Monday, June 6, 2011

The Government They Deserve

The two pillars of the United States, democracy and capitalism, are both based on the concept of competition. In a democracy, as in capitalism, politicians and products compete for your votes or your dollars (or both) by trying to appear to be just what you need.

We, as good Americans, know that competition has to be fair. That means that the competitors, whether they be politicians or feminine hygiene products, have to be on a level playing field. If politicians were permitted to say things that are not true, for example, or if advertisers were permitted to make exaggerated claims, the system would not work. We'd have no good way to decide which douche or which feminine hygiene product to choose.

Luckily, as we know, competition forces everyone to be honest.  No politician would ever mislead voters on a policy or cheat on a spouse for fear of being exposed in the media.  No advertiser would downplay a product's safety hazards, or risk annoying a TV audience with obnoxious commercials, because that would just give the advantage to a competitor.

But this isn't natural selection. Darwin's form of competition is about species surviving or not based on their own strengths and abilities. In politics and sales, however, the winners are the ones who capture the hearts and minds of other people. There's no steel cage death match between Democrats and Republicans (though I'd bet the Nielsens would be through the roof!)  There's no showdown between Coke's bottled tap water and Pepsi's.

It's only natural that our lives revolve around competition.  We LOVE to compete.  On TV, people compete at everything from ballroom dancing to cooking to answering trivia questions. If life doesn't give us enough areas to be competitive, we invent new ones, like Wheel of Fortune or Wipeout.  We give prizes for Best Original Song in a Picture Adapted From Another Source and Hottest Singles Under 40 With Fewer Than 3 Dental Crowns. It seems the loftiest human goal is to find something at which you can be better than others.

That's why school athletics programs should be the last things cut when budgets are tight. Athletics are where kids learn about competing, from the examples set by their parents.

Remember, it's not how you play the game.  It's whether you win or lose!

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