Humanity is sometimes credited with evolving through competition. While this may be true of the need for early humans to compete with other wild animals for food and shelter, the need to compete with other humans was less an issue in those early times as there were far fewer of us around. In fact, it’s now generally accepted cooperation among humans was much more important when it came to the survival of our species. Cultural similarities helped with such teamwork, of course.
But modern humanity lives in a world where competition is ‘king’. The question is ‘Why?’
And the answer is ‘Capitalism’. The word is defined as: ‘The possession of capital or wealth; a system in which private capital or wealth is used in the production or distribution of goods; the dominance of private owners of capital and of production for profit.’ (SOED).
Combined with the American Dream ‘the ideal that every citizen of the United States should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative’ (SOED), spread over much of the globe by cultural export and US supremacy in dictating a global financial system, it created modern Capitalism, which exists largely without adequate controls. Profit, often represented by the $, has become the prime, often the sole, reason for existence for most businesses.
Is that what we want? Does such a situation make for happiness and contentment among most humans? I think the answer is a clear and resounding ‘NO!’. In fact, modern Capitalism, and the inevitable competition and distortion of status accompanying it, is responsible for the most dangerous crisis the world has faced since we populated it: the Climate Crisis.
A major problem with Capitalism is its dependence on continual growth. The Earth is a finite space. As any physicist or mathematician knows, infinite growth in a finite space is impossible. So, a basic tenet of Capitalism is false. A second, and perhaps more dangerous aspect of this system is its insistence on the value of competition. Competition was lauded in the early days of industrial trading as a way of increasing the output of individuals, companies, and countries. It remains today: GDP is the gold standard of national pride and status as defined by the world’s financial institutions. It seems odd that money, a tool developed to replace a clumsy system of barter with an easier means of transaction, the exchange of work for the means to buy essential needs, has ceased to be a tool and is now the fundamental raison d’ȇtre for most corporations and master of us all. One might be forgiven for believing certain individuals and corporations have become as addicted to money as many people are addicted to heroin.
But competition has been allowed to spill over into all aspects of life. Individuals compete with one another for almost everything and create conflict with each other. Companies compete for resources that are fast becoming scarce and thereby advance that depletion. Countries, or their leaders, compete for territory and bring war as a result. The simplest example of negative competition is that occurring between life partners. When husband and wife compete, they undermine the very cooperation that binds them as a couple, yet it happens all the time, hence growing divorce rates.
Here, in the UK, we currently suffer under a Prime Minister who believes, like one of his predecessors, that greed is good, envy should be encouraged, and 16% of the population with a lower than average IQ should be effectively sacrificed in favour of the 2% with an IQ above 130 (my last IQ test, years ago, gave a score of 141 so I’m apparently one of this elevated group, but I utterly reject its use as a weapon against the poor and ill-educated). This attitude, displayed by Boris Johnson and his many supporters, is encouraged by the worship of money, profit, and constant consumption that results from unregulated competition. And this, when fully understood, is the fundamental cause of climate change and the coming Climate Emergency, which will inevitably result in turmoil beyond the imaginings of most people.
We need to reject GDP now and find a different way of measuring what we do, who we respect, what really matters. I propose everyone, from the beggar in the street to the wealthiest billionaire should ask the following questions before undertaking any action:
1. Do I NEED it? (need rather than desire).
2. Is it sustainable? (my carbon footprint will be unaltered or reduced).
3. Will I die without it? (I must have it to survive).
Only the answer ‘Yes’ to those three questions should let you take the action. It would be most helpful to this change of behaviour if we review our attitude to unnecessary competition and instead concentrate on cooperation don’t you think?