The Myth of Competition 1

The Myth of Competition 1

Now that we have seen that the Myth of Scarcity and the Myth of Self-interest are insidious beliefs that poison the lives of those who believe them and those who interact with those who believe in them, it is time to tackle a new Myth, the Myth of Competition. This Myth rises naturally out of the other two, but is even more pervasive and destructive.

Today we will discuss the nature of this Myth, how it has been turned into a principle that seems benign and even beneficial, and why this principle is actually a weakness rather than a strength.


What is the Myth of Competition?

There are many versions of the Myth of Competition, but boiled down to its essence it is this: Competition is necessary for survival.

This Myth is clearly related to the first two. The Myth of Scarcity encourages us to fear shortages and other people. The Myth of Self-interest encourages us to act selfishly as a way of protecting ourselves from those fears. The Myth of Competition encourages us to think of our self-interested acts of self-defense in terms of combat.

Again, the familiar old stories that justify this Myth come to mind immediately. When there aren’t enough nuts, people will act viciously to take your nuts away from you. They will always do this, because they are selfish by nature. Hence, you must either overpower them by possessing more force, or outsmart them by having more ingenuity. In order to keep this up, you need to be in constant competition with everyone, so that no one can ever get the upper hand over you—or else they might kill you or starve you to death.

These extreme images are so ingrained in us that they seem to leave little opportunity for alternative viewpoints. Competition seems to be, and always to have been, a basic element of human life. And yet, as we will see, there an alternative view, a view that reveals this Myth to be utterly false.

The Domesticated Form of the Myth of Competition

Just as the Myth of Self-Interest has a domesticated form that makes it seem beneficial to society, so too does the Myth of Competition have a domesticated form that makes it seem like a societal good.

This domesticated version of the Myth of Competition is based on an analogy that seems quite plausible. The idea is that competition is like fighting. In accordance with this analogy, when you engage in a fight and come out the winner, you have attained your goal. If you come out the loser and are still alive, then you have benefitted from the experience, and you may use this experience to win next time. Either outcome, provided you survive, can be seen as profitable, so both contenders can be see as winners.

When this is generalized to any sort of human interaction, fighting is replaced by competition and winning is replaced by improvement. The resulting story that we tell ourselves is this: Engaging in competition is a great benefit to society. The immediate winner produces a benefit at least for himself and perhaps also for his companions. The immediate loser gains experience and perhaps wisdom for future bouts of competition. It’s a win-win situation.

Does this theoretical understanding of competition seem true to life? Or does it seem to you that, in actuality, competition turns out to be far less beneficial?

It would not be surprising if you answered that much competition seems rather sordid. In fact, when any actual competition does manage to rise to the level of the theory, it is often praised as an ideal example of competition. When something is that rare, one has to ask whether the story being told isn’t more of a theoretical possibility than a practical reality.

We will soon seen that ideal competition is rare not because it doesn’t exist, but because the Myths influence people to behave badly. But first we need to understand why competition is not  as beneficial as it is made out to be.

Faith in competition a weakness

The domesticated version of the Myth of Competition has been accepted almost universally. This is a great mistake, for a number of reasons.

The first reason is this: relying on competition to create improvement is a weakness. Indeed, many people believe the Myth of Competition so implicitly that they think improvement can only come through competition. But if you are dependent on competition to improve yourself, then you are not self-determining. This is obvious. The self-determining person doesn’t need competition or anything else to attain his ends. He simply decides what he wants to do and sets about doing it. It may be that he chooses to use competition as a means, but he certainly could think of other ways to achieve the same ends without competition.

If we had no choice about the matter, then we would all be slaves to the metaphor, unable to escape the combativeness implied in the very structure of competition. We would be doomed to finding other people to compete with us every time we set our sights on improvement—and if no one wished to compete, our goals would be impossible to attain. This is clearly not the case. Therefore, we do indeed have a choice about the matter, and competition cannot be the only path to improvement.

Now many people who believe that competition is the only path to improvement also believe that they can determine their own lives. They do not see that the two beliefs are mutually incompatible. Holding two contradictory beliefs is a severe handicap in life. It is like walking around with loose-fitting and barely noticeable chains on your ankles: you may be able to get about for some time without being tripped up, but sooner or later the chains will get tangled and you will fall.

The consequence of all this is apparent. It is a weakness to believe that competition is the only path to improvement. To the extent that people believe this, they give up self-determination, become dependent on a competitor, and limit their own freedom. Such people can never be as free as they need to be in order to become Creators.


Tomorrow we will continue our discussion of the Myth of Competition. We will see that focusing on competition actually constricts our abilities, and that constant competition is a mark of low-level functioning.

Until tomorrow, then.

2 comments (Add your own)

1. Arun wrote:
Competition serves as a form of accountability. If one performs at a level less than a market average that we can term "the competition", one will not survive in that market. So it sets a minimum acceptable level of performance.

23 November 2012 @ 1:17 PM

2. Jerry A wrote:
Competition in a business environment is useful. As Arun notes in the prior comment, competition sets the performance standard for companies. A monopoly environment is the worst one for consumers, with nowhere to turn for better customer service or pricing. Competition is also a component of human nature. Otherwise, we would not have any desire for professional and amateur sports. A problem arises when competition is not tempered by compassion, when selfish cut-throat winning at all costs becomes the ideal, such as what we see in Wall Street and other large corporations. When that model of competition spreads into other social and personal interactions, it makes life much worse.

15 January 2013 @ 2:12 PM

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