A nod to what I’m currently reading and how synched you seem to be to the universe in general. (In his epic poem written in 50 B.C., Lucretius expounds on the nature of atoms as clearly as if he had been around in the Twentieth Century.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Pablo! Lucretius was fascinating in his prescience. It’s incredible how hard it’s becoming to keep track of all the people suffering directly from the increasing insanity of the species. Puerto Rico completed the triumverate of mega-storms and before we even had time to excoriate 45 for his heartless and inhuman response to that disaster, our deranged home-grown cowboys decided it was time to start mowing people down indiscriminately again.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I absolutely understand the need to take a break sometimes, but it’s great to see you back. Just an FYI: I made a promise in an October 1st post that I wouldn’t discuss politics or anything heavy for the entire month. So there are some horror stories, the final installments of the zombie saga, and some other light-hearted posts written by my friend Mer who guest posts here sometimes. But since 11/1, I have no such self-imposed ban in place anymore.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. To start with, I’m damn jealous of your readership. Would that I could get such excellent responses!!

    Okay, fully admitting that I only read the first paragraph (sorry, your post has been open all day and it’s been too damn busy), great post!! I have to say, right when I first met my wife’s father, he let me know what he tells his son frequently what a competition life is and what a joke it is when folks think that it’s not.

    I just think the world is too damn big to think you’re constantly in competition with the next person. Certainly, many things about life are competitive. Certainly, things in life might be better if they were (I’d like to compete for who lavishes the most love and attention on their SO and children, for sure). I just don’t think that’s the way of things. Especially with the internet and creepy recluses. You can pretty much just WoW all day and ignore the rest of it… but I suppose there’s certainly competition in Wow. But there doesn’t have to be!!

    World of Warcraft as a shitty metaphor for life.

    Did I ever tell you the sad Jello Biafra story? Not related.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I once dated a woman who was obsessed with World of Warcraft. She was also a corrections officer. And a drunk. But then again, so was I. A drunk that is. I’ve never been a corrections officer or a WoW enthusiast. I’m not sure why I even brought that up. Tell me a Jello story!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The Jello story is sad. I should first admit that I’m no die-hard DKs fan, but I do enjoy some tracks like “Kill the Poor,” among others (it’s been a while since my serious punk days… and, even then, it wasn’t all that serious… I never wore a butt-flap, for example).

        I was a student at Whittier College when Jello Biafra came to do his spoken word bit about George W. Bush. Nevermind the spoken word part, which, I will say, was uninspired and kind of hackneyed.

        The real joy came before the show, when we took him out for a meal at a Mexican restaurant. Amidst all of our questions about his life, Dead Kennedys (sp?), political activism, etc. all he could seem to talk about was food.

        “This dinner is great, guys, but I’m so hungry I’ll probably need an appetizer to myself.” Something like that. I paraphrase (but used quotation marks).

        Later, while discussing his spoken word bits on Dubya (King George the Second, Jello called him), he interrupted by saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah; listen, AFTER the show is when I get really hungry.” We’d only offered to take him to a pre-show dinner, on top of paying him the usual fee.

        “So you guys need to know a good, 24-hour restaurant where we can eat following the show. And I don’t want ANY of that Denny’s crap. We’re in L.A.”

        Bummer.

        Upon asking him WHY he chose to go into spoken word, he broke down for a few of us. By broke down, I mean he quit speaking with even an ounce of charisma and adopted a let-me-level-with-you tone. He got noticeably upset. The following rant went something like this: “Dude, why do you think I went into spoken word? I’ve been in a punk band all my life. I don’t have a college education. What the fuck else should I have done?”

        Thus ends the tragic saga of being disappointed by someone who is definitely many people’s hero.

        I think I’m going to copy and paste all of that and call it a blog post. See ya!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ha! That doesn’t disappoint me at all, really. Though many of his lyrics were integral in developing my political views in my teen years, I now just sort of feel sorry for him. I mean, I still agree with most of what he says, but it’s HOW he says it that conjures the pity. He doesn’t seem to have learned the difference between idealism and reality and that’s a tough place to be. And the food obsession isn’t a surprise, either: he’s been looking kinda bloated for some time now.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Check out my latest blog post if you want a couple of quality now-Biafra pictures. I think what you said about him is pretty insightful and cuts right to the point. I need to expose myself to more of that music, but for whatever reason (probably me being lame, honestly), I have a hard time listening to Black Flag or DKs and a lot of that really under-produced punk sound. When did I get so damn lame?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I don’t think that makes you lame, I think it makes you younger than me. There’s still good punk and/or protest music out there, but production values have gotten better across the board, even for bands without much cash to spend. Black Flag, the DKs, Minutemen, Husker Du, (early) Sonic Youth, MDC, Minor Threat, Reagan Youth, etc. had very little $ but they also kind of embraced the crappy production values as part of the cacophonous “fuck you”.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. And I’m pretty hit or miss with the groups you’ve named. There are some Minutemen and Husker Du tracks (even albums… Zen Arcade) I can get down with. It was also funny to say that I’m not into under-produced music, because I also HATE over-produced music. I think its’ what kept me from truly embracing Stevie Ray Vaughn beyond his cover of “Little Wing.”

        Liked by 1 person

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