Victory is sweetest when you’ve known defeat.
-Malcolm S. Forbes
Like most people, I do not enjoy losing.
But that is just what I experienced some hours ago. Since I like to multitask while listening to audiobooks (I’m a voracious listener as well as a voracious reader), I played EA Sports’ NHL 12. A week ago, I had started a playoff run with the Boston Bruins (with a fantasy draft before the season, so the team was an eclectic mix of players), and now I was in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings. It was a dramatic, far-too-intense-for-a-video-game series that had reached a 7th and deciding game. My team, however, was down by a goal with 50 seconds left, but then my Bruins beared down and tied the game! My euphoria continued well after the ensuing face-off at centre ice – but it ended abruptly seconds later when Detroit came back and immediately took the lead again! This time, their lead would hold up and I lost the (virtual) Stanley Cup.
I was devastated.
This may seem like an overreaction, but I had a lot of time invested with this (virtual) team and it was a bitter feeling to come up short. I thought to myself, “If only the result could be different…”
But then I stopped myself. For at that exact moment, a particularly relevant Ayn Rand quote came to mind:
There is no conflict of the interests among men who do not desire the unearned.
Now, it is one thing to read that quote in a neutral emotional state, with no immediate conflict facing you. It is quite another to hear that quote in the midst of a torrent of melancholy and frustration. However, the quote still struck me as profoundly true.
Since, however, emotions are not tools of cognition (but rather, a sort of adviser for what your conscious mind should focus on) I decided to divert my attention away from my broken heart and consider why that particular quote struck me as true.
This led to me to the following thought experiment: what if the players in my virtual Stanley Cup Finals were real? And what if my team still lost to Detroit? If I could reverse the NHL’s verdict to award the Stanley Cup to Detroit rather than my Bruins, without changing the scores of any of the games or the fact that Detroit had technically earned it, would I?
This is actually an extremely complex thought experiment because there are many factors to consider that are not immediately obvious. I’ll summarize my thinking below:
- If I reverse the decision, I win the Stanley Cup and feel good, but not as good as if I had earned it.
- In addition, Detroit, the team that did earn it, would not be able to reap the rewards of their effort.
- Through my own actions, I have given my fullest consent to a world (or social system) in which those who earn values may not get to keep those values.
- Therefore, if I ever earn something myself it is unlikely that I will be able to reap the rewards of my success.
A mere desire for the unearned is contradictory to a desire to be able to keep that which you earn. It is not just an act of resistance against a free and just society, it is a rebellion against the Law of Causality itself. Since I do not desire an irrational world, I would therefore refuse to accept the Stanley Cup that I did not earn and congratulate the Detroit Red Wings on their hard-fought victory.
Those of you who are particularly astute may have already realized that this concept is applicable to any other situation where there is a “conflict of interest”, from job searches to love triangles.
There is a difference between someone who has lost and someone who is a loser. The purpose of this article was to further illuminate this distinction.
But it’s still going to take me a few days to get over this loss…