[This is a temporary departure from The Myths of the Veritas which will continue soon].
Newsflash: Winning by Cheating is Losing; it is not Winning.
I would have hoped that this blog entry would be completely unnecessary to write in 2019, but apparently that is not the case.
In 2015, I published The Winning Weekend Warrior. This book focuses on strategy, tactics, and the ‘mental game’ for all sports. It says nothing about technique or form. But for many people, continued focus on technique will not help nearly so much as it will for them to rethink strategy and tactics and to improve their self-control. The Winning Weekend Warrior says to never give in and never give up. I like to see a fighting spirit in an athlete and so do most people. But the book also discusses sportsmanship. Winning by cheating is not winning. Most sports have very clear and distinct rules about what is cheating and what is not.
If you win by cheating, it disrespects the sport. It disrespects the audience. It disrespects your opponent. Most of all, if you win by cheating, you disrespect yourself.
America, I am sure you are not surprised to hear, is a very competitive nation. We are competitive in every conceivable place where it makes sense to compete. In fact, we’re so competitive that we even compete in things that are historically and quintessentially cooperative rather than competitive. We have contests about singing, dancing, cooking and dating! We even compete on social media on sociality!
It is natural for folks to root for their favorite athlete or favorite team. It is not particularly “natural” for people to riot after their team wins! It is not particularly “natural” for people to rejoice when their team “wins” even when they do so through cheating. (See paragraph three above).
There is no doubt that political “contests” bear some resemblance to athletic contests. They both involve strategy, tactics, performance, metrics, etc. There is one huge difference though. The outcomes of political contests have real consequences in people’s lives. The politicians sometimes try to make you believe that there are consequences that will not actually come to pass. For example, they may tell you that they will greatly lower your tax bill and then actually increase it. Or, they may tell you that they will make your world safer and actually make it more dangerous. Or, they may tell you that they will lower your healthcare costs or “stand up to” giant pharma companies and then do just the opposite. Teams may also make promises to their fans — and then sometimes they break these promises. But the primary purpose of a team is to play the sport, not arrange things for the benefit of various constituents.
By contrast, the primary purpose of politicians is to weigh the needs and wants of various constituents and then work to balance various interests, work compromises, help constituents find common ground and so on. The main point of a politician is not to campaign. Yet, today, we find ourselves in the odd position that a politician has “won” and rather than then do any of their duties and exercise their skill for finding common ground, weighing competing interests and proposing compromises, instead, they continue to campaign full time.
Ordinarily, one might expect that citizens would be up in arms about a politician who fails to do their actual job and instead continues to campaign (and protect their personal interests). Astoundingly, however, the “fans” of the “winning team” continue to root for “their team” even though “their team” continues to campaign on the basis of the same lies that produced the initial “win.”
In this case, the framing of politics as a sports contest is really counterproductive. The supporters of the winning “team” continue to support that “team” even though the winning “team” has zero loyalty to its supporters. (It also has zero loyalty to the citizenry in general, by the way. After an election, the “winning party” is supposed to govern the country in the interests of all its citizens, not only the ones who voted them in).
So, here we have a seeming paradox. The “team” in power is using all its resources for their own benefit. They seem unconcerned with the nation as a whole. They seem unconcerned with continuing to lie and make false promises to their “base” because the “base” is loyal and supports their “team” no matter what. This loyalty has consequences. It means, essentially, that the party in power is not constrained in their exercise of power. They can do things that are against the interests of their “sports fans” precisely because their “sports fans” are not demanding anything in return. It only matters to the “sports fans” that they are on the “winning side” regardless of how horrible the consequences may be for the nation as a whole, for the vast majority of people on that “winning team” and even for their kids and grandkids.
In some cases, it seems that those who view themselves as being on the “winning team” are even aware that they are behaving against their own interests but are willing to do so simply because those on the “losing team” will feel even worse! This is a perversion of winning.
Suppose you can have one of two outcomes: A or B. In A, you get $5000 free and clear but I get $10,000. In choice B, you lose get $5000, but I will lose $10,000. Which one would you pick? A or B? Astoundingly, some people are filled with so much fear and loathing that they will pick B! It’s $10,000 worse for them, but that’s okay because it’s $20,000 worse for me! You don’t know me. I’ve never hurt you. Yet, you choose to hurt me anyway even if it means hurting yourself too. This is not winning!
In the case of contemporary American politics, it appears that so-called “identity” politics may interact with this tendency to think of yourself as a winner even if you’re actually a loser. If the “me” you are trying to hurt with your self-defeating choices supports gays, or women, or people of color, then you may feel that losing $5,000 dollars will be worth it because gays or women or people of color make you feel “uncomfortable.” Naturally, the “discomfort” is within. What you really object to is something within yourself that you don’t want to acknowledge.
To be fair, this is not an issue that applies only those on the political “right” or the political “left.” When a foreign adversary is out to gain hegemony over other nations, the very best way is to sow political discord in the nation that they want to weaken. Putin, for instance, has certainly succeeded in doing that in the UK as well as the USA. People in America who are socially conservative may hate the left, but Putin is also doing whatever he can to make the left hate the right as well. Unfortunately, since the society itself is so hyper-competitive, both sides tend to focus on “winning.”
Contests to the death make much more interesting stories than ones where the parties come to a compromise or find a solution that makes more sense than the solution that either the left or the right began with. So, since media are largely incentivized to provide more “engaging” stories, in a hyper-competitive society, this means they prefer a story of winning and losing more than a story of compromise.
In the realm of sports, no-one I know, myself included, would enjoy a contest where those racing a mile would get together before the opening gun and “agree” to walk the mile together at a leisurely pace! That’s boring! And it doesn’t show us the “edges” of human capability either. I certainly recommend nothing of the kind in The Winning Weekend Warrior.
But politics is not sports.
In politics, the best outcome is precisely that various parties agree. The best process is one that follows the rules; one where people put their actual interests out there on the table and then people work together to find an emergent solution using the best ideas on both sides. Such a process, however, is in the best interests of the politicians only if the “fans” on both sides demand it. If either side, or both sides, instead insist it’s just fine to break the rules provided their side “wins” then only the politicians benefit — not the people. The media also benefits, at least in the short term. When carried to its logical conclusion, “winning at all costs” is a loss.
Winning by cheating is a loss for the country. It’s a loss for the world. It’s a loss for future generations. We seem to have forgotten this.
Hopefully, next time, we will at last — at long last — remember.