[tsat home] [#47] [editorials]
by Quentin 'Cubist' Long
©2006 Quentin Long -- all rights reserved

Second place don't get no respect.

An example of this phenomenon taken from professional sports, namely American football: This sport's greatest, most coveted honor is the Super Bowl trophy. The annual Super Bowl contest itself is reserved strictly for the best football teams, so simply being in the Super Bowl at all, win or lose, is no small accomplishment. So any team which manages to play in the Super Bowl for X years in a row should be greatly respected, Right? Well... no. Not if that team is the Buffalo Bills, which spent a good part of the 1990s losing X Super Bowls in a row, and in consequence became rather a national joke.

Another example, this one from rock music: Neil Young, who likes to bill his band, Crazy Horse, as "the world's third-greatest garage band". Mr. Young decided against claiming to be "the world's greatest", as he felt that might be a bit presumptuous. Okay, so why not "world's second-greatest"? Because nobody wants to come in second! But "third-greatest"... now, that, Mr. Young could get behind.

I could cite plenty of other examples of this phenomenon, and I rather suspect that everyone reading these words could do likewise. Which is saying something, because TSAT's audience spans at least four continents! Therefore, this widespread aversion to second place isn't -- can't be -- just some weird facet of American culture; it's pretty well bred into the human species in general. The reason why (or one reason why, at least) is pretty clear: Throughout the vast majority of the history of life on Earth, virtually all conflicts have been of the 'zero sum' type, in which one party can only succeed at the expense of another party. If Male Critter A gets the female, Male Critter B doesn't; if Predators A and B fight over a particular prey animal, only one of them will end up eating it; and so on, and so forth.

Thus, we all have an innate urge to be #1, and to leave our competitors broken in our wake. Note that this is just an 'urge', not an irresistable instinct or anything; many people have it in such a weak form that it's not noticeable, and it's actually quite rare for any human to exhibit this urge on a Bill Gates III-ian scale -- which is a Good Thing. Can you imagine how bad things might get if every business, every organization, every human being were exactly and precisely as amorally rapacious as Microsoft?

[tsat home] [#47] [editorials]