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The Games People Play
Competition is not a sacrament, no matter what ultra-conservative economists try to tell you.
Competition created us as we are, our ugly parts as well as our admirable ones. But the real Darwinian process for Homo sapiens has been on the back burner for a long time. We haven't changed very much in the last hundred thousand years...imperceptibly in the last 30,000 or so.
We have made tremendous "progress," but that's all cultural. We have invented it, ourselves.
By the time our ancestors were making those gorgeous European cave paintings we were smart enough that we had no real enemies except each other. There was no longer much pressure to evolve. That was 20,000 years before we even learned to write.
The business world, like much of the political world, is culturally primitive. It operates by the Darwinian rules that made us as clever and resilient as we are.
Thankfully, not all the time! Ethics and morality (and the better religions) nag us about being too exploitive. Laws, passed with the permission of the ruling classes to be sure --but sufficiently broad to affect the ruling classes at least some of the time -- define extreme, unfettered competitiveness as criminality.
Still, we are in a socio-political phase right now which exalts competitiveness and tends to regard anybody who doesn't enthusiastically enter the fray as a laggard or a wimp.
In its extreme forms, it is busily passing a lot of laws to punish the non-competitive among us for existing.
America, for all the admirable things about it, has always been very bad about its artists, for example. Artists, by definition, don't compete. They make new things which never existed and connections that nobody else ever thought of, but they don't do it to get ahead of the other guy. They enjoy getting ahead of the other guy, sometimes, just as they like making some money if other people like their art well enough to buy it. But they don't do it for the reward. They do it because there is no other way to live.
Most of them don't make anywhere near enough from their art to house body and soul in dry and sanitary conditions. They teach, or they hold "day jobs" or they live damp and unsanitary.
The rest of America can't understand how a person can spend her or his life doing something which doesn't sell.
In the business world, which is next to godliness in the dominant culture, if you're doing something which isn't making money you damned well stop doing it and get into something which does. That's the definition of business.
Don't get me wrong. All those people, tending to business, keep the country relatively strong and efficient. They pay the taxes which pay for everything else (even though they tend to resent the hell out of it). In extremity, such as wars or disasters, they can retool in remarkably short turnaround times, and save all our asses.
Just because they are good at what they do, and because they enjoy doing it... or at least the material rewards... they shouldn't think that everybody ought to join the rat race.
The species has evolved a lot of people who just aren't aggressive enough to play economic hardball. Some of them are smart enough to be successful at it, because they were raised to do so, or because they really want the rewards, but they suffer from the stress. They get sick, have nervous breakdowns, die young.
But they get more respect than those of us who won't play the game at all.
I have no quarrel with the notion that everybody ought to work hard enough to support self and family (if one has made that commitment).
I have some reservations about how the reproductive imperative makes us out-reproduce our ability to win enough resources to feed, clothe and house everybody we are responsible for, but we ought to make the effort, as long as health and time hold out..
But if most people are willing to hold up their end of the socio-economic bargain, there ought to be work for them to do, without their having to claw for a foothold in the structure.
People who are constitutionally non-competitive won't claw for very long. They will drop out, and fall off.
The current fashion is to blame them for their failure.
This is emotionally comfortable for people whose competitive spirit keeps them happily cogging along in the machine, at whatever level. Keeps them from having to try to figure out what's wrong with a machine which throws off and grinds up so many of its own parts.
The constitutional difference isn't between the bone-lazy and those who are willing to work for a living, as the historical right wing in this country would have you believe.
It's between ordinary due diligence and aggressive, irresponsible entrepreneurship.
Most people have to do stuff they don't really like very much in order to make enough money to live. They grouse, but they do it, and they take a certain pride in doing it.
A small percentage are improbably lucky enough to be able to do what they like and still make ends meet. These are generally happy people.
A miniscule fraction can work at what they want and become quite comfortable; even rich. This is not always a healthy situation, especially if the money comes early and easily, as it often does to entertainment figures and sports stars.
There is something unreal about money which just falls out of the sky, lottery-like. Even though they have earned it with their talent, rich young rock stars have no sense of having worked for it. They love what they're doing; being allowed to do it would be reward enough. All that money is nearly mythological.
Money sweated, bled and schemed for comes with instructions as to how to treat it and how to hang onto it.
Then there are the folks who are constitutional capitalists. They live to make money and they are aggressive, often creative about it. They are an indispensable part of this society, because their energy, intelligence and talent are all focused on making the economics that supports us all work.
Not one in a thousand of them thinks of himself or herself as on a mission to preserve the civilization. Each is out to benefit himself to the maximum extent possible.
They undoubtedly deserve a larger share of the financial pie than the rest of us. Not only do they -- as they are fond of reminding the rest of us -- take the big risks (I don't credit them much for this. Risk-taking is part of their psychological high . They are professional gamblers.) but they really do know how to do something that the rest of us are various degrees of poor at.
What they don't deserve is to be able to impose their code of ethics on everybody else, and to be contemptuous of us if we don't want to compete. They don't deserve to be able to define the entire society, just because what they do in large part pays for it.
They are necessary, just as a police force and a standing army are necessary.
It's easier for most of us to see the evils of a police force or a military structure which has overstepped its bounds. We have a lot of horrible examples, all over the world.
But a runaway business structure looks like people just doing what we have been conditioned to think they are supposed to do; competing on the highest level possible. If we ourselves are competitive we even admire them for it. If we aren't competitive, we tend to be in awe of it; sometimes feel helpless in the face of it.
Companies of long standing, with vested pension plans and promises of jobs extending into the foreseeable future, merge and "downsize." Pensions become pittances and job security evaporates.
This is irresponsibility masquerading as competition.
The very phrase "job security" defines the great mass of people who aren't economically competitive. They don't mind working for a living; they just want assurance that they will be able to.
How do the money guys get away with treating the rest of us like chess pieces? With the assistance of knotheads like Ayn Rand they have made a religion out of what they do. And like any high priesthood, they are in a position to exploit the hell out of it.
If they succumb to that temptation, they are dogging the job that all of us are born into; the protection and preservation of the gene pool.
That's the only real, important job that any of us has. All the rest of it is just games.