Some (Un)healthy Competition

Sculptures of Justice are historically of a blindfolded female holding scales. We say she is blind. The intent is to show an impartiality in judgment. We want to assert that Justice makes decisions independent of the particulars of a person’s circumstances, appearance, background, or demographics.

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Greed wants to assert the same thing. Greed spins a yarn about the ability of anyone to accumulate vast wealth, to become the 1/100th of 1/100th of 1%. This myth has great appeal, even in communities deeply affected by poverty and poor conditions for workers. But in reality, the myth is not true. Most of us will not have access to the education, capital, mentors, policy makers, and advisors who will pull the necessary strings for us to accumulate vast wealth. No, greed just wants us to believe that; it serves greed well to weaken opposition to the policies that keep people poor and overworked because they desperately want the myth to be true.

Community is not served well by the competition required to support greed. Wage workers wanting to avoid the stigma of poverty sometimes hold the myth of social movement to the degree that they fail to oppose practices and policies that hurt them. They compete with other workers who are middle class for positions that they believe will give them greater access to wealth.

This competition for access wastes time. It is like dieting to save money so you can buy lottery ticket after lottery ticket after lottery ticket, anticipating a jackpot that will not come. Some argue that, after all, people DO in fact win the jackpot. That outcome, however, is still complete chance. Economic stability should not be left to the randomness of chance, but neither should it rest on the fantasy that it comes from competition.

The 99% Movement has been one recent visible attempt to develop community across class backgrounds. Their name, civil disturbances, and group practices aim for cooperation over competition. They point to collapsing society by sharing the facts about ever-widening class divisions that support vast wealth for very few at the expense of very many.

Community gardening is often another attempt to development community across differences. The organizing of space, sharing work, formulating policies for sharing resources, and making generosity possible all aim at cooperation over competition. There are at times contests for the maintenance of plots or the perfection of some produce, but overall these healthier competitions advance common goals instead of halting human progress as greed does.

4-H, Girl Scouts, intramural sport, summer arts programs — all of these point the way for community building based on cooperation, community building where competition is kept to a minimum and fosters progress for the group. We have much to learn from these long term experiments in community building.

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