Beyond “Winner Takes All”

winner-take-allThis mentality is as much a part of White supremacy as it is academia, business, and music. Here’s why everyone loses with it, and the solution is taking less and working for more “win/win” situations.  

Anybody who’s spent time in a competitive field understands the concept of “winner takes all.” You see it in the academic job market, in which a very small percentage of scholars find tenure-track positions and the rest are left to languish in adjunct work. Most of the mentions of this concept that I’ve encountered trace back to this book (which, full disclosure, I haven’t actually read…)

Those on the left tend to accept and even champion this economic arrangement when the “winners” are perceived to possess more talent, intelligence, creativity, etc. (although the fact that these systems tend to favor White men often goes overlooked). The current political climate serves as a reminder that many on the right are in pursuit of another kind of “winner takes all” society – one in which “winners” are those who are White, male, straight, Christian, etc. In this mindset, women, minorities, and their allies should be “losers.”

Here’s the thing – when you participate in a “winner takes all” system, you not only have to defend your elevated position from like-minded people,  you risk being ousted by a different kind of system. These systems will always exist in some form (and some, like sports, will always be desired by many). But that said, I believe there are two ways to move away from the underlying mindset.

First, those of us with access to education/knowledge need to work for “win/win” solutions to problems. We have to deal with educational, environmental, healthcare, and other crises in ways that still help those who’ve been devastated by outsourcing, rural decay, and drug addiction. While no one person/organization can address all these problems, we can all pursue meaningful work being of service to others. I opted-out of the academic job market and went freelance to do just this.

Second, those of us in more privileged positions need to strive to take less. I’m a big advocate of simplicity, not as a twee pastime, but as something that improves quality of life and makes more resources available to others. The reason there aren’t more followers of this practice is that it’s ridiculously hard. It took many years and great effort for me to scale down my possessions, carefully budget my time/money, and make other drastic changes. I recognized that the typical American lifestyle wasn’t sustainable and that I should be proactive about making positive changes before it became absolutely necessary. This simplicity allows me to do work I love, work toward being debt-free, volunteer, give to charities, and other small acts that help make the world a better place.

Have you bought into the “winner takes all” mindset in your field or other settings? How might your life be better if you weren’t worried about competing with others or acquiring as many things as possible?



Author: Leah Pogwizd

Bassist, Instructor, Writer

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