Bertrand Russell on Competition in Society

If you ask any man in America, or any man in business in England, what it is that most interferes with his enjoyment of existence, he will say: ‘The struggle for life.’…… What people mean, therefore, by the struggle for life is really the struggle for success. What people fear when they engage in the struggle is not that they will fail to get their breakfast next morning, but that they will fail to outshine their neighbours.

Take a simple matter, such as investments. Almost every American would sooner get 8 per cent from a risks investment than 4 per cent from a safe one. The consequence is that there are frequent losses of money and continual worry and fret. For my part, the thing that I would wish to obtain from money would be leisure with security. But what the typical modern man desires to get with it is more money, with a view to ostentation, splendour, and the outshining of those who have hitherto been his equals.

The root of the trouble springs from too much emphasis upon competitive success as the main source of happiness. I do not deny that the feeling of success makes it easier to enjoy life. A painter, let us say, who has been obscure throughout his youth, is likely to become happier if his talent wins recognition. Nor do I deny that money, up to a certain point, is very capable of increasing happiness; beyond that point, I do not think it does so. What I do maintain is that success can only be one ingredient in happiness, and is too dearly porchased if all the other ingredients have been sacrificed to obtain it.

The trouble arises from the generally received philosophy of life, according to which life is a contest, a competition, in which respect is to be accorded to the victor. This view leads to an undue cultivation of the will at the expense of the senses and the intellect. …… Take comfort from the thought that the [competitive] dinosaurs [competing for who was the strongest, most powerful dinosaur of them all…] did not ultimately triumph; they killed each other out, and intelligent bystanders inherited their kingdom.

Competition considered as the main thing in life is too grim, too tenacious, too much a matter of taut muscles and intent will, to make a possible basis of life for more than one or two generations at most. After that length of time it must produce nervous fatigue, various phenomena of escape, a pursuit of pleasures as tense and as diffcult as work (since relaxing has become impossible), and in the end a disappearance of the stock through sterility. It is not only work that is poisoned by the philosophy of competition; leisure is poisoned just as much. The kind of leisure which is quiet and restoring to the nerves comes to be felt boring.

Source: Bertrand Russell: The Conquest of
Happiness (London; Allen & Unwin, 1930):
http://russell.cool.ne.jp/beginner/COH-TEXT.HTM

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