Manual The Competition Obsession:a philosophy of non-competitive living

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It is, ironically, a culture that tries to pin on the animal world responsibility for human viciousness. Michael Vick, one of our great gladiatorial football competitors, recently admitted to sponsoring brutal dogfights. The real dogfights, of course, are the football games he played in, where injury and even death are not unavoidable costs but covertly attractive features of the sport.

Where steroid use is forgivable, or at least understandable, on the way to a winning record. It is much the same with entertainment. Our most successful shows, themselves in a competition for survival with one another sweeps week! On American Idol , singing is the excuse but winning the real aim. Top Chef is not about excellence or variety in cooking, but about winning and losing. Project Runway turns a pluralistic fashion industry that caters to many tastes into a race with clocks and time limits in which there is but one winner.

The competitive culture hypes winners but is equally more? American politics too is founded on competition. Contrast electoral politics in our representative democracy with citizen politics in a participatory democracy, where the aim is not to win but to achieve common ground and secure public goods—a model of politics in which no one wins unless everyone wins, and a loss for some is seen as a loss for all.

How different from this the American system has become. As each election rolls around, we complain that ideas and policy are shoved to the background and personality and the horse race it engenders are placed front and center. Why, as a nation, are we so obsessed with competition, so indifferent to cooperation? For starters, competition really is as American as apple pie. America has always been deeply individualistic, and individualism has presumed the insularity and autonomy of persons and, thus, a natural rivalry among them.

Capitalism also embraces competition as its animus, and America is nothing if not capitalistic. Even the American understanding of democracy, which emphasizes representation and the collision of interests, puts the focus on division and partisanship. There are, of course, democratic alternatives. Systems of proportional representation, for example, aim to ensure fair representation of all parties and views no matter how numerous. Polarization is more an ideal than a pathology, and incivility is politics properly understood. The most partisan politicians, upon winning, must govern in the name of all, using the powers of overweening government they have secured, so to hell with all politicians.

More than anything else, our modern neoliberal ideology contends that competition and a culture of winners and losers assures us all our freedom. Like the corporate winners in the global marketplace and the political winners of the American electoral sweepstakes, even the ordinary winners on Survivor and its ilk are liberated from mundane constraints.

Steven H. Homel's The Competition Obsession:a philosophy of non-competitive PDF

No wonder American winners lose perspective and put themselves above sexual norms, above ordinary standards, above the law. Ruskin is turned on his head: An addicted individual isn't able to see value in unrelated activities and pursues his sport even when it is against his best interest.

The exercise addict has lost his balance: Exercise has become overvalued compared to elements widely recognized as giving meaning in a full life -- work, friends, family, community involvement -- in short, the fruits of our humanity. When emotional connections are passed up in favor of additional hours of training; when injury, illness and fatigue don't preempt a workout; when all free time is consumed by training -- exercise addiction is the diagnosis.

Warning lights for addiction include withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, irritability, and depression that appear when circumstances prevent you from working out. To the addict, there is no exception to the rule "the more the better.

Political philosophy

Anything that interferes with the lust for more exercise is resented. The paradox inherent in exercise addiction is the blurred boundary between what is healthy, admirable and desirable, and behavior that is over the edge and dependent. As runners and fitness enthusiasts, we value individuals who seem to epitomize the true athlete who achieves success by virtue of discipline, sacrifice, and hard work. Peak fitness and excellence, which we aspire to achieve with our own running, require a dogged commitment to training despite circumstances and moods that would conspire against your resolve.

Once we accomplish a training routine and the necessary commitment, isn't it normal to feel irritable and a little depressed when we miss our run? Part of the paradox for the exercise-dependent is that levels of achievement are often beneath what is expected for the obviously high level of commitment. Performance suffers when value is placed only on working out. The addict answers poor performance with running more and resting less.

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A healthy athlete looks at the big picture and adjusts training programs allowing for rest and recovery among all the training variables. Experts have argued as to whether exercise addiction is linked to the highly touted "runner's high," due in part to the release of beta-endorphins during and after intense exercise.

Most agree though, that exercise addiction is the result of psychological factors. In the case of exercise addiction, the underlying psychological causes are usually linked by low self-esteem, which finds gratification in the gains made by training. If you see a little too much of yourself in these paragraphs, don't run the other direction. Find a good counselor or someone else whose opinion you trust and discuss the possibility of exercise addiction.

As you work with a counselor, change the emphasis of your exercise from "more is better," to quality. Objective progress can be made by planning your workouts with an experienced trainer on a weekly basis, with rest and recovery given the emphasis they deserve in a well-balanced training program. Write down a seven-day schedule, planning mileage, intensity, rest, and any cross-training activities with specific, reasonable goals relative to your skills.

Working with a trainer, set outside limits for number of workout hours in any given week. Count all exercise in your total -- stretching, warm-ups, cool-downs, cross-training, walking, yoga -- everything. Do not exceed the mileage, time, or intensity that you've planned. Never work out just because you found an extra hour or two in your day. Another influential and politically important strain of political philosophy emerged from the Reformation and Counter-Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries. During this period Protestant and Catholic dogmatists denounced each other and even attacked the authority of princes who, from interest or conviction , supported one side or the other.

Political assassination became endemic , for both Protestant and Catholic divines declared that it was legitimate to kill a heretical ruler. Appeal was made to rival religious authority as well as to conscience. In the resulting welter Hobbes and Spinoza advocated a sovereign state as the remedy. But other political philosophers salvaged the old Thomist concept of a divine cosmic order and of natural and human laws sanctioning the state.

They also put forth the Classical and medieval idea of the derivation of public power from the commonwealth as a whole and the responsibility of princes to the law. When Hobbes wrote that might makes right, he outraged such critics, who continued to assert that public power was responsible to God and the laws and that it was right to resist a tyrant who declared that the laws were in his own breast. This political theory was most influentially developed in England, where it inspired the constitutionalism that would also predominate in the United States.

Richard Hooker , an Anglican divine who wrote Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie —97 , reconciled Thomist doctrines of transcendent and natural law , binding on all human beings, with the authority of the Elizabethan Church of England , which he defended against the Puritan appeal to conscience. Society, he argued, is itself the fulfillment of natural law, of which human and positive law are reflections, adapted to society. Public power is not something personal, for it derives from the community under law. Such power can derive either directly from God or else from the people.

Law makes the king, not the king law.

The Thomist medieval universal harmony had been adapted to the nation-state. It was John Locke , politically the most influential English philosopher, who further developed this doctrine. His Two Treatises of Government were written to justify the Glorious Revolution of —89, and his Letter Concerning Toleration was written with a plain and easy urbanity, in contrast to the baroque eloquence of Hobbes. Locke was a scholar, physician, and man of affairs, well-experienced in politics and business.

As a philosopher he accepted strict limitations on the faculties of the mind, and his political philosophy is moderate and sensible, aimed at a balance of power between the executive, the judiciary , and the legislature , though with a bias toward the last see separation of powers ; checks and balances. His first Treatise was devoted to confuting the royalist doctrine of the divine right of kings by descent from Adam , an argument then taken very seriously and reflecting the idea of government as an aspect of the divinely ordained Great Chain of Being.

If this order were broken, chaos would ensue. The argument was part of the contemporary conflict of the Ancients and the Moderns. It was the threat of attack on the laws, property, and the Protestant religion that had roused resistance to the Roman Catholic monarch James II. Locke was thus no democrat in the modern sense and was much concerned to make the poor work harder. Like Hooker, he assumes a conservative social hierarchy with a relatively weak executive power and defends the propertied classes both against a ruler by divine right and against radicals.

In advocating toleration in religion, he was more liberal: Within the possibilities of the time, Locke thus advocated a constitutional mixed government, limited by parliamentary control of the armed forces and of supply. Designed mainly to protect the rights of property, it was deprived of the right of arbitrary taxation or imprisonment without trial and was in theory responsible to all the people through the politically conscious minority who were thought to represent them.

Although Locke was socially conservative, his writings are very important in the rise of liberalism in political philosophy. He vindicates the responsibility of government to the governed, the rule of law through impartial judges, and the toleration of religious and speculative opinion. He is an enemy of the totalitarian state, drawing on medieval arguments and deploying them in practical, modern terms. The 18th-century British statesman Edmund Burke , while elaborating Whig constitutional doctrine expressed with such common sense by Locke, wrote with more emotion and took more account of time and tradition.

While reiterating that government is responsible to the governed and distinguishing between a political society and a mere mob, he thought that governments were trustees for previous generations and for posterity. He made the predominant political philosophy of the 18th-century establishment appear more attractive and moral, but he wrote no great single work of political philosophy, expressing himself instead in numerous pamphlets and speeches. He invoked a transcendent morality to sanction a constitutional commonwealth , but he detested abstract political theories in whose name society is likely to be vivisected.

He set great store by ordered liberty and denounced the arbitrary power of the Jacobins who had captured the French Revolution. In his Reflections on the Revolution in France and An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs , he discerned in the doctrine of sovereignty of the people, in whose name the revolutionaries were destroying the old order, another and worse form of arbitrary power.

He was realistic in predicting the consequences of violent revolution, which usually ends up in some kind of dictatorship.

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Burke, in sophisticated accents, spoke for the ancient and worldwide rule of custom and conservatism and supplied a needed romanticism to the calculating good sense of Locke. The political philosophies hitherto surveyed contained little idea of progress. In antiquity the idea of cyclic recurrence predominated, and even 18th-century Christians believed that the world had been created in bce and would end in the Second Coming of Christ.

His Scienza nuova ; New Science interpreted history as an organic process involving language, literature, and religion and attempted to reveal the mentality or ethos of earlier ages: These ages recur, and each is distinguished by mythology , heroic poetry , and rational speculation, respectively.

In contrast to the legalistic, contractual, and static political philosophies then prevalent, Vico had discerned new horizons. It was an ambitious treatise on human institutions and a pioneer work of anthropology and sociology. He made the pedestrian good sense of Locke seem provincial, though he admired him and the British constitution. This doctrine much influenced the founders of the United States and the early French Revolutionaries.

The revolutionary romanticism of the Swiss French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau may be interpreted in part as a reaction to the analytic rationalism of the Enlightenment. He was trying to escape the aridity of a purely empirical and utilitarian outlook and attempting to create a substitute for revealed religion.

There had been radical political slogans coined in medieval peasant revolts and in the 17th century, as in the debates following the revolt of radical officers in the Cromwellian army , but the inspiration of these movements had been religion. Now Rousseau proclaimed a secular egalitarianism and a romantic cult of the common man. Rousseau was a romantic , given to weeping under the willows on Lake Geneva, and his political works are hypnotically readable, flaming protests by one who found the hard rationality of the 18th century too exacting.

But man is not, as Rousseau claims, born free. Man is born into society, which imposes restraints on him. Ideas similar to that of the general will became accepted as a basis for both the social-democratic welfare state and totalitarian dictatorships. And, since the idea was misapplied from small village or civic communities to great sovereign nation-states, Rousseau was also the prophet of a nationalism that he never advocated.

Rousseau himself wanted a federal Europe. That the concept of general will was vague only increased its adaptability and prestige: Rousseau could inspire liberals, such as the 19th-century English philosopher T. Green , to a creative view of a state helping people to make the best of their potential through a variety of free institutions.


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It could also play into the hands of demagogues claiming to represent the general will and bent on molding society according to their own abstractions. Bentham judged all laws and institutions by their utility thus defined. Bentham was an atheist and an exponent of the new laissez-faire economics of Adam Smith and David Ricardo , but he inspired the spate of legislation that, after the Reform Bill of , had tackled the worst consequences of 18th-century inefficiency and of the Industrial Revolution. His influence, moreover, spread widely abroad. At first a simple reformer of law, Bentham attacked notions of contract and natural law as superfluous.

Bentham thought men far more reasonable and calculating than they are and brushed aside all the Christian and humanist ideas rationalizing instinctive loyalty and awe. Mill postulated an economic individual whose decisions, if freely taken, would always be in his own interest, and he believed that universal suffrage , along with utilitarian legislation by a sovereign parliament, would produce the kind of happiness and well-being that Bentham desired.

In his Essay on Government Mill thus shows a doctrinaire faith in a literate electorate as the means to good government and in laissez-faire economics as a means to social harmony. Whereas James Mill had been entirely pragmatic , his son tried to enhance more sophisticated values. He thought that civilization depended on a tiny minority of creative minds and on the free play of speculative intelligence. He detested conventional public opinion and feared that complete democracy, far from emancipating opinion, would make it more restrictive.

Amid the dogmatic and strident voices of midth-century nationalists, utopians, and revolutionaries, the quiet, if sometimes priggish, voice of mid-Victorian liberalism proved extremely influential in the ruling circles of Victorian England. Accepting democracy as inevitable, John Stuart Mill expressed the still optimistic and progressive views of an intellectual elite.

Without complete liberty of opinion, he insisted, civilizations ossify.


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The quality of progress results not merely from the blind forces of economic competition but from the free play of mind. Mill also advocated the legal and social emancipation of women, holding that ability was wasted by mid-Victorian conventions. He believed that the masses could be educated into accepting the values of liberal civilization, but he defended private property and was as wary of rapid extensions of the franchise as of bureaucratic power.

Since the United States was then the only existing large-scale democracy, Tocqueville decided to study it firsthand, and the result was a classic account of early 19th-century American civilization. Tocqueville greatly admired American representative institutions and made a penetrating analysis of the new power of the press.

He realized, as few people then did, that the United States and Russia would become world powers, and he contrasted the freedom of the one and the despotism of the other. He also foresaw that under democracy education would be respected more as a ladder to success than for its intrinsic content and might thus become mediocre. He was alive to the dangers of uniform mediocrity but believed, like Mill, that democracy could be permeated by creative ideas. This kind of humanism was given a more elaborate philosophical content by the English philosopher T. Green, whose Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation greatly influenced members of the Liberal Party in the British governments of the period — Hegel an organic theory of the state.

While hostile to the abuse of landed property, Green did not advocate socialism. He accepted the idea that property should be private and unequally distributed and thought the operation of the free market the best way to benefit the whole of society; for free trade would, he thought, diminish the inequalities of wealth in a common prosperity. But Green would have extended the power of the state over education, health, housing, town planning , and the relief of unemployment—a new departure in Liberal thought.

These recommendations are embedded in the most elaborate and close-knit intellectual construction made by any modern British political philosopher, and they laid the foundation of the British welfare state.

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Whereas Green avoided the extension of liberal and constitutional principles into international affairs, the Italian patriot and revolutionary prophet Giuseppe Mazzini made it his vision and became the most influential prophet of liberal nationalism. This vision inspired the more idealistic aspects of the Italian Risorgimento national revival or resurrection and of nationalistic revolts in Europe and beyond.

Although, in fact, fervid nationalism often proved destructive, Mazzini advocated a united Europe of free peoples, in which national singularities would be transcended in a pan-European harmony. This sort of liberal democratic idealism was catching, and even if it frequently inspired Machiavellian policies, it also inspired Pres. Woodrow Wilson of the United States—who, had he not been thwarted by domestic opposition, might well have made the Mazzini-inspired League of Nations a success. Moreover, the modern European Union owes much to the apparently impractical liberal idealism of Mazzini.

The founders of the United States were deeply influenced by republicanism, by Locke, and by the optimism of the European Enlightenment. George Washington , John Adams , and Thomas Jefferson all concurred that laws , rather than men, should be the final sanction and that government should be responsible to the governed. But the influence of Locke and the Enlightenment was not entirely happy. Adams, who followed Washington as president, prescribed a constitution with a balance of executive and legislative power checked by an independent judiciary.

The federal constitution , moreover, could be amended only by a unanimous vote of the states. The civil power controlled the military, and there was religious toleration and freedom of the press and of economic enterprise. Most significantly, the concept of natural rights had found expression in the Declaration of Independence and was to influence markedly political and legal developments in the ensuing decades, as well as inspire the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen While a liberal political philosophy within a framework of capitalistic free trade and constitutional self-government dominated the greatest Western powers, mounting criticism developed against centralized government itself.

Radical utopianism and anarchism , previously expounded mainly by religious sects, became secularized in works such as Political Justice by William Godwin , New View of Society by Robert Owen , and voluminous anticlerical writings by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. He denounced the wars accepted by most political philosophers and all centralized coercive states. The remedy, he thought, was not violent revolution, which produces tyranny, but education and freedom, including sexual freedom.

His was a program of high-minded atheistic anarchy. The English socialist Robert Owen, a cotton spinner who had made a fortune, also insisted that bad institutions, not original sin or intrinsic folly, caused the evils of society, and he sought to remedy them by changing the economic and educational system.