Everyone Can’t Be “Successful”

Surely one of the lousiest things about capitalist society is the extreme competition that it engenders among humans. This would not be so bad except that US capitalist society is all about the “winners” and the “losers.” Supposedly the winners are the people who are making lots of money while they losers are the folks who are not making much money. Supposedly in this system, everyone gets exactly what they deserve. It’s America: life is what you make it.

I’ve been told these things over and over. This attitudes are ingrained so deeply in our culture that they are virtually intractable. If you don’t believe that these notions are the bedrock of American culture, then think about it a bit.

Of course I believed this crap myself for a long time, until I really sat down and thought about it.

In US society, the successful are probably those in the top 20% of the income bracket. That’s how it seems to me anyway. Those would be individuals who are making $70,000/yr or more. Whether those making under $70,000/yr are losers is open to debate. Obviously, at some level, your income is so low that you are a loser.

There’s an immediate problem with this, and this is the contempt for working class people. In what way is an honest, hardworking, conscientious working class person, no matter how low their income, a loser? Think about it. A good working class person can never be a loser. If you work, you’re ok. If you work hard, even better. If you work hard and you’re honest, better still.

The fact that tens of millions of Americans regard working class people with contempt and hatred simply because they are not paid very well is sickening. If you think like this, fuck you. Rightwingers insist that they never think this way. They insist that they love the working classes. But they don’t. They hate them, not only in policy but in everyday life.

To be completely honest, most liberals and moderates are not much better. I spent a lot of time hanging around with moneyed liberals, mostly “Hollywood Left” types who were working in the movie industry. These were good liberal people politically, but I didn’t like them one bit. They were all about money. They judged people according to how much money they made. The more money you made, the better human being you were. The less you made, the more of a slithering slug you were.

To me, this mentality obviated almost all of their liberal values. If you judge human beings by how much money they have, and you are all about money above every other human value, then how can you possibly be on the Left? I don’t see how you can.

Let’s assume that the top 20% is the cutoff for being a winner. OK, you’ve already decided that 80% of society are losers. Even worse, you are apparently demanding that 100% of society earn in the top 20% of the income bracket. Not a possibility. And if they fail to fulfill your impossible criterion, you condemn them.

No matter where you draw that cutoff line, and you have to draw it somewhere, 100% of the population can’t possibly be “successful.”

It’s typical in capitalist society, even among so-called liberals and Democrats, to say that those who were not “successful” didn’t try hard, or made poor decisions in life, or just frankly fucked up of their own accord in one way or another.

But consider this thought experiment. Suppose you could engineer humans so that everyone tried just as hard as everyone else and everyone made an equal number of poor and good decisions, and everyone fucked up as much as everyone else.

Guess what? You still end up with a small number of “winners” and a large number of “losers.” See? There will always be winners and losers, no matter how hard everyone tries, no matter how well people make decisions, no matter how many everyone fucks up.

Life under capitalism can be compared to a race. I would like to compare it to an Olympic race, say with 100 runners. Are any of these 100 crappy runners? Are any of them going to try any harder or less hard than anyone else? Are any of them going to fuck up more than the others? Probably not.

Anyway, no matter how hard those 100 try, no matter to what extent they fuck up their race or not, guess what. One person comes first, another second, another third, another tenth, another 37th, and 69th and another 100th. That’s the way it has to be.

And that’s the way it is in US capitalist society. Someone has to come in first, another 6th, another 27th, another 65th and there always has to be someone to come in 100th. People will come in first and 100th no matter how hard anyone tries, no matter how well people make their choices, no matter how much anyone fucks up.

Life’s a race.

I have thought about this analogy long and hard for many years now. I plug it into reality all the time. It makes perfect sense.

Winners and losers is crap. Everyone gets what they deserve is crap. Anyone can write their own ticket and go as far as they want is crap.

It’s all crap. All of these essential myths of the American Dream are bullshit.

And you know it.

And you if you don’t know it yet, you just haven’t thought about it enough.

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0 thoughts on “Everyone Can’t Be “Successful””

  1. “The fact that tens of millions of Americans regard working class people with contempt and hatred simply because they are not paid very well is sickening.”

    I don’t think anyone regards poor people with contempt, they just want to change them. This applies mostly to rural white evangelicals. Hence the emphasis on improving education and providing scholarships instead of increasing salaries as well as societal respect for blue collar workers.

  2. Reductionism can be used here. It comes down to sex, like so many other things. The liberal and conservative rich use their money to justify their feelings of superiority because doing so offers them greater mating opportunities.

  3. Dear Robert
    You are right in pointing out that in a race there always will be a ranking. However, that doesn’t tell us anything about the differences between the ranks. It could be that the difference between the first and the 100th runner is only 1 minute. It could also be that the difference is 20 minutes. Similarly, in the income hierarchy, the differences can be small or big. The top quintile could have 60% and the bottom quintile 3% of national income. However, it could also be that the top quintile has 36% and the bottom quintile 9%.
    We should not be obssessed about our relative position but also consider our absolute economic position. Better to earn 20,000 where the average is 40,000 than 8,000 where the average is 8,000.

    Regards. James

  4. We’re brainwashed from childhood to see life as big competition, everything.
    We heard it in school, from our parents, from TV…when I played football in HS, the coaches told us it didn’t matter how we played the game, it who wins or loses that counts. In a race there’s the winner…number one…and all the rest are losers. Fucking worthless-ass losers. All thru school we were taught that. The coaches would instruct us on how to cheat, how to read the umpires, how to deliver low blows, break bones, gouge pressure points, kick kidneys…all while watching out for the umpires. We would be celebrated and recognized for who caused the most injuries on the other teams. The coach would LOVE it when the other team members were carried off the field.
    You’re a winner, or you’re a loser. There’s no middle ground. That’s what we Americans are taught.

  5. Then of course there are the elites – who are so jealous and afraid of productive, successful Americans that they have to destroy their careers with cheap foreign labor.

    Can’t have the American people creating something the gov’t doesn’t control or have their wages rising too high you know. Have to WAGE LEVEL them as Commrade Alan Greenspan said.

    At what point do we become the servants and our servants become our masters? I think when they can manipulate the people like this, we are no longer the masters.

    1. I haven’t noticed that the moneyed Left tend to openly hate the White working class. Unless they hate them for being rightwing. It’s only rightwingers who will attack you for having a low paying job. In my experience anyway. If you’re a liberal, no matter how much money you have, you’re not supposed to attack workers. People will really look down on you if you do that. You aren’t supposed to talk about winners and losers either, or that people who don’t make very much money didn’t try very hard, or any of that shit. I have known some liberals who talked that way, but they were not very liberal to start with, they only started talking that way after they made tons of money, and when they we talking like that, they were moving away from liberalism. They were also from my parent’s generation, which has a more fucked up attitude about money than my generation does.

  6. What ‘the American dream’ (TAD) was, and how it differed from the experience of other people may actually be clearer from a non-US perspective. I think there are two distinct strands:
    Each generation will be better off than the previous generation, at all levels of society ie this applies to unskilled as well as skilled labour
    There are more opportunities in the US to work your way up than in ‘older’ societies with less social mobility. Immigrant Irish can make good, their grandchildren can be President.
    So if you fail, it’s your own fault. Of course it’s true that even people earning more than their fathers can be relative failures – 67th in the race – but that doesn’t mean that TAD wasn’t real. Living standards rose.
    What really damages TAD is the impact of globalization, which has benefitted many people in Europe and North America (who can buy cheaper consumer goods manufactured in Asia) but reduced the living standards of unskilled labour, even in the US. Hence this generation of unskilled labour is NOT richer than its parents, because this generation has to compete with Chinese labour. Absolute living standards have fallen and are falling for unskilled labour, which means that coming 67th in the race is no longer acceptable – they are all going backwards, in fact. Social mobility is also reduced by a lack of opportunity, as investment and job creation falls.

  7. I know this is not totally relevant to this discussion, but what if everyone was successful? Who would be in the shitty jobs working 8 hours at a supermarket or petrol station? (I am not saying they are shitty to offend the people working there, it is just the job is practically SHIT)

    IMO the only way everyone in America and other high class countries could have high paying jobs, is if they came from upper class families, or lower class families which sent their children to a private school from a young age.

    IMO it would probably work out that getting employed at supermarkets would be 10x harder than what it use to be, and becoming something like a Lawyer, Doctor, and Surgeon would become increasingly difficult.

  8. I’m a loser, I quit a job paying around $60000, although it was in £s as I am in the UK. I now earn less than half that much, work only 3 days a week, have time on my hands, grow my own food and have enough money to payt the bills and a little extra on top. I wouldn’t trade that for the comprimises you have to make in order to make good money. I have worked with so many a$$holes climbing the corporate ladder. I can’t help but see them as losers, no matter how much money they earn. They’ve missed the point to life in my opinion. That’s losing big time.

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