Only Enough Water for One to Survive

I’m generally optimistic about the future, however a large dark cloud has come and settled over all my optimism in the form of a challenging dichotomy to which I have no resolution. That is competition vs. collaboration.

I live this privileged life in which I am able to let myself believe that I don’t need to get caught up in the competitive nature of things. “I don’t need fame or recognition, who cares if it is ME that changes the world, as long as I do my part and the world is bettered…” rhetoric. And it is not completely unbelievable either. We in this society are of the mind that in order to make it, one needs to be recognized. Recognized by one of those actually important people, and then by everybody, because that is the way to success, and freedom… and happiness. We fight our whole lives, sacrificing our dreams, family life, moral integrity, in order to get that edge, that competitive advantage that might distinguish us and get us noticed. All in order to make it.

Well let’s assume (in the spirit of Occupy Wall Street) that mass media loses it’s absolute influence and social media becomes an equal player, or better yet it become even more influential than mass media. Then there will no longer be the power dynamic of only the few to the many, rather it will become the many to the many. In that case, who is there left to impress but those whose ears you, as a contributor to mass media, now have?

Is this not democracy? When there was one radio station we called for democratization by means of variation and choice. It turns out the choices we now have are not representative of all perspectives and again we call for democratization. And yes, we are overwhelmed by choices, but strange isn’t it how the areas we are flooded with choice are specifically the areas we don’t demand it (namely consumer products) as opposed to in matters of diversity of opinion.

As I said, this is a privileged perspective. Someone who has struggled their whole lives with poverty might not so readily scoff at the prospect of seeking that strategic advantage in order to get ahead, and I suppose I cannot either. We all partake in competition, me included.

What is the real difference between competition and collaboration? Aren’t they both just forms of differentiation?

It would seem that the challenge in competition is to be unique and the value one brings in collaboration is in being unique. So why are they at odds so often? I’d argue it’s because of their differences in terms of value. Competition seeks financial capital, collaboration seeks social capital. We need both financial and social capital. But how can we overcome the pervasive unwillingness to collaborate for fear of losing a competitive edge?

The issue is that people think they are only as valuable as their ideas, and even more importantly people think that they will never have another good idea if they give THIS ONE away. I can say one thing for sure, if you never share an idea and just hold on to it to yourself for fear of someone stealing it, not only will you not establish social capital, but you will continue to believe that this idea is all you have and it will stunt future idea generation. It is the same idea with sketching. As soon as you treat a sketch like a piece of art, you lose the ability to improve on it.

By sharing ideas (without fear of being robbed) we build social capital, and along with it, reputation. What comes with that is an understanding that it isn’t a specific idea that you sell, but it is you, the unique person. It is your mind that you sell with all its capacity to generate new ideas and to collaborate, and strangely it is your reputation (social capital) that really delivers the sales pitch.

But I must return to the issue of privilege, because although this all sounds so nice, there is something that makes it so obviously naive. I believe it is this fundamental change that must occur in order for the barriers between competition and collaboration to break down: The end of the pursuit of financial capital for its own sake. It looks stupid in writing. Wanting more is something we understand and accept to be so basic to human nature that it hardly appears worth criticizing. Out of the jurisdiction of social change, human nature is, with all its insecurity, egomania, and deep rooted belief in the inevitability of the traditional structure of social strata, in which we all at some level wish we were at the top. Is it human nature to horde and not share, to believe that it is always a matter of him or me? I’d like to hope not, at least I’d like to one day see those people, who time and time again chose themselves over the collective, exposed for their selfishness. I want it to be so transparent that their social capital will disappear entirely and they will be left with no stake in the collective of humanity. I want that they should feel truly humiliated for their lack of participation in this amazing collaborative effort we call human existence.