Sunday, June 03, 2007

The out-of-control desire to win.

There is a big difference between being competitive and harbouring an out-of-control desire to win. Many people confuse the two. If you have a healthy competitive spirit, you can recognize where competition is appropriate and behave with a certain amount of decorum (that in sports we would call sportsmanship, but I prefer the word decorum as it is gender neutral, all PC paranoia aside). When you start to look at everything in your life as some kind of game that is won or lost, then you have sunk from healthy competition and you have been devoured by the out-of-control desire to win. Cheating is symptomatic of this desire, but not the only symptom. You can play by the rules all the time and still let this desire get the best of you.

I see this a lot on internet message boards, where people will pull all kinds of (psyche)logical trickery in order to appear to win debates. People trained in philosophy will accuse their opponents of obscure fallacies that might indeed be operational in the opponent's argument, but nevertheless their opponent is erring in the right. There is nothing so irksome as people who use these tricks thinking that because they can point such deficiencies out, they are right, which is sometimes not the case. And because they can point out such deficiencies out, people are more prone to call them right. When they are arguing for the wrong side, this kind of rightness so often devolves into evil. Also, using words in debates to attack the other person's credibility, words such as "ideology," "sophistry," or "rhetoric" in a pejorative sense is also a fairly contemptible tactic, as "ideology" and "rhetoric" are totalizing words like "nature." In other words, there is nothing said that exists outside of their realm of influence, including the words of the person using them pejoratively. While you can attack someone's argument for being too divorced from the practices of everyday life, in other words, too abstract, the sophists had a world view that goes beyond just playing with words to throw your opponent off their logic thread. Using the word "sophistry" pejoratively does an injustice to this world view. The fallacy people use the most that degrades everyone involved in the argument is the ad hominem fallacy: attacking the person making the argument, rather than the argument itself.

The out-of-control desire to win functions in interpersonal relationships as well. How many friendships or sexual relationships have ended or been damaged because of this desire? It manifests itself in a need to always control the way things happen. For instance, you have a friend who will only call you if you call them first, or will only enter into a social engagement if you go to their house, their "home field" so-to-speak. While this is not necessarily a desire to win, it exhibits evidence of a similar power dynamic. Balance is lost. Another example would be two lovers, involved in an ongoing argument that always seems to result in one or the other feeling disheartened and desolate. Love is not a game though, and neither is friendship. This desire, and the self's loss of control over the desire (expressed through a desire to control) is a major malaise of our society.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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