Wrong Side Of Paradise

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Competition by Nature.

Back in 2010 I was sitting in a library with a friend attempting unsuccessfully to start an essay.

Tom; "Hey I won that essay competition, they gave me an Ipod"

Me; "cool"

Tom; "you know what's weird...your name wasn't on the entry list"

Me; "I didn't enter"

Tom; "But we wrote our essays together"

Me; "I already have an Ipod"

Tom; "So?"

Me; "..."

Tom; "Didn't you want to see if you could win anyway?"

Me; "Why would I?"

Tom; "It's in our nature"

Me; "Winning?"

Tom; "Competition".

I've always been taught that competition is one of the most important things in life. Be the best, be better than that guy, etc. When I was younger I entered some martial arts competitions at my dojo, and we we're always told not to win on points, but to "take the other guy out, get the real win''. But that's the nature of the world is it not? Competition is healthy. It encourages us to be better. Or so I thought.

I'm a very curious person. And over the years I've read a lot of books and watched a lot of documentaries in a naive attempt to better understand the world. I've been to libraries, churches, overseas, lectures, protests, etc. It's had the opposite effect. I'm more confused than ever... Maybe I'm just stupid.

Anywho, I've watched the usual popular new age documentaries. An inconvenient truth, I am, Zeitgeist, waiting for superman... And I've read everything from Dawkins to Plato and all of that good stuff. And my belief that "human nature is competitive" was suitably challenged. In the documentary "I am"  (If you haven’t seen it, it's nothing particularly new but a great watch) there was an interesting tribal story that a professor shared.

In short, it was about an ancient tribe. The strongest of the tribe would go out hunting and their gains would be shared out equally amongst everyone in the tribe. One day the strongest hunter in the tribe who was doing the most work decided that he deserved to keep most of the meat. So he hoarded most of his gains for himself. Then the second and third strongest hunters decided to do the same for themselves. The stronger hunters then started hoarding their kills to the point of excess. And they taught their ways to their youngsters. This meant that the old, the weak, and those unable to hunt went without food. And the weaker members of the tribe perished and the foundations of the once equal tribe collapsed.

The story teller goes on to explain that this is a true story. Not because it happened...But because it is "happening" right now, with all of us. Well what about nature? What about survival of the fittest? We talk about it like it's some kind of animal instinct we have. Packs of animals can often have a powerful Alpha, just like we have alpha males and more recently dominant females in our society. It's an animal instinct rooted inside us all.

Wait...is it?

Some of you may have heard of the red deer experiment conducted by Conradt and Roper. Simply put the experiment aimed to measure cooperation amongst the deers. They wanted to see how deers  made decisions, particularly how they made the decision to travel to a watering hole. Most of us would expect the alpha to decide when the herd would go to the watering hole. But instead the deer would gradually shift or gesture in the direction of the watering hole one by one. When the majority of the deer had decided (roughly 51%) then they would all travel to the watering hole. Often leaving a confused alpha to follow. So even animals have some sort of democracy and cooperation. I don't know why that fascinates me but it does.

Well what about us humans? Politically (yes I'm getting political again...sorry). Politically the right side of the political spectrum (right as in direction not correctness) most conservatives would argue that any grand socialist ideas of social change are unrealistic because they are incompatible with human nature. So what they are saying is, we are generally self interested individualistic people. A fair assessment I guess.

Which coincidentally fits in perfectly with our free market capitalism. What about pre-capitalist notions of human nature? We weren't seen as egoistic, self-serving, and greedy beings way back when. Human nature was viewed as holding a mostly communal aspect.

Marx viewed human nature differently. Some claim that he argued human nature does not exist. I don't agree with that, but Marx does go on to say that any form of human nature is subject to environmental factors. As in, we learn human nature. Or as Desmond Tutu (did I spell that right?) once said "we learn to be human by observing other humans". I learn to walk, talk, eat, dress myself, shave and do the jitterbug by observing others. I am human because of you, my fellow humans.

That being said, I learn to be self-sufficient, self-interested and selfish because of my fellow humans. I read your books, I wear your clothes, I follow your agenda, and I learn to be another product of society just like everybody else. I am essentially a robot (albeit a well oiled one who can do the worm).

My question to myself is...what if we've got it all wrong? What if our nature is inclined to cooperation instead of competition? What if ideas of excess, self-gratitude, self-sufficiency and self-indulgence were replaced with other ideals? 

Like love, compassion, cooperation, generosity and collaboration? My friends would say I'm creating a utopia for myself that could never exist. I probably am. And those on selfless journeys who seek this type of cooperation are playing a dangerous game and usually end up losing.

And in most aspects I am an incredible hypocrite wishing for the change of a system I participate in anyway. I don't love my neighbours, I hate 90% of people, I buy and spend in excess and I'm generally a poor excuse for a human being. But I'd hate for that to be the case for future generations to come. I don't know if I'll ever have kids but if I ever do, I wouldn't want them to live in the self interested and hollow world I've chosen.
So...future kids, I pledge to you now that I'll be one of those pot smoking, jazz playing, hippy parents. And before I'm inevitably locked away, I'll give you little bastards the best damned parenting ever.

But back to my grandiose idea of social change. How would we make changes for such a hippie-esque world? I don't know. (Sorry).

But I know where we might start. Consciousness, if we are all aware of what's going on in the world.  We can try to accept the things we can't change, somehow gain the courage to accept the things we can, and at the very least...we can have the wisdom to know the difference. (See what I did there? I got religious as a non-religious man).

So here’s to change or lack thereof. 

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