Because I’ve been busy with house (groan) matters and trying to write short stories in the cracks between (they’re due) I have been reading one of those interminable collections of traditional fairytales. See, I need to read something while cooking or walking on the treadmill, or such, but it can’t be anything long or engaging, because otherwise I won’t get my work done.
One of the things that struck me about the fairytales is that people are born to be what they are. Sure, sure, there are tests (usually three) sometimes (not always) but even then it’s never at doubt that the chosen one will manage all trials.
Some time ago I was talking to a friend about this (no longer remember whom) and he said yeah, in Heinlein books the kids/heroes had to work for it. And were often very bad at it (Johnny Rico and math, for ex) but in modern fantasies (Harry Potter — though at least she put him through trials), and even most other YA, you are “the chosen one” and therefore it falls to you without being a “battler” as Dave Freer puts it.
Which brings me to the topic of this: it used to be America as a pioneer culture admired the battlers. The from-rags-to-riches story was the American story and people at least pretended to it, even if not quite true. People admired those who sometimes fell a lot of times in the effort to reach the summit (say, Abraham Lincoln.)
I don’t know when this started changing. Look, the fairy tales are a reflection of the society they were created in, a society where though social mobility existed (particularly after the Black Death) it wasn’t supposed to. The idea was that G-d placed you in the strata of society you were supposed to be in, and your qualities fit that place. So the stories talked about the naturally brilliant son, the beautiful daughter, etc. And though they were often born poor they were “blessed” and “Fated” to succeed. (Which might also be a way to cope with sudden social mobility.)
The US not being that type of society had different stories.
But in the seventies, when I came here, after I’d read all the SF and the mysteries in the local library I branched out into popular psychology. (At the time I had an interest in maybe taking psychology.)
I remember one of the books going on and on about how people were either “winners” or “losers” and the one you were was set early in infancy (they went on and on and on about potty training.) They believed that time set the tone for your life and after that you always won or always lost.
This entered the popular speech in the epithet “loser” applied to someone, as though losing were a permanent thing you were “fated” to.
To an extent the whole current mania with “alphas” and “betas” and “omegas” follows the same thing. You are born in a place in a hierarchy. You can’t fake it, but you can’t change it.
Does all of this have a basis in reality? Well, the alpha and beta and such have a base in primate studies. This is and isn’t somewhat applicable to man. The loser thing only has a basis if people CHOOSE to be losers; i.e. if they’re convinced that they lost once so they’ll always lose. It is a narrative thing. If you internalize that narrative then you do indeed become a “loser” i.e. a permanent f*ck up and dependent on the charity of others.
But in a way neither of them apply very well to man. Most of the characteristics that make a primate a “alpha” would make — to an extent do make — a man a criminal. The largest population of alpha males is in prison or (in countries that go for it) killed.
In fact that’s sort of the whole point. If humans still adhered to that ranking and followed it, we’d live in small bands, hand to mouth (literally.) The whole process of civilization is a process of breaking out those ranks.
This has nothing to do with the pick up artists or the games. For them learning to emulate an alpha male works. Because human mating instinct hasn’t quite caught up with civilization and women more willing to go with irrational choices will prefer alpha males or those who can fake it. That’s valid. Of course you’re appealing mostly to women who prefer not to think, even if they can. That’s fine.
My problem is with stretching it to everything from business to politics. And judging people that way, mostly erroneously.
Human society is FAR more complex than any simian band. This means you might have the alpha characteristics of your group, but not of “primate alpha.”
Some people just have charisma. They enter a room and fill it. That is a quality. Is it a quality that means they’re a “Winner?” Or should be?
While these people have an easier time getting on, particularly in the liberal arts and other fields that are mostly bullshit and spin, it doesn’t make them GOOD at what they do.
Our worship of charisma means that we often will hire the idiot manager who looks good, and talks a good game, but who has no freaking clue how a business runs. We believe they are “fated” to be great. Anyone forgotten Obama’s pantleg? How well did that work out?
But worse than that, and what I’ve noticed, is that from this idea some are winner and some are “losers” people started worshiping and responding to outward signs of success as though they were reality. You know “Nothing succeeds like success” and all that bullsh*t. Which led to Fake It Till You Make It, which ONLY works if people AREN’T looking at accomplishments, but at “signs of a winner.”
Humans and life are WAY more complicated than that. I mentioned Lincoln above. Love him or hate him (and I do both kind of in equal measures) he had a long history of losing, before he won. (And then he died, because it was that kind of story.) Robert A. Heinlein had tried his hand at just about everything and failed, sometimes through no fault of his own, before going on to become one of the most influential SF writers of all time.
There are a million other examples, but it’s early morning for me (don’t judge me) and those are the only two that come to mind.
But the point is if you’re a battler, you battle. You might end up not succeeding, but you might also succeed against all odds.
Once at a very BORING party, I found a book of “Arab horoscopes.” I know it will shock you that instead of cute animals like the Chinese or mythological symbols like the west, they use weapons. They also — if this book was accurate. I never looked further — make more sense in casting your “horoscope.” What size town were you born in, what status was your family, how much education do you have take the place of when were you born, and what planet influenced you?
In a society that’s still very traditional, the end result should be very accurate.
Of course I plugged my data in. (DUH. REALLY.) What came up was “deep Sling Shot”. “Someone whose life conditions have no reflection on the result.” Most “deep sling shots” get nowhere, but it’s possible for some to make it from beggar to king — or something like that. (Not sure. It’s been 35 years and it was the once.)
At the time this impressed me, because it amused me. Which is why I remember it.
However, remember these “horoscopes” were designed for people in a deeply traditional society. Thinking about it, the mixed, confused “original conditions” are far more common in America, and what’s more more prone to change.
So what we need to do is stop fawning over the rich and the successful at the moment and look at the person themselves (at any rate that success is often “Fake it till you make it.”) We need to stop “respecting the office” when the person in it is a total f*ckup. (This now extends to teachers and policemen, btw. People continually tell me about those, “You have to respect the office.” No, I really, really don’t. This is not the military. I don’t owe even external honor to anyone. They can earn it or not. If THEY don’t show any respect for the office, why should I OWE them any.)
Our tax records, even in these diminished times show that Americans move from top to bottom percentile with amazing rapidity and frequency. And back again.
We are Americans. We’re the nation that beat the odds to exist. We’re all deep sling shots. How deep and how far we go is not totally under our control, but it is to a great extent.
The greatest determinants of success are application and perseverance. Even if you lost every time till now, there is no fate dictating that next time you won’t win and win so spectacularly that it erases all former losses.
Battle on. Illegitimi non carborundum! We are not winners. We’re not losers. We’re battlers. Win some, lose some. The important thing is not to give up the fight.