In response to a previous post, Sergio asks:
I also have a question for you, and it´s about the nexus of concepts involving positive-sum societies, meritocracy, envy, life-as-a-game and the issue of losers/winners. Recently I read Kenneth Minogue´s insightful book “The servile mind”, and he claims that one of the central traist of the West´s success vis-a-vis traditional societies, is the view of life as a game (he mention Huizinga´s homo ludens), because it tends to prize merit (“the best player”) which then tends to be good for all. However, how to deal with losers and their “self-esteem”? The modern PC solution is a sham because they spouse a totally fake/forced egalitarianism in order to spare people *any* feeling of failure or inadequacy (as if it solved anything).
Minogue doesn´t enter this issue beyond observing that Western societies have so many different possible roles that people, if motivated enough, could find “success” in *some* roles. But the fact is that losers tend to be resentful and we know the power of resentment to create untold damage.
What´s your view on that?
I would put it slightly differently. We have relegated zero-sum games primarily to games (sports, gambling). There is competition in all cultures; the question is, how do cultures handle the results. Honor-shame cultures tend to “rig” the deck in favor of the already honorable (incumbency) and to exclude from high-stake competition whole groups of people (manual labor) whose success would violate the proper “order.” Here violence plays a key role (most are, by modern standards, militaristic societies), where “la raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure.”
In the West, we have linked egalitarianism with meritocracy – everyone can compete, the best, regardless of class ethnicity etc gets rewarded. (You can complain that affirmative action has reversed that – which it was not supposed to do – but that doesn’t touch the broader point that no political culture has been as meritocratic as the West.
I remember one day i saw a book in my father’s study titled Meritocracy. I asked him what it was about. He described the basic principles of a meritocracy (basically the ones I had grown up learning were the proper “rules of the game”). So what’s the problem? Many people don’t want to hear that they don’t merit what they think they should have. (I.e., as I was later to learn, the difficulty of real self-criticism.)
Fromm hit the nail on the head in Escape from Freedom: the problem with freedom is that it comes with responsibility. You want to make choices? How do you deal with making the wrong choice? In that sense, democratic freedoms call for maturity from the whole populace (hence my emphasis on demotic values that discipline and empower the populace). They call for an ability on everyone’s part to take (at least some) responsibility for our own mistakes. It means that citizens have to struggle with and overcome envy as much as possible. Schoeck would say, you can’t get rid of envy, but you can challenge it into its more positive forms of competition.
This means, among other things, that you can’t just bring democracy to any culture and say, “there you go.” The notion of a “domino-effect” of democracy, what i call the Chomskyite Bush doctrine that holds democracy as a default mode, and (our support to) dictators as the only reason democracy (or egalitarian unoppressive societies) don’t flourish, is silly. We have a contemporary expression of it in the “Arab Spring” fever of our journalists – get rid of the dictator and you’ll have a flourishing of civil society.