This reading response focuses on three essays — Hutcheon’s “Rhetoric and Competition”, Bateson’s “The Myth of Independence and Competition” and Werron’s “Why do we believe in competition”. The first section will briefly outline the content of Hutcheon’s argument, to give some context. The second section attempts to compare the content of the argument in these three essays. The third section is going to examine if these three essays are using the same definition of competition.
The content of Hutcheon’s argument
“Rhetoric and Competition” can be seen as Hutcheon’s plea — or a friendly challenge, to her readers to think beyond competition and to conceive of new ways of working together collaboratively. Throughout the article, Hutcheon highlighted the culture of confrontation, dispute, contempt in academia, where classrooms have seemingly become the sites of combat and one-upmanship, with us equating critical thinking with wolfish belittling and demolishing of opposing positions. This observation echoes with Michael S Roth’s “Young Minds in Critical Condition” (May, 2014). In that, Roth cautioned us about essentially creating a generation of “self-satisfied debunkers”. Of course, critical reflection, or even intellectual one-upmanship, is not totally without value, but by overdeveloping the capacity to show how texts fail to accomplish what they set out to do, we might be “depriving ourselves of the chance to learn as much as possible from others”. On this, Hutcheon concluded by telling his audience to put their either/or mentality behind — the one filled with demolition, enmity ; embrace the both/and mentality— engage in inclusive, complementary counter discourse.
Comparing the content of Hutcheon’s argument with Bateson’s and Werron’s
First, overall, I would say the content of Hutcheon’s and Bateson’s arguments are very similar. Both see competition in a negative light, urge readers to move beyond competition and look more into cooperation. Bateson argues that humans will only survive by thinking systemically as parts of a larger system, cooperating as parts of a larger system, not as separate and competitive organisms. Only by doing this — moving pass competition and looking more into cooperation, can we alleviate dire problems like climate change.
However, the two seem to disagree on the reason behind our competitiveness: what makes us so drawn to competition, as supposed to cooperation? While Hutcheon blames the phenomenon on the expansion of market economies and by extension, the model of corporate capitalism (which many developed countries follow), and current reward system, Bateson has a more complex argument for this: it has to do with the myth of independence. “Independence training” starts at birth, where newborns are trained to sleep alone in cribs. Growing up we’re taught to be more independent, the notion of a positive way to grow older is to “want to be independent” is undoubtedly, deeply ingrained in our minds. As a result, in an extremely individualistic society like Canada, independence becomes a justification of competition in preference to competition. We regard competition as the law of the land, the only way to survive in such a competitive world.
Second, in contrast, the content of Hutcheon’s and Werron’s arguments are very different. 1) The Attitude towards competition. While Hutcheon sees competition in a negative light, a problem to be dealt with( a normative analysis), Werron on the other hand, is making an empirical analysis, he sees competition as a general social form(Simmel), a historically grounded concept dating back to the mid 18th century. 2) The purpose/ main argument. While Hutcheon urges readers to move pass beyond competition and to look into cooperation, Werron cautions readers against premature conclusions on the “role and legitimacy of competition in modernity” and against seeing the expansion of competition merely as an outcome of neo-liberal market ideology. Side note, interestingly in one way, Werron is explicitly oppose to the very idea of Hutcheon’s regarding the expansion of modern forms of competition. Most importantly, Werron underlines the need for more detailed studies on the long-term institutionalization of modern forms of competition in various societal fields.
Are these three essays using the same definition of competition?
In general, Hutcheon and Bateson both see competition in a negative light, as a barrier, something that stops people from cooperating. Hutcheon mainly focuses on competition in the academia, while Bateson talks about competition in the broader sense, targeting a general audience.
Werron, on the other hand, has a neutral stance on competition — Modern forms of competition are competitions “for the favor of an audience that are (re-)produced by public comparisons of performance”, that has evolved from a political-economic promise in the mid 18th century to an institutional imaginary in the 1970s.
Every aspect in our lives involve competition, while there are no doubt drawbacks to competition, we cannot deny how fundamentally it is in our lives. While I appreciate Bateson’s view on competition —how it is a barrier to cooperation, a problem to be dealt with, in reality I believe we should strike a healthy balance between competition and cooperation. At times, Competition can be the motivation people need to push themselves forward towards the “finishing line”.