One of the more destructive myths that rule our thinking and behavior here in America, and much of the world, is the idea of “Winners” and “Losers”. Winners, the myth goes, are rugged, brave, determined and unconquerable, they have the character to fight on and win no matter what the odds are against them. Losers are weak, lack any will at all, are lazy, greedy and terrified of hard work and competition. There is no other possibility for human experience, in a free society you have to fight and you either win or you’re a fucking loser. Which means that the vast majority of human beings are, clearly, losers.
How is winning defined? Having so much money you can tell anyone you like to go fuck themselves. Losing? Not having enough money to survive, let alone tell people to fuck off. A loser angrily telling people to fuck off is seen as pathetic (and, in bad cases, worthy of jail time), a winner doing it is just, well, availing herself of part of the privilege of victory.
Why this myth is so destructive is pretty easy to grasp. For one thing, much of “winning” and “losing” is out of our individual hands. The accident of our birth, into wealth or poverty, is probably the single biggest determinant of whether we will win or lose at the American game of life. Most American children born in poverty, to parents who were born in poverty, will grow up to be poor, their children doomed to a similar fate. These people are all, according to the myth, incorrigible losers. It is hard for a child born to great inherited wealth, even the greatest fuck up, given every advantage throughout his life, to blow through an entire family fortune. For one thing, that’s what trusts are for, to protect inter-generational wealth from the stupidity of one heedlessly greedy heir.
Take all the things that flow from being born poor or being born rich: education, physical safety, health care, optimism about life, the ability to buy things, opportunity, life expectancy. The poor who are lucky get one shot, at most, to emerge from their life-shortening predicament. The rich typically get many chances to redeem themselves, even after massive fuck ups that would mark most others as irredeemable losers.
Think of the several self-inflicted bankruptcies of the Orange Polyp, not to mention the criminal schemes and frauds the creature is currently under investigation for committing, the many he’s done openly and paid no price for. A prep school boy who rapes a girl will often get a discreet second chance, his life shouldn’t be destroyed by one youthful mistake, the custodians of wealthy boys agree. A public school boy who gets in a fight in the cafeteria is a menace to society who will have the rest of his life set in stone almost immediately.
I think of this pernicious myth of Winners and Losers whenever I see the face of Swanson TV dinner heir Tucker Carlson, screwed into various expressions of contempt and disbelief. Carlson is undoubtedly what many Americans think of as a winner, he’s rich, influential, has a great job, is a celebrity, gets to opine at great length and influence millions of angry citizen viewers. His employer forced him to take the vaccine, and booster, and he goes on the air urging the 20% of American never-vaxxers that they are 100% right to resist tyranny, this rapey coercion by the Deep State. Every one of that 20% (who have a 20X higher chance of death from the disease than. fully vaccinated Americans) watch Carlson’s act regularly, getting comfort from the supremely confident confirmation of their feelings that this great winner gives them nightly.
Winners are easy to list. Forbes publishes a big list of them every year. Time Magazine gave one Man of the Year for 2021, a year when Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman saved Mitt Romney’s life during a riot and single-handedly prevented a possible massacre on the floor of the Senate. Losers, on the other hand, tend to be anonymous.
My father, who died without an obituary in the paper, died tormented by the fact that even after escaping dire poverty, and raising his children in a middle class home on a tree-lined street (about a mile, and across the tracks, from where little Trumpie grew up), he still felt like a loser. His emergence from poverty was a triumph few today have any hope of experiencing. He knew that he had emerged from poverty as a result of generous veteran’s programs that allowed him to go to college tuition free and get a low rate mortgage when he was finally able to buy a home. The sale of this house, forty years later, was the bulk of the wealth he was able to pass on to his children. He was among a large number of World War Two veterans who made this transition from lower to middle class, thanks to government programs (programs that did not apply to Black veterans). He knew Black veterans had been fucked out of the chance he had, and that bothered him too, very much so, at one point.
I know it won’t happen any time soon, but think of how much better this threatened world would be if all of us losers got together, across all artificial boundaries, and set out to get rid of the dangerous myth that supremely greedy, hyper-competitive psychopaths are the winners the rest of us need to revere. For one thing, look at how happy all these grim-faced, constantly brawling winners seem to be…