The Violence of Competition

Published: 18.03.2014
Updated: 30.07.2015

8th International Conference on Peace and Nonviolent Action


The Violence of Competition

Society and the individual are of course not separate, but interrelated - interconnected. The society is the individual. Society is not ‘over there’, existing independent of us. There is violence in society because there is violence within the members of that society. Why are we violent, are there certain elements of contemporary life which encourage violent behavior. I would like to suggest that one of the primary causes is competition.

Competition has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, from competing to leave the train to the delivery of health care and securing political office. People it seems are competing even for the air itself. This is violence. Violence based on competition and a perverted kind of self -preservation. It divides and separates people one from another, such separation creates a violent society poised it seems to explode at any moment.

Combined with profit - the nirvana of corporations, competition is the driving force in business. These ugly sisters of market fundamentalism - competition and profit are behind a plethora of violent conflicts and practices, from corporate government corruption (as in India for example) to the trafficking of children and women into domestic slavery and prostitution and the worldwide acquisition of ancestral tribal lands and all points in between.

But perhaps the area where Competition has done most damage is education. Competition has poisoned the education systems throughout the world, distorting not only educational methodologies but the education institutions themselves; with schools competing with each other for government approved gold stars, so they attract the brightest students who achieve the best results. Partnered with conformity and reward and punishment, competition denies true individuality, inhibits creative thinking and the operation of intelligence and feeds into the crippling homogenisation of contemporary culture, which the devotees of globalization are so ardently wedded too.

The individual is encouraged to value their own progress, success and material acquisition over the well being of the group - the society, whether that is the class, the family or the community at large. This includes the use, misuse and abuse of natural resources and the environment. According to Noam Chomsky “the goal of education is to produce human beings whose values are not accumulation and domination, but instead are free association on equal terms." Ambition, the fulfilment of personal material goals and the cultivation of attitudes designed to exclude others; that see others as ‘the competition’ fuel divisions and separation, leading to conflict and suffering.

Formal education for the most part is seen as a feeding ground for employers. With conformity colouring all areas of schooling, from the nursery to the university. Children are rarely seen as individuals, with certain innate gifts and talents, but as [potential] workers-or economic assets, encouraged, forced in many cases through economic pressures, and the impulse to ‘succeed’, to move from school to university and into employment as quickly as possible. Krishnamurti  said, “we all want to be on top, and this desire creates constant conflict within ourselves and with our neighbour; it leads to competition, envy, animosity and finally war.” 

Education is seen as a means to train and indoctrinate young people to become ‘good’ employees, that is people who will do as they are told, efficient workers who will strengthen the nations accounts and enhance its ability to compete on the world stage.  Interestingly many young graduate Indians one meets are carrying with them degrees in marketing, accounts, management or some such white-collar diploma. 

Noam Chomsky “Do we want to have a society of free, creative individuals able to appreciate and add to the culture of the past, or students that grow to adults and increase GDP? ” As a society we should be bringing about the former and all areas of education have a crucial part to play in changing the existing inhibiting system. Krishnamurti, “we are turning out, as if through a mold, a type of human being, whose chief interest is to find security, to become somebody important, or to have a good time with as little thought as possible,”

The impact of this all-pervading pressure to ‘succeed’ is immense, causing anxiety, depression and stress. Dissent from the corporate–State view or company line whilst seemingly tolerated, is not really allowed, being cleverly suppressed.  Methods of control are swiftly enforced, debt being a primary weapon in the armory of control.  Individuality is subdued under the shadow of anxiety; fuelled by financial uncertainty - constantly stoked by doom laden economic projections, deficit control and the current narcotic of choice for many countries - austerity measures. Together with fear engendering competition and the mantra that success is all that matters–no matter the impact, psychologically, physiologically and or environmentally. “Chomsky sates that ‘a deep level of indoctrination takes place in our schools.”

This perversion of education, the distortion of its function, into a garden of conditioning, where the fresh minds of the future are indoctrinated and manipulated by the oppressive powers - the 1% of 1%, who are determined to maintain dominion and keep the good from flowering, is far from the true purpose of education. It is time these inhibiting methods were abandoned in favour of a new, creative approach to education and social living, one that facilitates independent thinking, fosters cooperation in place of competition, and encourages tolerance, free expression and broad social participation. Such are the values of democracy are they not?

Through the constant emphasis on individual success and survival, people are set apart from one another and made to feel alone, a state of affairs that is contrary to our nature, and as Krishnamurti makes clear, ‘creates constant conflict within ourselves and with our neighbour’. Competition divides setting people against one another; it is harmful and denies that essential ingredient to peaceful living - ‘right relationship’. Krishnamurti says, „the purpose of education is to cultivate right relationship, not only between individuals, but also between the individual and society.”  Implicit in this realisation is a degree of individual social responsibility, based upon a recognition of the integrated nature of living and indeed of life itself. However the promotion of the individual and his/her personal achievement makes such social responsibility and group awareness impossible. Values that emphasis unity cooperation and tolerance will aid the establishing of right relationships and these should be cultivated in all areas and at all stages of education.

We are living in extraordinary times, times of great opportunity, The colours and tone of the new floods the world, it is a new year, a new millennium, indeed we are at the birth of a new cosmic cycle or age. The divisive methods of the past must be laid aside and values and pragmatic methods that establish group relationships and encourage group awareness must be seen as fundamental in building an integrated world community at ease with itself.

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