The old year yields to the new. Will the new year be better? Will you do better? Will the country be better? Does the World get better? Inevitably the new year brings thoughts of change with it. And this year there is real change. The UK is now firmly in a post-European age. It has taken us four and a half years, a referendum, and two general elections, but here we are. For better or for worse. Will this change strengthen or dissolve the Union? Will we prosper or flounder? In our absence will Europe flourish or fall apart? I cannot tell, but even if the UK and Europe both splinter as a result of Brexit, eventually, inevitably, we will come back together in a new form. Because this island isn’t geographically going anywhere quickly. And because I believe that the future belongs to those who collaborate rather than to those who compete.
Competition is welded into our psyche. Even the word ‘better’ implies a judgemental comparison. You do not know what better means without making some form of (usually unconscious) comparison in your mind. Am I doing better than my past self, my friends, my family, my colleagues? Am I better than this person that I vaguely know on social media? Is the country better, is my football team doing better (they are not by the way)? Are my prospects better this year than last year? Do I look better in this picture or in that one?
Our whole economic system is based on competition. Not that that competition is a fair one of course. As an analogy our economic system is like playing Monopoly. Except that some of the players start with more money than you. Some of them already have property, with houses and hotels on them. Some of them get more money when they pass go than you do. And one of the players actually owns the bank. I’m not a fan of Monopoly anyway, but I certainly wouldn’t chose to play that sort of Monopoly. Except that we are, of course.
Darwinian evolution is often cited in support of the idea that competition is a good thing. Darwin’s theory prompted the use of the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’. Implying that it was the best that survived. Though it really means the best adapted to the environment survive, and that adaptability to a changing environment is best. But Darwin’s work represents the opening thoughts on evolution rather than being the whole story. More recently scientists studying the fossil record and DNA, using large data sets are making different and more nuanced conclusions. What they have found is species who lived in large groups and who cooperated, and those who had symbiotic relationships with other species are the ones who have survived for the longest amount of time.
Some competition is OK. Competition does drive out improvements. It can be used to find a better way of doing things. But it must not lose sight of the larger whole within which the competition takes place. So, let’s stop kidding ourselves that competition is the only way to make our planet better. It is not. Who on Earth are we competing with? Literally, who on Earth are we competing with? And none of our ‘competitions’ are really played out on a level playing field anyway. If you scratch beneath the surface, you will find that competition is driven by fear. The fear of not being enough, not having enough, or not doing enough. We need to overtly, consciously, start working together more to improve our collective lot. If we don’t the prize that we offer our winning descendants will be a destroyed planet, poisoned and razed in the futile pursuit of better. Let’s start this year with the idea of cooperating ourselves onto a version of Earth that humans are symbiotically in harmony with.
“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” Ralph Waldo Emerson