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March 26, 2011 / Man in the Mirror

Competition

If you ask any man what it is most interferes with his enjoyment of existence, he will say: “The struggle for life.” He will say this in all sincerity; he will believe it. In a certain sense it is true; yet in another, and that a very important sense, it is profoundly false. The struggle for life is a thing which does, of course, occur. It may occur to any of us if we are unfortunate.

It is an inaccurate phrase which he has picked up in order to give dignity to something essentially trivial. Ask him how many men he has known in his class of life who have died of hunger.

What people mean, therefore, by the struggle for life is really the struggle for success. What people fear when they engage in the struggle is not that they will fail to get their breakfast next morning, but that they will fail to outshine their neighbors.

It is very singular how little men seem to realize that they are not caught in the grip of a mechanism from which there is no escape, but that the treadmill is one upon which they remain merely because they have not noticed that it fails to taken them up to a higher level.

The working life of this man has the psychology of a hundred-yard race, but as the race upon which he is engaged is one whose only goal is the grave.

If the man eager for success is to be made happier, he must first change his religion. So long as he not only desires success, but is whole-heartedly persuaded that it is a man’s duty to pursue success and that a man who does no do so is a poor creature, so long his life will remain too concentrated and too eager to be happy.

The social scale is indefinite and continually fluctuating. Consequently all the snobbish emotions become more restless than they are where the social order is fixed, and although money in itself may not suffice to make people grand, it is difficult to be grand without money. Moreover, money made is the accepted measure of brains, A man who makes a lot of money is a clever fellow; a man who does not, is not. Nobody likes to be thought a fool.

The root of the trouble springs from too much emphasis upon competitive success as the main source of happiness. I do not deny that money up to a certain point, is very capable of increasing happiness; beyond that point, I do not think it does so.

Take, for example, the question of reading. There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it. It has become the thing in Western societies for ladies to read (or seem to read) certain books every month; some read them, some read the first chapter, some read the reviews, but all have these books on their tables. They do not, however, ready any old masterpieces.

Consequently the reading that is done is entirely of modern books, which, of course are seldom and never of masterpieces. This also is an effect of competition, not perhaps wholly bad, since most of the ladies in question, if left to themselves, so far from reading masterpieces, would read books even worse than those selected for them by their literary pastors and masters.

Men and women appear to have become incapable of enjoying the more intellectual pleasures.

The trouble does not lie simply with the individual, nor can a single individual prevent it in his own isolated case. The trouble arises from the generally received philosophy of life, according to which life is a contest, a competition, in which respect is to be accorded to the victor. This view can lead to an undue civilization of the will at the expense of the senses and the intellect.

Our modern generation is killing themselves out. They do not, on the average, have so much as two children per marriage; they do not enjoy life enough to wish to beget children.

Those whose outlook on life causes them to feel so little happiness that they do not care to beget children are biologically doomed.

Competition considered as the main thing in life is too grim, too tenacious, too much a matter of taut muscles and intent will, to make a possible basis of life for more than one or two generations at most. After that length of time it must product nervous fatigue, various phenomena of escape, a pursuit of pleasures as tense as difficult as work (since relaxing has become impossible), and in the end a disappearance of the stock through sterility.

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