Editors’ Note: So the first week of Ideas Gone Wild is over! We got tons of great submissions on the theme of the Olympics. So good, in fact, that we’re publishing two of them!
We also got lots of submissions on the nature of time, alternative voting methods, and space flight. For now, for better or worse, we’re sticking with the “theme of the week” idea, so just a reminder that your submission will only be considered for publication if it’s on the theme of the week and around 700 words in length.
Next Week’s theme: Climate Control
End the Olympics – by Mark Marocco
The Olympics are an unusual place where all of the world’s countries are given a place to come together on an equal level. But they come together to do what exactly? They come together to compete. This says a lot about society and the world at large. The Olympics are symbolic of the world order, which in everyday life is created and maintained through different kinds of competitions; economic, political, and military. The everyday dominance hierarchy of nations is represented by the gold medal count in the large events fairly consistently. The U.S. has been the main player in the Olympics for a long time now, much like in the socioeconomic, political, and military spheres. During the Cold War, the U.S.’s Olympic rival was the U.S.S.R. at the same time that they were military enemies. Today, the U.S.’s largest competitor in the Olympics is also their largest rival in the economic, political, and military sense: China. What does this parallel tell us about our species, or our society? I think it tells us, if we listen, that we are centered around competition, as opposed to cooperation.
Competition is our greatest tradition, as demonstrated by both the Olympic tradition and the war tradition. Especially by the war tradition. Our repetitive and inevitable lapses into war can only by accounted for by the proposition that we simply prefer competition to cooperation when there is a lot at stake. There are dozens of potential reasons for why that is, perhaps they are neurobiological, psychosocial, or simply artificial. The Olympics themselves, however, are clearly an artifact of culture. The Olympics emphasize symbolically, and on a grand scale, this bias towards competition, and thus, the separation of our species into ‘teams.’ Everyday sports condition people to be competitive, to strive for their team against another team. The only difference at the Olympic level, and the war level for that matter, is that the teams are nations full of people, and even entire ‘races.’
Clearly, this attitude of “us vs. them” is a total failure. Historically, it has lead to incalculable pain, suffering, death, inequality, oppression, etc. Social Darwinists may disagree, but their philosophy is an inaccurate perversion of the actual scientific concepts of evolution. Without getting too detailed on that point, I still would like to point out that evolutionary advantages arose on the basis of ‘competition’ between species, not within them. Presently, this nationalistic pride and global indifference, or even disdain, perpetuates these trends of death, suffering, oppression, and inequality. Our science and technology has advanced to astonishing heights, and yet the main problems of society remain. I think that this bias towards competition is a large factor, if not the largest, in why that is.
In the future, this championing of competition and separation will be unsustainable, and even more dangerous to our species than ever. Climate change, improvements in nuclear, biological, and conventional weapons, and diminishing stores of non-renewable resources are some of our biggest long-term problems as a species. We have, potentially, the means to solve these problems and the rest like them. What we are lacking in is the correct attitude. Our planet is shrinking in many ways, making any human problem a problem for all humans sooner or later. There will not be any room left for competition in a world that requires cooperation to solve its largest problems.
As a final thought experiment on the subject, consider the differences between the Olympics and the space programs. Surely, an astronaut could be considered an athlete, even an extreme one. The difference is that space exploration is such a complex task that direct competition, in a manner similar to sports or warfare, would be obviously and immediately counterproductive, and even fatal. Instead, astronauts cooperate internationally to solve complex problems and explore new grounds. My thesis is that the world’s problems are equally complex, and require equal care and cooperation if they are to be solved in a manner that benefits the whole of humanity. The only question is, would we rather cooperate in such a way and reap those benefits, or would we rather stay separated and competitive so we can keep our pretty flags and shiny medals?