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Winning: Reflections on an American Obsession

Francesco Duina
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Most of us are taught from a young age to be winners and avoid being losers. But what does it mean to win or lose? And why do we care so much? Does winning make us happy?Winningundertakes an unprecedented investigation of winning and losing in American society, what we are really after as we struggle to win, our collective beliefs about winners and losers, and much more.

    Francesco Duina argues that victory and loss are not endpoints or final destinations but gateways to something of immense importance to us: the affirmation of our place in the world. But Duina also shows that competition is unlikely to provide us with the answers we need. Winning and losing are artificial and logically flawed concepts that put us at odds with the world around us and, ultimately, ourselves. Duina explores the social and psychological effects of the language of competition in American culture.

    Primarily concerned with our shared obsessions about winning and losing,Winningproposes a new mind-set for how we can pursue our dreams, and, in a more satisfying way, find our proper place in the world.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3668-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PART 1 Introduction

    • Chapter One THE PROBLEM
      (pp. 3-12)

      Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at the American spirit. His travels through the country in the early 1800s revealed a people with great ambitions, in constant motion, with remarkable ingenuity, and an appreciation for getting things done. In Europe, people seldom dared to dream. In the United States, where the established social and cultural orders of the old continent had been set aside and everyone had been given a fresh start, people could aspire to great things. A new society founded on equality unleashed fantastic energy, freedom, and movement. When Tocqueville asked an American sailor why the ships of his country...

  5. PART 2 The Pursuit

      (pp. 15-34)

      Victory in and of itself is not necessarily what brings us satisfaction. If that were the case, most of us would put ourselves in situations where we would be assured of beating our competitors. Chess masters would play with five-year-olds and professional golfers with people who do not know the difference between a golf club and a walking stick. Instead, quite the opposite happens: we take steps to ensure that we participate in competitive events where we face off against competitors of near equal skill or ability and where the outcome is, therefore, uncertain. In this and the next two...

    • Chapter Three I WIN, THEREFORE I AM RIGHT
      (pp. 35-53)

      As we have just seen, competition is seldom only about the particular event, game, or sport at hand. Why would ambitious and hardworking adults dedicate the best years of their lives—most of their waking hours, their emotions, their bodies—to trying to put a leather ball in a basket a few more times than others in the space of forty-eight minutes? Are CEOs really sacrificing their personal relationships, their interests (actual or potential) in other things, and their peaceful nights of sleep so that their companies can make better shampoos, glass bottles, and nail polish? What really drives people...

    • Chapter Four THE QUEST FOR SPACE
      (pp. 54-75)

      In the previous chapter, I suggested that people, organizations, and countries use competition to test the validity of their worldviews. In this chapter, we discuss another central aspect of competition. Competition offers competitors an opportunity to establish for themselves something of profound importance for their well-being: somespace. I am talking about both physical and mental space. Human beings crave for some separation between the world and themselves. We want a buffer zone, as it were, where we are able to move and be as we wish without resistance or unpredictability. Physically, we wish to be safe from danger and...

      (pp. 76-94)

      Most of us consider winning to be better than losing. Why? The simple answer is that we think that winning makes us “better off” while losing makes us “worse off.” But this begs two further, fundamental questions:howdoes winning benefit us andhowdoes losing hurt us? We have so far examined some of the most important things that are at stake during competition. We did not say much, however, about the outcome of competition and how it changes our relationship to whatever we win or lose. That change is at the very heart of winning and losing. What...

  6. PART 3 Our Beliefs

      (pp. 97-117)

      We have explored the structure of our competitive events. We learned about the prizes, powers, and limitations that come with victory and loss. Something of great importance became clear. We are deeply unsure about our proper place in the world, are largely unaware of our doubts and logic, and thus continue fervently to pursue victory and shun loss. Simmel inspired our analysis. It was a study of how competitive events are set up: what is at stake, and how victory and loss change our stance toward the world.

      In the next four chapters, we turn to ourbeliefsabout winners,...

      (pp. 118-137)

      By and large, we attribute the labels of “winner” or “loser” to people based on practical outcomes. But, curiously, that is not always the case. Sometimes our attention is focused on the process of competing or, more specifically, on our attitudes as we try and reach for something. We alluded to this fact in the previous chapter when discussing the case of those who lose all the time but then, somehow, we decide are winners anyway. The truth is that we believe that we can be winners and losers when it comes to our attitudes,regardlessof outcomes. “He went...

    • Chapter Eight INJECTING VALUE
      (pp. 138-157)

      Earlier in this book, we learned about some of the most important prizes that are at stake in competitive events, such as “being right” or feeling superior. But are these prizes naturally part of any competitive event? What is necessarily at stake in competitive events and what, by contrast, do we “inject” into those events? In this chapter, I discuss this injection. To do so, I introduce the concept of the “prize ladder.” At the bottom of the ladder, we find the most obvious things one wins or loses in any given competition: the demonstration of great physical or mental...

      (pp. 158-178)

      Animals seem to compete. But, as is the case for everything else that they do, they are not truly aware—in the way humans are—of what they are doing. The lion chases the zebra on a pasture. Whether it succeeds or not, neither the lion nor the zebra reflects on what has happened. For them, there has been no competition. After the chase, the lion is either without its prey or eating it, while the zebra is either still standing and going about its day or feeling pain as the lion kills it. That is all. Nothing more is...

  7. PART 4 Conclusion

    • Chapter Ten OUR RESTLESSNESS
      (pp. 181-212)

      Tocqueville detected a certain restlessness in the United States. Americans constantly appeared to aim for something better, different, and grander than their current state of affairs. He thought they were after perfection. Our analysis in the preceding pages zeroed in on one particular strand of this restlessness: our intense—and rather unique when compared to other countries—desire to win and avoid loss. Inspired by the insights of Simmel on how to investigate social things, we dug deeper into the structure of our competitive events to see what sorts of things are really at stake. Guided by Weber’s idea that...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 213-220)
  9. References
    (pp. 221-232)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 233-237)