Mary Catherine Bateson is an eminent anthropologist, who is also the daughter of two eminent anthropologists (Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson). In “Myths of Independence and Competition” (published in a special issue of Systems Research & Behavioral Science dedicated to the Anthropocene) she argues that the Western cultural emphases on individualism and competition are 1) more myth than fact, and 2) are undermining humanity’s ability to deal with global problems. In an On Being interview last year, she explored and expanded on several of the same themes, as well as a few others.
The idea of competition is so fundamental that we often take it for granted as a natural good. Nearly every aspect of our lives involves competition: we compete in school, we compete for jobs, we compete at work, we compete socially, we compete in games and sports for fun, and when we are not competing ourselves we spend much of our time enjoying watching others compete. But our obsession with competition has several potential complications. A world divided into winners and losers, for example, is an inherently inequitable world – and there will always be far more “losers” than “winners”.