Winners, Losers . . . And the Rest of Us

January 10, 2010 at 11:27 am (By Amba, By Ron) (, , , )

A dialogue you might enjoy listening in on.  It started with a comment Ron left on the preceding post.

Ron: People don’t have a language for praising/understanding non-winners. They immediately think ‘loser’, and can’t understand people who just won’t play.

Ron: Something that has changed also is that we have given up any notion of a “good try” or “fair play” having any particular virtue.  It is somewhat cynically assumed that winners “write the history” so who cares about playing fair!

I wonder how much of this “winnerism” is a backlash to an increased theraputic/egalitarian (hmmm… feminized?) culture?

The virtue of teaching people sports is that it shows you how to lose, and losing occurs a lot in life.  But now we just consign losers to gehenna…

Amba: My father once pointed out that for every team that wins a baseball pennant, — ? — I don’t know the correct numbers now — 11? have to lose.  He thought about writing a book called “Losing:  A Baseball Odyssey.”  Never did, though.

Ron: A great Hitter in baseball fails 7 times out of 10!  Humbling…

But why do you think they take steroids…because a clean loser would still be thought of as a loser;  we beat on winners who take drugs, but ignore clean losers.  Being ignored in America is worse than being a villain.

Amba: There’s a big world of non-winners out there.  We’re like dark matter.

Only the stars shine, but we’ve got mass, baby.

Ron: and Charm!  and odd motion in the Z axis!  err…skip that one.


  1. Donna B. said,

    hmm… reminds me of some of the remarks about the Texas-Alabama game. Especially the ones that read something like “it doesn’t matter what happened to Colt McCoy — ALABAMA won. That’s all history will remember.”

    When I was a kid, I used to hear a lot about how important it was to be a good loser. Maybe there should be some talk about how to be a good winner?

  2. Icepick said,

    I wonder how much of this “winnerism” is a backlash to an increased theraputic/egalitarian (hmmm… feminized?) culture?

    I don’t know about that. I think it has more at the moment with the fact that it seems that the cheaters are being rewarded, so why play fair? Many of our biggest bankers and financiers failed miserably. Perhaps they shouldn’t all be in jail, but they should sure as hell be broke and out of work. Instead, they’ve received government bailouts (3 for the bankers and financiers: See if you can identify all three.) and still have their jobs. I hear tell the argument on Wall Street at the moment amongst these guys is do they deserve seven or eight figure bonus checks for their outstanding work in 2009.

    In light of that, why play fair at anything?

    Hell, I’ve got a friend who is now disabled. He’s slowly losing body parts to diabetes. He can’t really work anymore. In other words he SHOULD be on SSI disability. He refused to acknowledge that for a while, though. He’s quite conservative (small ‘c’) in outlook and doesn’t like the idea of being on the public dole. Several of his friends (independently) have pointed out that with all the massive multi-billion dollar fraud being perpetrated with the consent of the government, what difference does it make if he takes something he actually qualifies for? That argument seems to have won the day with him.

    Really, the sin isn’t cheating. The sin is cheating in small ways. Better to steal billions from a bank or insurance company than $20 from a convenience store….

  3. Icepick said,

    Oops. I just thought of a fourth way (that _I_ know of) by which the government has bailed out the banksters.

  4. Icepick said,

    As for Alabama vs Texas, Alabama had some injury problems of its own. But I don’t here UT fans mentioning that Mark Ingram got banged up in the game, limiting him in the second half, or that Alabama’s QB came into the game with two cracked ribs. Really, the pertinent fact is that Alabama did win.

  5. amba12 said,

    Really, the sin isn’t cheating. The sin is cheating in small ways. Better to steal billions from a bank or insurance company than $20 from a convenience store….

    Plus ça change: More than a century ago someone said, approximately, “Steal a loaf of bread, go to jail. Steal a railroad, get into the Social Register.” Oh, no! It’s Mark Twain, of course, but it’s even better than that: “”Steal a loaf of bread and you go to prison.
    Steal a railroad and you go to congress.”

  6. Melinda said,

    Never steal anything small.

    I felt guilty taking the National Emergency Grant money to pay for computer classes. (If you got canned last year by any of 31 financial services corporations, you qualify for the N.E.G.)

    Then I said to myself, “Schmuck, if you don’t take this money, it’s not like you’re gonna be socking it to The Man. Some junior analyst from Goldman Sachs who made three times your salary is going to claim it, so stop being such a small-l libertarian, ’cause you ain’t gonna get credit for it!”

  7. Ron said,

    A Twain stwealing a wailwoad? Sufferin’ succotash! As Elmer Milhous Wixon said, “we could do dat…but it would be wong!”

    Be bwerry quiet…I’m hunting for Goldman’s Sacks!

  8. Ron said,


    Oh well, better a free bottle in front of me, than a prefrontal lobotomy.

  9. amba12 said,

    How do you titillate an ocelot?

    You oscillate its tit a lot.

  10. Ron said,

    What did I have for dinner?

    My leftovers must have been watching Jerry Maguire again because they looked me right in the eye and said:

    “You…reheat me.”

  11. amba12 said,

    It’s interesting and telling that this discussion of winning and losing has turned into a discussion of cheating.

    I think the stress on winning at all costs must have preceded the rampancy (is that a word?) of cheating. If all that matters is winning (quoth the prophet Lombardi), then it doesn’t matter how you win. Cheaters enjoy fortune for a while, even if they eventually get caught and punished. Their fall sometimes even intensifies their fame.

    We don’t condone cheating, though. It still bothers most of us a lot. It’s more a symptom of how all-important winning has become than of wholesale moral degeneration. We’re troubled by steroid use. We don’t admire Bernie Madoff. And Balloon Boy’s parents cheated at the price of child abuse. With residual Puritanism, we’re bothered by the elevation of the end over the means, by fame and fortune unearned or dishonestly won. We still want to believe that the real thing, done the hard way, is better for all of us, creator and consumer alike.

  12. Ron said,

    Even if you don’t cheat the window of success at the top is very small. You have, what, 5 years? Maybe less? Do we need shame again? I mention this because you may need a more immediate punishment, than merely being caught. The rewards for cheaters are subtler, but all pervasive. High School kids take steroids!

    But Amba is right; this post wasn’t really about cheating directly. It’s harder to figure the real value of winning vs competing.

  13. Icepick said,

    I think the stress on winning at all costs must have preceded the rampancy (is that a word?) of cheating.

    I doubt it. One has the urge to cheat because of the rewards to be gained, not because of the desire to and satisfaction of winning.

  14. Icepick said,

    It’s harder to figure the real value of winning vs competing.

    That all depends on context. If it’s a life or death struggle, then assume that all is fair – the other guy probably will.

    But assume we’re talking about a fight, but not a fight to the death. One might find it valuable to compete, just for the opportunity to learn something. Or one might view a win as the only thing that matters. Examples:

    (a) If I were a professional fighter, I would be very conscious of the rules of my sport. I wouldn’t want to violate them (either the rules used in training or the rules used during a fight) for fear of damaging my professional standing. In this context winning is valuable, but so is competition. Most MMA fighters admit they learn far more from their losses than their wins. This is why the smarter fighters prefer to train with people better or bigger than them. Have the losses in training sessions to learn and correct one’s weaknesses.

    (b) If someone jumped me on the street, I would use every dirty trick I knew. I would gouge them in the eyes, I would kick them in the balls, hell I’d bite the sumbitch if it came to it. In THIS context, if it’s worth fighting about, it’s worth cheating.

    Context always matters.

  15. Donna B. said,

    Icepick – my comment about some Alabama fans was to point out they were not gracious winners. It is equivalent to “We Won” from Democratic politicians. It’s petty and not needed to celebrate the win.

    And the % of Texas fans that would have said something equally petty is the same, I’m sure.

  16. amba12 said,

    the window of success at the top is very small. You have, what, 5 years? Maybe less?

    That’s if you play it straight — compete head on in some linear race. There are people who get through that window by sheer fluke (they’re beautiful and marry Tiger Woods; they get taken hostage and write a book about it). There are many more, I think, who persevere insanely until they finally find a way to break through, or just are recognized for what they’ve been doing all along. (I’ve come around to believe that perseverance is the number one most important human characteristic.) And now there are all those new little artificial windows, shortcut wormholes, that have been opened up — reality shows, lotteries. Only a tiny percentage can get through them, again either through insane determination or sheer luck, but millions try because they can’t think of any other way.

    The news is a big reality show that leads to fame (if that is the same as winning) for some.

    I was just thinking about “Sully” Sullenberger and wondering if we’d abstractly consider him or someone like him a “winner” just for his long, quiet, distinguished career flying planes and fighting for air safety, if he hadn’t happened to be piloting a plane that flew into some geese so the world could see his stuff. Is a winner only a “winner” when everyone knows about it? Is he, otherwise, one of “the rest of us”?

    Sully’s the old-fashioned kind of winner that if you happened to be on his plane that day, YOU were the winner.

  17. amba12 said,

    Context always matters.

    Key point, thank you.

    I was also thinking about fake boobs and facelifts. Is that “cheating”?

  18. amba12 said,


    In a properly run budo karate trounament, a fighter who swaggers in victory, throws a mini-tantrum in defeat, or even cranes around to look at the corner judges’ flags, is looked down upon and will be shamed by his elders.

  19. Icepick said,

    It’s petty and not needed to celebrate the win.

    True enough.

    I was also thinking about fake boobs and facelifts. Is that “cheating”?

    That depends. Woman who have had mastectomies (sp?) certainly aren’t cheating with fake boobs under any but the most stick-up-the-fundament definitions. I’m not sure I can think of anything similar for a face lift as such, but it’s easy to imagine cases where facial reconstructive surgery is necessary.

    As I typed that last sentence I thought of an example for face lifts. Fighters will sometimes get surgery done to remove scare tissue from around the eyes so that they won’t cut so easily. At least sometimes it looks like a face lift. (It might always come out looking like a facelift, I’m just not sure.) The great Brazilian MMA fighter Wanderlai Silva had such surgery in the last year or so, as well as some reconstructive surgery to his nose. The net effect has been that his sleeping and breathing are much better, and that he shouldn’t cut as easily in a fight. He had years of damage repaired.

    (For those that don’t follow fighting, a cut above the eyes can stop a fight. If the blood is obstructing the vision of a fighter officials will stop a fight and can award the other fighter a TKO victory. (Sometimes it will be ruled a No Contest.) This can happen even if the non-cut fighter is clearly losing otherwise.)

  20. Icepick said,

    That should read ‘scar tissue’, not ‘scare tissue’.

  21. amba12 said,

    “Scare tissue” is good, though. I think Joan Rivers qualifies.

    Obviously there are reasons that anyone would agree justify having such surgeries. I’m wondering about the ones that are done simply to give one a bit of an edge in the competition for sexual /romantic attention, or higher self-esteem, or both. I would not necessarily have shunned cosmetic surgery if I could afford it — aging sucks — yet I hate, I’m actually scared by, the way it eventually wipes out Hollywood stars’ very individuality. To keep on looking pseudo-young, they sacrifice looking like themselves, or like anyone in particular. Of course one need not go that far to look, as they say, “rested.”

  22. wj said,

    I think Ice (7 am yesterday) made an excellent point. In training, you do learn more by going up against those who are better than you are. But my observation in teaching a martial art is that training has to include some experience of success as well.

    I always made it a point to work at a level where my students could win about 40% of the time . . . IF they were working at their best current ability. That taught them the most, while still leaving them with the knowledge/experience (deep inside where it counted) that they could beat anybody, at least occasionally. Which meant that, in an actual competition, they didn’t just assume that they would lose to anyone who was better than they were. They knew that, if they did their best, they had at least a chance of winning. So they went out and did their best. (Really surprised some very good opponents that way, too!)

  23. wj said,

    OK, I meant this morning. Guess I don’t even know what day it is yet. ;-)

  24. amba12 said,

    Excellent principle, wj — you need some rewards to whet your appetite to keep going through the hard times. A taste of success increases motivation.

  25. Ron said,

    So now that he’s confessed — tearfully no less — does anyone think that he will now be elected to the Hall of Fame? I sure as hell don’t. The moral of the story: Don’t Get Caught.

  26. Ron said,

    Oops! The ‘he’ in the above post is of course Mark McGwire.

  27. wj said,

    Yes, Ron, I expect that McGwire will get into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Just a lot later than he might have otherwise. Why? Because other people from that era will, and then “turn out” to have used steroids, too — which anyone looking at them, as at McGwire, could have figured out. At which point, it will seem unfair to keep him out for, as you say, getting caught (although confessing might be a better term, given the lack of anything resembling proof).

    Was that cheating? I would say so. But when cheating is pervasive enough, and has been rewarded enough, it becomes harder to maintain a stand against it. Unless, of course, you can show that someone who wasn’t doing so is substantially harmed. Not just deprived of a high-profile career in professional sports, but really harmed.

    A society may move to taking a harsher view of cheating, in any context. America has certainly seen swings back and forth in what is and is not acceptable in various areas. But that is, IMHO, a different phenomena.

  28. amba12 said,

    Re: cheating and other shortcuts to success, this unattributed quote showed up on Twitter:

    If hard work is the key to success, I would rather pick the lock.

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