Reading Response- Rhetoric and Competition by Linda Hutcheon

Through providing analogies and a variety of case studies, Linda Hutcheon’s research paper, Rhetoric and Competition carefully demonstrates the implications of humans going down the path of “wolfish belittling and even demolishing of opposing positions”, creating an artificial zero-sum game despite there being no premise nor the necessity to do so, especially within academic discourse. In a sense, would building one’s own argument for the simply for the purpose of demonstrating one’s intellectual prowess over another not only demonstrate the barbaric nature of humans, but also their inner childishness? My personal response later in the paper will revolve around this one concept.


The three authors presented to us in the three different readings give widely varying perspectives on what it is that constitutes a competition, as well as human’s interpretation of it.

In the first reading, Bateson’s argument can be summed up as ‘although interdependence is present at each and every competition, regardless of the imaginary individualism illusion we grew up under.” In other words, cooperation is present regardless of whether or not we would like to admit it, as well as when faced with climate change, humans as ‘individuals’ would have no way of averting such a crisis. In comparison, Hutcheon’s paper is similar in the sense that we are living under an imaginary independence where our success relies solely on our efforts in an artificial zero-sum game. The factor that differentiates Bateson’s paper from Hutcheon’s is that Bateson’s focuses more on the individualistic aspect, and Hutcheon focusing on the aspect of discourse. In Bateson’s paper, the competition within an individualistic society is more of a secondary factor whereas Hutcheon’s paper is looking at the rationale behind those competitions, describing intellectual discourse as a type of competition, albeit its violent and aggressive tendencies stemming from the necessity of crushing the competitor’s argument to be a legitimate intellectual.

When referring to the term ‘competition’, Bateson would see it as the consequence of the importance placed on individualism. Throughout her paper it does not clearly address the definition of competition, and is only brought up alongside Darwin’s theory of ‘survival of the fittest’. To regard Bateson’s paper as an evidence for proving competition having a fluid definition would not be accurate as the main argument of the paper is not for the purpose of defining competition, but rather that we, as humankind should learn to cooperate despite there being factors such as competition, individualism, and so forth.

Werron, contrasting with Bateson, delves more into the mechanisms of competition and what exactly can be defined as a competition.

When Hutcheon is brought into comparison with Werron, her paper more so criticizes the necessity of competition, particularly in academic discourse. Werron, delves more into theories that could potentially define what exactly constitutes as a competition (surely, not everything in life is a competition). Some examples include defining competition as two or more competitors competing for the favour of a neutral third party. In this case, the two competitors do not actually interact with one another in their competition, other than through the third party. Other theories were also brought up, each with overlapping definitions. As a result of this discovery, Werron urges for the need for further research on the topic of defining a competition. Although both papers are linked related to one another on the topic of competition, it is difficult to compare as both of their perspectives of competition are widely different. Hutcheon’s paper does not exactly question the definition of a competition, but looks more at the negative consequences of what society has defined to be competition, in particular, intellectual discourse. To put it into perspective, Werron’s paper is more on the procedure of a competition and Hutcheon the results of it.

To conclude, I do not believe bringing up all of Hutcheon’s, Werron’s or Bateson’s argument is enough justification to confidently state they are referring to different things, but rather, I believe that they are indeed referring to the umbrella term of ‘competition’.


In Hutcheon’s paper in particular, I would like to first state that her argument on the wolfish nature of academic discourses is very much justified, as there are real-life examples where it indeed is used as confirmation for bringing down and regressing human society. For example, as brought up in warnersam’s response, after the 2016 elections where rivalling parties only contested each other for the purpose of proving their legitimacy in the race. Such an attitude towards something as high of an office as the president’s, it certainly reflects the barbaric nature when it comes to proving intellectual thought, whether or not physical force is used.


However that being said, I would like to play the devil’s advocate. Within an intellectual discourse, who are we to say one end is becoming too violent or aggressive? Doing so would imply two things: One, that we do not respect the competitors’ position as a scholar, equating an intellectual discourse that simply involves the action of questioning the others’ argument for stating there are valid reasons why this stance cannot go forward. It is because of argumentation, and elements of critical thought that we are able to think in such a way to make sure there are no loose ends in one’s argument; if one’s intellectual prowess was so incredible, would you not agree in that case scholars would not have the ability to poke holes in their stance? In fact, regardless of their intellectual prowess, to say that a scholar would be crushed from their colleagues or peers putting down their debate is simply insulting. Who is a scholar that cannot change their mind? That they must have this specific stance no matter the evidence or logical justifications why it would not work?

Certainly, you may say particularly in warnersam’s response and others’ response that they have brought significant evidence that people do become violent, and aggressive when it comes to proving themselves right. That fact is true; inevitably there will be people that hurl personal insults when things don’t go their way, and people who will resort to physical violence simply to convince the other. But can all of those things be because there is a such thing as a debate, or your stance, or is that something because of the lack of education in proper argumentation?

With these ideas in mind, I would like to conclude my response on a final note: just like my stance on debate is on the fact that it can be questioned, everything in my paper is free for anyone to question- given that you have sufficient evidence and justification to back up your point. To live in a stagnant world that only involves discussion would imply having and not having a stance are the same thing- they serve no purpose as that would lead to the wolfish debate Hutcheon so feared. But in a world like that, I would hardly think it would be filled with new ideas from the adrenaline of needing to compete, question, and ultimately debate on what is truly the more rational and logical argument out of the many.

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