Interlude: Silver

I’m feeling out the potential for an ongoing pages-by-pages analysis of Ender’s Game, and in general the energies I might otherwise use for blogging are not being spent on blogging right now, so things have been slow, but I had this sitting in the queue.  And I’m kind of delighted juxtaposing this with Ender’s Game, so here, have a this while I go back to structuring my ravings.

(Content: ranting, squares that you must click.)

So there was this argument, the exact subject of which doesn’t particularly matter (which is good, because it was something deeply meaningless about a video game), but it stuck in my head because it’s the latest place I heard a particular sentiment – a ghoul of a sentiment, a shambling persistent wrongness that should have long been dead but isn’t.  Someone was complaining about the idea of a runner-up prize when there’s a contest and the winner only makes it by a very narrow margin.

Their claim was thusly: in real life, second place is still a loser.  Second best means nothing.

Which is stupid.  If you realise that right off the bat, then you can spend the rest of this post, I don’t know, clicking the squares.  (Or come back to that after you finish reading.  But at some point you should definitely click the squares.)

If you are not fully convinced that this is stupid right off the bat, let me begin by assuring you that I’m not getting all participation-ribbon about this or saying that what matters most is that you tried.  (Trying does matter, but even if you think it doesn’t, the  italicised bit above remains incredibly stupid.)  This isn’t about comforting the losers.  This is simple fact.  The only ways one can think that second best is irrelevant is by being a narcissistic sociopath or completely unaware of how human society functions.

The second-best programmer writes elegant code that lets people transmit, process, and protect information better than we ever could before, saving time, bringing knowledge, maybe saving lives.

The second-best prosecutor makes sure that powerful criminals are still held accountable for their crimes.

The second-best surgeon saves lives like we change socks.

The second-best cook?  You would weep to taste their masterpieces.

The second-best astrophysicist?  Would blow your mind with the things they’ve discovered about the fundamental nature of the universe.

The second-best sprinter?  Already lapped you once.  Second time for me.

The second-best farmer?  Fucking feeds people.

This obsession with winning is largely born out of sports, because, near as I can tell, the only point in being at the top there is to be at the top, so if you can’t get everyone to agree that is super-important, it starts to feel kind of pointless.  I like the Olympics, I like the athletes, but the medals are the least-interesting possible part of the system to me.  Every last one of those Olympians would kick all of our collective coccyges every time.  Hell, the people who didn’t even quite qualify to compete would devastate us.  The only ones who were good enough to beat them were freaking Olympians.  Have you seen what those people can do?

The next time you hear someone opine that second place is first loser, I’d appreciate it if you could ask them for examples and then relay those on to me, because I am pretty stumped.  Second best is amazing.

4 comments on “Interlude: Silver

  1. depizan says:

    This seems very closely related to the “Somebody’s got to lose” concept. Which…I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this story anywhere we both go, but…

    A couple years ago, I was playing cards with family. By some bizarre fluke, at the end of the latest hand everyone had _exactly_ the number of points to win the game. Everyone won. Except, for part of my family that wasn’t a concept they could even process. When I exclaimed that everyone had won, I was ignored as they simply dealt another hand. (My mom, who thinks more like me, leaned over and explained that, to them, “someone has to lose.)

    I do not grasp either version of this strange competitive concept. Most of the time in real life, no one has to lose. Most of the time in real life, there isn’t a competition. Or what competition there is doesn’t, in any way shape or form, resemble one in which “second best is a loser.” If two people apply for one job, then, yeah, I guess that works. But if two people apply and it turns out there are two jobs… um… the whole competition model just exploded.

    It explodes even worse if you try and apply it to something that’s wildly subjective, like, oh, books and authors. The second best author is… … there is literally no way to finish that sentence that makes sense because the first part of that sentence doesn’t make sense. Who is the best author? According to who? By what criteria? Yes, there are awards and what not, but there are award winning authors _I_ have no interest in and non-award-winning authors I like. (Nor would I want someone to use my taste as the ultimate definer of best.)

    tldr: Competition, what is it good for.

  2. Brin says:

    I’m feeling out the potential for an ongoing pages-by-pages analysis of Ender’s Game

    I’d read it, even though I crossed the Knowledge of Card as a Person Threshold before ever reading any Ender and general Internet consensus seems to be that it is now too late. (And I doubt I would get around to it even if I still could.) I have never let mere ignorance of the canon stop me from reading a sporking.

    (Or come back to that after you finish reading. But at some point you should definitely click the squares.)

    Is it that thing? *hovers mouse over link* Not only is it that thing, you got it from me. You’re welcome! (Fellow readers, make sure to turn your sound on.)

    (I always feel a bit wrong about posting a comment responding only to tangential things and not the main point, so I will add that said main point is in fact good.)

  3. anamardoll says:

    I would VERY MUCH enjoy reading a decon on Ender’s Game from you, Will.

  4. Will Wildman says:

    You will be pleased then to hear that the first post is already up, over at a friend’s blog, and the second one will be going up later today! The intro post, just covering the first page and my questionable decisionmaking processes, is here:

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