I have decided to write a note exploring both the idea of success and the idea of losing gracefully in one piece of writing. It is true that we all live within a great number of pre-set limits and conditions. Most people at least claim not to be worried by most of them. We know some insects can live in suspended animation for years at a time, sperm whales can swim unaided into deep ocean trenches to hunt the giant squid, some trees live with their neighbors and relatives in peaceful adult coexistence for venturies if they can survive the traumas and trial of youth wheteher a male or a female most of us can find other living creatures which seem to have more sexual fun and a better deal than any humans we associate with of our gender. Except for artists (in the broadest sense),shamans, a few saints and the occasional lunatic most of us don’t empathize enough with other creatures to really feel the sense of watching some animal or being and knowing the sense of not having somethng they take for granted. Beyond interspecies differences, we can be aware that Charlemagne, Alexander the Great, Plato and Sun Tzu were all completely unable to win the World Series or the NASCAR trophies that we watch others compete for or avoid watching people compete for each day. The world rushes by each of us according to the age and space in which we live and there are no persons who have all human options open to them. Thus, whenever we speak of success and even of the most extreme kind of success we are speaking of a limited and relative kind of thing.
In fact, a rather well known line of poetry encourages us to see our limits in achieving the greatness we percieve in a good and happy way. “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp else what’s a Heaven for?” On a clear night the naked eye can see Arcturus many billions of miles away while a naked and unaided body can leap and grab an object not much over twenty feet from one’s naked resting eyeballs. Therefore, there does seem to be rather a disparity between the reachof purely physical perception and the grasp of grip. However, its hard to measure exactly how much further away is the farthest thing we can touch with our finger tips from the farthest thing we can grasp in our hands. Such a difference seems subpoetic somehow. So perhaps reach is meant in its broadest literal meaning as the underlying foundation of this metaphor. Some of us compare our actual achievements to goals analagous to those objects just at our fingertips and others of us tned to compare our achievements to goals as practically remote as Arcturus is distant. While I don’t think loftier goals always mean a less happy person they may certainly break down smugness and self satisfaction.
What about all the many how-to books of the self-help variety that tend to promote success as a goal which is relatively universal and easily identified? Can success reaslly be at all ambiguous or mysterious if so many agree on what is meant in the writing, publishing and purchase of all these books?
Perhaps one reason that sports and other games are so widely enjoyed by so many kinds of people is that in these games success can be identified more easily than in life. While in practice winning may not be the only goal that players and coaches address it is certainly one of the major goals in everygame. And even when a team or player is involved in a game or competition where winning is not a realistic goal and is not reall sought, winning remains the standard by which their efoorts are measured and assessed. This sort of game theory applies readily war. One hopes for and should seek victory but often it is best to put up a great fight and lose utterly than simply to lose utterly. The conqueror’s desire for revenge will not often cause as much harm as will be avoided by having taught them to fear renewed hostility, having reduced their forces, having proved unpredictable and having proven that one can stand strong for commitments given. The way one achieves these secondary objectives however is usually by trying to win.
In some kinds of play winning is not so clear and not so important. Often there are still victories involved but they are the victories of the type whiich actors describe in doing a scene. They are subtle kinds of plays for and calculations of dominance and position. Some forms of feminism have tried to hide the fact that in most cases and at most times women will avoid forms of direct contest in zero-sum competition with their husbands, potential husbands and potential sons-in-law. There are very good reasons for that. Nonetheless, in Greek which was so dominant over so much of culture for so long the women had their Heraklion games as a counterpart to the Olympic games and competed fiercely in athletics with one another. I think society is much richer when women speak the language of competition as men experience it. A little man to woman competiton in formal systems can add some spice as well. But men competing directly with women in hard fought games will never be the main course of a healthy society. Danika Patrick enhances INDY racing’s appeal because she is the sexy, good-looking woman who gives the guys a good run for their money. Other women come and go and she keeps the door open for them. INDY could probably handle another ten women of her caliber or better. But another 25 women like her would hurt its appeal. I watch the sport more because of her, but I enjoy watching her and the men compete in a man’s sport.
Coed soccer with little boys and girls is laying a foundation for a better future I think. Any good future will involve a lot of single sex competition. Cheerleading is a kind of sport and artform used to emphasize the really maco qualities of a given sport by accenting the fit and able females cheering for it. Male cheerleaders exist and can be important but they support and supplement the women involved. Men can also benefit from learining some female-dominated skill sets. It can be refreshing to everyone if old Widower Fred puts on a good social event as his wife once did. If men are throwing most of the dinner parties then that group of dinner parties will surely be in decline.
All of the kinds of success that I have mentioned are distinct from the big life-defining measure of overall success. Those seem different as well from the suceess measures of a society. I think that in my own life there has been a pretty good level of mixture between success and failure, winning and losing. I have had more than a few victories of various kinds. However, most of my life I have felt very aware that I could not overcome many of the difficulties that seemed most important to me. By most of the standards I value my life has been largely a failure. In may ways, things have gone mostly from bad to worse. I would describe myself as divorced, childless, unemloyed, not really solvent, physically challenged unhappy and without much rapport with people. While sincerely mean all of those things they are not the whole story. My situation is actually very complex. Even as a young child however I began to calculate that I was not likely to have a very happy life. My experiences and studies since then have mostly made me believe that as a child I was insightful rather than pessimistic or emotionally or mentally damaged. I think that the modern era has so much literal and metaphorical blood on its hands that it must take refuge in the idea of depression as mental illness. Modern society cannot begin to make ammends for all the evil it does, therefore it must say that thoses it injures have something wrong with the apparatus that records and evaluates injury. Painkillers are given when really the assault causing the pain and the wounds resulting should be the focus of attention.
The world has always been a place of great suffering and much that is wrong and evil has often happened here in every age of humankind. But I do think that as a species there are almost always fewer chances for the best tmes and structures of the human race to reassert themselves. The most squalid slums and refugee camps endure for generations now. Vast mountains of waste are produced by the rich and inflicted upon the environment. The healthiest expressions of each religion are often driven out and held out by the pincer action of secularism and fanaticism. I think a lot of things are getting worse.I favor the advance of technology and I don’t blame all problems on technological change. However, I think that it is less of an offset than some people technical advancement is probable in many scenarios. Knowledge tends to expand we should not celebrate ourselves too much as a result.
If we had a culture building sustainable seamount and undersea colonies on a big scale, turning waste into energy, colonizing mars and creating vast parks near all major megalopolises then I would say that such a technostorm was offestting most of the evils of the modern age. Instead, I see the human race as getting poorer over all.
In the coming Election I will be very glad to vote for Sarah Palin and won’t mind voting for McCain. If they lose I will see the election of Obama as a very bad thing for the futrure. I have discussed why in other notes. I believe that we will be losing some thing that cannot be quickly remedied.
However, it does not seem much worse or as bad as many other events that shaped history. I think that from a philosophical point of view I am getting more and more accustomed to losing gracefully. At a personal level I find that society exists as a place where my values are often destined to lose. When I do have a play to make I often think that I am in a situation where even a solid win will be a loss. But of course I may lose and often do. I have not been very active in this campaign season and I have not regretted not being a Republican. Yet I will be sad to see the lady from Alaska lose no matter how gracefully she does it.