Advantage n - “superiority of position or condition”. Thus seeking advantage is to gain a superior or upper hand. We have allowed ourselves to be convinced that this orientation will produce all that is good and worthy for a life to be fulfilled, that it is a natural biological imperative. Some have argued that Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ is all there is to know and that it is the dominant characteristic of all life. Of course, that’s the narrow reading of what Darwin actually said in The Descent of Man.
We are used to stories of winners and losers and are thus are attracted to them. Be that as it may, we have taken this biological factor to be transferable to our social, political, and economic lives as well. Winners, or those with “superiority of position or condition”, use this advantage to establish the rules to maintain or improve that condition or position. While this might seem innocent enough during a friendly game, where winning is a side benefit of the enjoyment of playing, in our larger social, economic and political lives disproportionate and lasting advantage hampers community well-being.
Linked closely to ‘seeking advantage’ is a drive towards domination. When our world was less developed and less crowded, the planet could absorb some of the damage inflicted on it as advantage and domination were sought over nature and other beings. Obviously many suffered and continue to suffer from domination. It is clear that our economic model is fundamentally glued to this drive to seek advantage and domination. No doubt many, if not most, corporations who love to achieve “too big to fail” status. Hardly anyone questions endless growth or concentration of power as a concern. As in cancer, we often find out too late, that such an unchecked appetite is fatal.
Of course, our recent political season, is emblematic of that same notion in our political system. Both major parties are out to dominate. When in power they change the rules to benefit their position and condition. The Republican Party took this to new levels upon the election of Barack Obama, when Sen. Mitch McConnell said “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Of course, the game of gerrymandering is all about securing party advantage. We just assume this kind of “seeking advantage” is normal, and therefore acceptable.
Step this up a notch to global affairs and the predominant ethos among most of the more powerful nation states is too secure as much advantage as possible for as long as possible over every other nation. This is emblazoned in the veto power of the permanent members of the Security Council and the special powers they hold over the global community. In the US we never heard from any of the presidential candidates any commitment to any sense of a just global governance system. I don’t even think there was single mention of the United Nations. US exceptionalism is just one symbol of advantage and dominance sought. There seems to be no real sense of seeking unity, certainly not from the five permanent members of the SC.
In this all-encompassing worldview -- winning for oneself, one’s team, one’s state, or one’s nation is the true goal. The others, the losers, don’t matter. They are separate from us. They don’t matter. There is no room for empathy or compassion when winning, or seeking advantage, is the goal. As I sit here this evening thinking about these things, I see no desirable future with this worldview for the human family or the other living things we share this planet with. Some folks will surely find their condition and position superior to others. Until we challenge this unfettered myth that we can escape terrorism, climate destabilization, and increasing inequality if everyone simply seeks their own advantage, we are destined to heighten those same challenges. Our obsession with and fealty to spectator sports is a reinforcing loop to these more important systems where advantage and domination are the prize.
For all its many imperfections, the human family took a major step together at the end of WWII with the establishment of the United Nations. Recently those 193 member nations agreed on 17 goals to attain together by 2030 if we are to live well together on this fragile planet for the remainder of this century. The Sustainable Development Goals offer us a framework for making choices at all levels. How do the choices we make affect the attainment of those goals across the globe? If we are fixing one goal but making attainment of another less likely we can’t make the progress we need. We will need collective intelligence of many to insure our choices move multiple goals forward at the same time and that improvement in one place does not put another place in jeopardy. This is where democracy, especially in the sense that we are ALL global citizens holds some promise, some possibility that we must seize.
This is a major change in worldviews, at least as represented by the visible systems and leaders in this country. As has been the case in the past, change of this level must be led from the grassroots -- from us as individuals and members of communities. Let’s hope it’s not too late. Imagine a world where everyone is secure economically – good shelter, ample good food, good and plentiful water, and personal security wherever they live. We can do this if we share and work to rid ourselves of the seeds of violence and domination. This is system change I can believe in.