Lemonnator

Life is all about competition. Another cliched essay brought to you by yours truly.

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2013 at 11:48 am

I have always been amused by Darwin’s theory of evolution: the survival of the fittest. Individuals, no matter how strong or how intelligent, do not exist in a vacuum. Competition is just as inevitable as taxes and as death.

We are conditioned to compete from a tender age. People don’t realise that preschool is, in fact, a vicious training ground. When I went to preschool, during playtime, the teacher would pull out a box filled to the brim with Barbie dolls. Some of the dolls had their heads bitten off, some of their dresses were torn, and some of them had their hair cruelly ripped from their plastic scalps. But one doll in the entire box was brand new; her hair was still glossy and attached to her head, her clothes were still pristine and her limbs still intact. Every day, when it was playtime, every child–including me–would fight tooth and nail for that perfect Barbie. I will never forget that overwhelming sense of pride and euphoria when I mercilessly shoved a boy aside and grabbed that Barbie for myself. I had learned in preschool what it was like to be superior.

As I grew older and reached Secondary School, Barbie had a different name: Academic Results. Every student–including me–fought tooth and nail for the top score, for its bragging rights. But fighting for grades proved more complicated than fighting for a doll, and so it was in Secondary School that I learned about inferiority. It was the bitter swill of injustice and inferiority that drove me to fight harder.

The competition gets worse in the working world. I have not experienced the bloodthirsty battle for jobs and bonuses and promotions, but from what I hear, life and its hostile rat race does not get easier when you graduate. In our world today, the population has increased rapidly and exponentially, while recession has caused the economy to shrink just as quickly. There seems to be a tiny number of jobs for an infinite number of people–a limited number of Barbies for a countless number of chubby preschoolers.

To make things worse, it is getting even more difficult to stand out in an environment where more people are graduating from university, more people are getting more qualified, perhaps more qualified than yourself. If, by some miracle, you manage to win a job, then you will fight even harder for the promotion or that pay rise. The tendency to compete is inherent in every one of us. We are conditioned to fight, because we are innately afraid of that dreaded moment when the Barbie falls into undeserving hands.

The human race has evolved such that every individual has the “competitive” gene. I believe this gene replaced what was initially inherent in all of us: Satisfaction.

The root of competition is the dissatisfaction of being inferior. I do not claim to know how to win all the contests life has in store, but perhaps it is time to recondition the human race to be more appreciative, to stop and smell the roses. It is idealistic, but I imagine we would all be much happier if we accepted our own Barbies–headless or limbless–rather than competing for that shiny new doll that will ultimately be marred from all the bloodthirsty grabbing. Yes, life is about competition. It shouldn’t be.

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  1. hi risa, i agree with you that life should not be about competition. it might be unfair to blame it on darwin though. here is why: http://io9.com/5988401/why-survival-of-the-fittest-is-wrong the phrase has been misunderstood and as the article suggests, it might be better understood as “reproduction of the fittest”.

    this is also quite interesting although verification is needed: “Today the focus is mainly on Darwin’s Origin of Species. But in the 828 page sequel in which he tells us he will now deal with human evolution, The Descent of Man, Darwin writes only twice of “survival of the fittest,” but 95 times of love. He writes of selfishness 12 times, but 92 times of moral sensitivity. Of competition 9 times, but 24 times of mutuality and mutual aid. And of what so often everywhere today seems to be missing in global political, economic, and religious leadership — that is, of mind and brain — he writes 200 times.” http://www.thedarwinproject.com/revolution/revolution.html

    • Hey Isaiah, that’s an insanely great point about the precision of the term “survival of the fittest”. “Reproduction of the fittest” is a good definition because in the natural world, organisms with undesirable alleles/traits also happen to be sterile and so they cannot pass their undesirable characteristics to their progeny.

      However, I don’t think the term “survival” has not been “misunderstood” or misused, simply because the stronger organisms with desirable alleles can SURVIVE till their reproductive age in order to pass their traits on to the next generation. THAT is what helps the entire species survive with the elimination of weaker traits and the passing on of desirable alleles.

      As you rightly pointed out, Darwin emphasised symbiosis in the natural world as much as he emphasised bloodthirsty competition for survival. Perhaps there isn’t enough of symbiotic mutualistic relationships in our human ecosystem because we’re driven to compete for ourselves only. This is precisely why I support Democrats and not Republicans, and why I tend to err on the side of socialism and not capitalism. I don’t believe individuals who flourish should be allowed to flourish without giving back; or worse, flourish at others’ expense, Individuals who flourish owe a lot of their success to society’s social stability and economic opportunity, and they should contribute the same to the less advantaged. We need to restore that kind of symbiosis.

      Thanks so much for your comment; it was really thought-provoking :).

  2. hi risa. first of all, i love the use of “insanely great” which was a steve jobs quote. i am glad you understood survival. i misunderstood it myself until i read an article like the one i linked to some years back. i have not read darwin (there’s so much to read, so much).

    re: democrats and republicans, i was just telling someone today “i like small govt, personal responsibility, sustainable spending in healthcare and education, gay rights, freedom of press, abolishing the ISA.” what does that make me?

    thank you for writing. i enjoy your writing. i am going to leave out the part that it’s incredible that you are only 16 as i assume you are tired of hearing that from old geezers.

  3. Interesting. To discern your political “colours”, I think it’s important we distinguish small government in society and small government in the economy. Small government in civil liberties (marriage, civil unions, free speech) makes you a Democrat/Liberal in the American politics sense. I’m defining this purely on today’s understanding of what a stereotypical liberal is in the “social” sense. Many Democrats today prefer big government in the economy (higher taxes on the rich, more welfare for the poor) and small government in civil liberties.

    Republicans (those in favour of the free market) often like to use the term “small government” when they talk about cutting back on welfare for the poor and healthcare benefits. They especially like using the term “small government” with respect to deregulating large companies and imposing less restrictions on what they can do. “Small government” in the economy also points to very low taxes–Mitt Romney says “across-the-board” low taxes. So if you are for small government in the economy, by today’s general stereotypes, you’re Republican. But a lot of these people support MASSIVE government in the personal lives of citizens/civil liberties, restricting marriage equality and other cool things.

    As for the ISA……………..that’s not really Republican/Democrat……………………….it’s more…………….authoritarianism. But that’s a secret so. SHHHHH.

  4. i try not to take my cue from the americans in all things political. they, as a frame of reference, can do more harm than good (witness how when you talk to pro-PAP people about democratic rights, they will america this, america that). besides, their country is so much bigger. when i talk about small government, i mean low taxes, less layers and bureaucracy, less legislation, more transparency. where they have to be big is education, transportation, cheap housing, legislating against negative externalities, coming in where market failure exists.

    i would also like a govt to be small in respect to the people and constitution which are big.

  5. I’ve heard that America is a flawed democracy, so flawed that we shouldn’t use it as a model (also because of differences in culture, geography, historical origin etc). All are legitimate arguments. But the liberal v. conservative/democrat v. republican arguments about the magnitude of government interference are extremely relevant to how any country is to be governed.

    About your opinion on small government, I agree completely. There needs to be less red tape and bureaucracy because they end up causing a lot unfairness/inefficiency. there needs to be government regulation because the notion that the free market is self-corrective isn’t so true anymore.

    Governments should fear their people, not the other way around. (I think V for Vendetta said that but I’m not sure)

  6. ooh, first a steve jobs quote and then alan moore (“People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.”). this is a good night.

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