The Blue or The Red Pill, and the Paradox of Competition

Overview

This post compares and contrasts Tobias Werron’s research on “Why Do we Believe in Competition” with two other works on the subject of Competition: Bateson’s “The Myths of Independence and Competition” and Linda Hutcheon’s “Rhetoric and Competition“.

The Competition debate

Werron suggests that instead of choosing between competition as a good or bad concept in our current Neo Liberal social paradigms, there is a need for better understanding and a more in-depth study of long term institutionalization of modern forms of competition and its effect on our current societies.  

Werron’s approach differs from Bateson and Hutcheon in the sense that the work is more formal and the targeted audience seems to be more in the field of sociology, whereas Bateson and Hutcheon address a more multi disciplinary audience and in a less formal manner.

In Bateson’s “The Myths of Independence and Competition”, Bateson speech, taking place at an Anthropocene conference, tries to appeal to a broader and more multidisciplinary speech about the effects of modern competition on our ability to cooperate as members of the same species. Bateson tries to drive a point about the unnatural nature of competition by providing examples across multidisciplinary fields. She tries to establish competition as unnecessary, and expresses emphasis on the need for cooperation for us to be able to face major issues such as climate change.

In “Rhetoric and Competition”, Linda Hutcheon discusses the binary paradox of competition by focusing on the current agonistic(combative) state of critical thinking in higher Academia, and she questions why academic discourse has taken the form of survival and dismissal for the sake of survival. She questions the corporatization of current universities and how this corporatization has lead to a hierarchical layers in academic faculties, rewarding the solo achievements of scholars. She clearly shares her own personal bias and tendency by talking about her personal aversion to competition. Like Bateson, Hutcheon appears to take a side in the competition debate and encourages a departure from competition to cooperation.

However, Werron has more of a desire to highlight the evolution of competition in our modern society, and encourages more understanding of the transformations which the concept of competition has gone through since Adam Smith discussed the free hand of the market and tried to define “Free Competition”‘s benefit to consumers by offering them “natural prices” by disciplining producers. The concept of free competition has changed over time and it has morphed into more freedom for producers. Multinational and conglomerates keep getting bigger, owning most of our food chain, as well as their deep reach through heavy lobbying of legislatures. The free hand of the market has morphed into giant corporations dictating the laws of competition via lobbying the poloticians and legislators, which are in turn in debt to their corporate donors for political campaign donations. Competition has changed, and we need to understand it better.

So, Which pill to take in the Matrix of competition

In the movie Matrix, the character Morpheus offers the following choices to another character Neo :”You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth.”

In life we seem to be guided into making binary choices. Blue and Red, Good or Bad, Beautiful or Ugly, True and False multiple choice questions and the list goes on. We seem to face an endless list of choices and we are expected to put most of them in neatly defined binary boxes in our mind. A closer look at Werron’s papers showcases how based on the definition of comeptition, the good or bad nature of it can vary and is case dependant.

The truth is I had been conditioned as a Business graduate to strive for dominance, to be a winner and to increase profits and margins at the expanse of anything.

However, in my personal journey of growth and understanding the world around me, I have been adopting a new approach, one in which I try to not look at solutions to questions in terms of binary outcomes. In this new approach, I mostly focus on the depth of the question at hand and the evolution of the concepts embedded in the question. The ego within us is trained to pick the pill, to choose a side in a debate. Why do we need to pick a side in the Competition Vs Cooperation debate before we have a better understanding of the situational nature of competition and its different forms in our different societies.

In her response’s Conclusion, Felicity Cheung sums up how Werron’s more holistic view on competition:”Werron really saw the bigger picture of what competition was as part of the society. Gathering from his perspective, competition was an inevitable part of how society functioned as a whole.  As it could potentially have different meanings given that they are under different circumstances, and under different fields of studies.”

Conclusion

I agree with Werron, that we need to have better understanding of forms of competition and the very evolution of the concept of competition in our modern world. Maybe the truth about Competition is a situational phenomena, one in which competition can be good or bad depending on the specifics of a given situation. For us to connect as members of a common species instead of individual members of sovereign nations, we need to develop a better understanding of the concept of competition in order to be able to find ways to cooperate with each other in the face of the problems and obstacles that our species is set to face in the aftermath of the industrial revolution and free reign of Neo-Liberal Capitalism. Competition has morphed, and we need to understand its metamorphosis in order to be able to make a decision on its good or bad nature. Why take the pill Alice? Let’s obtain a more in depth understanding about the wonderland of competition before picking a side in this debate. Maybe we even get to realize that, there are no sides, but a rather situational context in which competition should be evaluated in.

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