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Posted by on Jan 22, 2015 in Guest Contributor, Miscellaneous, Society | 6 comments

6 Reasons You Can’t Win (And 3 Reasons You Can Anyway)

6 Reasons You Can’t Win

Why are you unhappy?
Because 99.9 percent
Of everything you think,
And of everything you do,
Is for yourself —
And there isn’t one.

– Wei Wu Wei

1. An interior witness acts as an impartial judge of our shifting fortunes, tracking our wins and losses. No matter what we have to show for ourselves, regardless of the evidence in our defense, questions remain, doubts persist, our Kafkaesque trial grinds on. Even in the event of acquittal, the feeling that we’ve fooled the jury creeps in. An unambiguous outcome in our favor is not an option. As Czech president Václav Havel noted, “The higher I am, the stronger my suspicion that there has been some mistake.” We can lose, but we can’t win.

quixoteSM2. As individuals, our point of view is inseparable from our personal history. Our sight is necessarily partial, our beliefs, unavoidably partisan. Unaware of what can’t be seen from the ground we stand on, winning is by accident, losing, the rule.

3. When we think we’ve won, Nature moves the goal posts. You win the game only to discover that you’re behind the eight ball in a new one. Explanation is never complete; new and better answers invariably present new and deeper questions. Return to go.

4. Dreams shatter on the rocks of reality; imagination runs aground on the shoals of practicality. Think of Don Quixote: If ever there was an impossible dreamer it was the Man from La Mancha.

In his quest for immortal fame, Don Quixote suffered repeated defeats. Because he obstinately refused to adjust ‘the hugeness of his desire’ to ‘the smallness of reality,’ he was doomed to perpetual failure. (Simon Leys after Miguel de Unamuno)

Our achievements pale beside the dreams that inspire them. When at last the Don realized that his dream was impossible, he returned home, put down his lance, and died.

5. We desire the eternal, but are bound in time. Death exempts no one; extinction annuls whole species, and likely won’t cut human beings any slack.

6. The heart, formerly the seat of the soul, is now seen as a pump made of muscle. The same unsentimental methodology is applicable to the brain. Not only will humans figure out how it works, they’ll build better ones. We’re on course to design beings who will supersede us. Hoist by our own petard!

For these reasons — our reach exceeds our grasp, we’re never good enough, Nature’s infinite depth, and implacable death — you can’t win.

But wait!

3 Reasons You Can Win Anyway

Man is a creature who makes pictures of himself and then comes to resemble the picture. – Iris Murdock

1. Our notion of selfhood is misconceived. Autonomous, independent beings we’re not. Selfhood is anything but self-sufficient. No self can stand alone. Our existence is not independent of everyone else’s. On the contrary, without others, selves are stillborn. To exist is to co-exist. We are all each other.

Instead of identifying as a separate self — a stand-alone, mortal creature of limited vision–identify as a “superself” — a being for whom existence is co-existence. Super selves are whole sighted and non-partisan. They do not take sides, they explain. As an interdependent super self, you contain multitudes. The multitudinous superself is extended in space and time and so it is as connected and robust as singular selves are insular and vulnerable.

2. “The successful man adapts himself to the world, the loser persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the loser.”

How, then, could losing ever be equated with failure? As every win is tainted by fear of losing the next round, so every loss is mitigated by lessons learned in defeat. Winning and losing are not antithetical; they’re partners in the quest. As Don Quixote abandoned his quest, his faithful squire Sancho Panza took it up. One man’s loss became everyman’s win.

3. We can as well program intelligent machines to incorporate the better angels of our nature as to reproduce our pathologies and pursue our depredations. We need not design our successors for senescence and death, but can instead make them eternally self-renewing.

The Question: Will the partnership between Man and Machine end in our demise, or is this the beginning of a beautiful friendship?

I explore this topic in depth in my book Genomes, Menomes, Wenomes: Neuroscience and Human Dignity, currently the top ranked book in neuropsychology in Amazon’s free Kindle Store.

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Copyright 2015 The Moderate Voice
  • SteveK

    Good points all Robert, winning and/or losing is all between the ears, it’s an internal event.

    To quote Jerry Jeff Walker,

    They say successful men get what they want…
    Happy men want just what they’ve got.

    • Brownies girl

      Oh gosh, with the mention of Jerry Jeff, you bring back so many memories. I loved Mr Bojangles, had the album back in the 60’s, Loved the song “Little Bird” … but the one I loved to sing along to, loud and mostly after a few beers was “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother” — best heard live and in a beery bar. You can watch it here:

      enjoy! Long live JJ!

      • SteveK

        And he’s aged well, like a very fine wine. And, since you YouTubed us first… Here’s were my quote came from.

        FWIW – Jerry Jeff introduced Jimmy Buffett to the Florida Keys which lead to a beyond-the-beyond career for Jimmy. :o) (genuine smile)

  • Brownies girl

    Thanks for the pointer above to that wonderful Don Quixote clip – Man of LaMancha is my most favourite musical ever and that particular scene always makes me cry. Yet you write “As Don Quixote abandoned his quest, his faithful squire Sancho Panza took it up.” I’ve never felt that the Don actually gave up his quest – he just had to be reminded of it by Dulcinea and when he remembered, he died almost immediately as he took it up again — bit of a difference there. Perhaps the book is different. I confess to reading all 3000 (it felt like) pages of it 45+ years ago whilst travelling in Spain — and later found I loved the musical way WAY more than the book.

    I also liked this part of what you wrote: “No self can stand alone. Our existence is not independent of everyone else’s. On the contrary, without others, selves are stillborn. To exist is to co-exist. We are all each other.” I believe that absolutely. Thanks for your post — a thoughtful note to end the day on. Be well!

    • DdW

      Ah, Don Quijote de la Mancha y Sancho Panza — 1250 pages in my book.

  • dduck12

    I’ve always considered DQ a winner, and those that don’t try, like most of us, losers. Remember Frank Sinatra’s High Hopes, and try and move that rubber tree plant. Full disclosure: I’m a most.

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