age of competition
Through the dark and not so dark millennia of human history, we have
organized ourselves into adversarial cliques, communities, and nations.
World events were like deadly pong balls hurdling towards us, and these
groups were the paddles who's goal it was to knock the ball into someone
else's court. Add military might as the means of wealth distribution
to an inefficient system which eats surplus wealth to sustain itself,
and competition became the fabric of everyday life. The technology necessary
for global cooperation did not exist.
Competition was thus established as the default way of interacting with
the world. In its genteel form competition meant games where nobody
got killed. Gladiators turned to soccer turned to table tennis. By
1972 computers became advanced enough to simulate competitive games,
and Pong was born.
Pong is a vestigial trace of our competitive nature. If we donít want
the pong ball to go off the table, we can program the computer to control
the paddles better than any human can. Our desire to play competitive
pong versus other humans through obsolete hand operation is nothing
but a vain show of relative one-upmanship. There is no point to competitive
gaming in the computer age.
The technology pill
Technology could save us if we'd let it. There is enough material wealth
for everyone on the planet to have a sturdy home and a steady food supply,
if we stop competing and use our global communication and computation
capabilities to level the playing field.
In the brave new version of Pong, there is no need to try to hit the
ball into someone else's court. Relax. Move the ball wherever you want
and the computer will make sure it doesnít fall off the table.
What is good about competition?
Competitive systems such as evolution and capitalism are terrific at
creating unpredictable change very quickly. It's the trial-by-error
system. If you're looking for a wide variety of output, competitive
systems are the best. Not only will the product of such systems tend
to improve over time, they'll fill just about any niche available to
Competition can be a great inspiration to develop skills related to
the goal, which is great if inspiration is needed and the skills are
useful ones. In a system like pong however, you just wind up getting
better at playing pong.
A competitive system also is great for ensuring that people who are
ahead in the game get exactly what they want when they want it, like
the hawk who uses highly evolved vision to catch it's prey, or like
first-worlders who use their superior buying power to get iPods.
Why is competition an outdated ideal?
Although competitive systems produce such good things as human beings
and diet cola, we also wind up with such things as wooly mammoths and
It's a horribly inefficient way of producing things people truly need.
Most energy in a competitive system is spent not in producing a product,
but in staying competitive.
In evolution this manifests in a less than desirable cycle of predator-prey
adaptation escalation, where more energies are spent surviving than
In capitalism it results the same sort of relationship, except between
those with capital value and those without. People who don't have capital
value are trapped working for those who do, and their energies are directed
towards keeping their team competitive.
A waste of resources.
In our competitive system, most of our energies are redundant and wasteful.
Redundancy is the result of the wasted overhead when multiple people
are working on the same problem in different "teams". Team Coke and
Team Pepsi are both working on the cola problem, but each spends huge
amounts of resources battling the other.
Even within a supposedly cooperative society, most businesses exist
in order to support other businesses. How much would the production
of our essential goods decrease if we laid off our accountants, and
all the people who supply computers to them, and all the people who
print brochures for the computer salesman, and the people who produce
the ink for those brochures, and the people who make packaged food for
the truckers who drive those materials around.
Think of the construction workers who build our office towers, and the
companies that supply raw materials, and the miners who dig them out
of the earth, and the manufactures of processed food, since everyone
involved is too busy to feed themselves. This is all within the same
nation-system, where we supposedly share a common goal!
In pong, the fact that your opponent keeps hitting the ball at you means
you must spend your resources defending your goal instead of using your
time for more noble endeavors.
So while we're at it, let's get rid of the patent office and all advertising
everywhere. How much effort goes into staying ahead of the game! Most
of our jobs are not directly responsible for producing the things we
need as a society, so imagine how much manpower could be freed to work
on other things.
A Brave New Pong
Evolution and capitalism have brought us to the point where itís possible
to propel ourselves out our current state of affairs. We're intelligent
enough now that we donít need the randomness of a competitive system.
We can program randomness.
Things that used to be competitive games should now be cooperative games,
or even non-games.
The world is no longer made up of unpredictable systems separated by
incommunicable distances. By using computer models to produce what we
want and distribute it fairly, the age old game of producing for production's
sake can come to an end. Humans have tried organizing themselves in
more equitable arrangements in the past, but these systems were ultimately
run by other humans. In the new world we will be able to relax and let
technology do the job. The pong ball will never fall off the table again!