A famous American baseball manager once intoned - "Nice guys finish last." Everyone knew what he meant. Everyone smiled and said "how clever." Few acknowledged the obvious implication that he hadn't had in mind. Nice guys finishing last is a devastating indictment of society.
The embodied insight is that the environment people find themselves in tends to punish generosity, solidarity, and humanity. To succeed, even just to survive, over and over we are forced to be not nice. If, instead, over and over we choose solidarity, we fall behind. We even finish last.
We may say have a nice day a thousand times between waking and snoring. But simultaneously we trample whatever is in our way. We ignore pain and suffering easily discernable around us. We ignore the conditions and circumstances of those who provide what we need or use what we provide. A ten-year-old bully may be a nasty thug in making. But a highly civilized 20, 30, 40, 50, or 60 something adult, who pursues a narrow life path that ignores the horrors it depends on is considered a citizen in good standing, natural, unimpeachable, a mayor, CEO, senator, or president. Typically, if we are properly oblivious we advance. If we are too nice we lag behind.
Many factors compel the outcomes but at or near the top are authoritative decision-making and market competition where the two operating together impose an almost insurmountable pressure for predation.
So I found Leo Durocher's quip highly informative, but there came a time, while it is still technically still true, I felt "nice guys finish last" had become too tame a formulation to indicate the gilded viper pit people must constantly navigate. I wondered, does some other one liner go even further than Leo's, and, in so doing, achieve greater clarity. I found one. It is not even a one liner. It is a two worder: "Garbage rises."
We don't live in a meritocracy. Genius doesn't rise. Garbage rises.
If you take orders with a smile and a good day greeting for others, or if you give orders with a growl and oblivious to their impact on those you boss around, then even if you would rather not be doing these things - so long as you keep that a secret - you will rise, especially in the latter case. If lies come naturally and easily, if you can swivel your head from reality to delusion without developing a pain in the neck, if you will steal advantage and then defend it by whatever means present themselves - you will rise. If you look out for others, forget about it. Trampled.
This isn't seamless. It doesn't happen 100 percent of the time. But not far off. And it isn't just about becoming a CEO, chief of police, senator, president, or chief negotiator. It happens even where you might least expect it, in schools, in homes, in churches, in bedrooms, all over the damn place.
And what makes it particularly devastating is that everyone knows it happens. But of course we do. So what? The whole point is, knowing doesn't matter. The viper pit pushes us and we comply.
And why does this happen? Is it because human beings are vipers? That is complete nonsense. We can certainly behave like vipers (assuming they behave abysmally). But that doesn't mean we must do so.
We must breathe. We must eat, drink, sleep. We must do many things, but not be viper like. That is a social possibility which, however, needs causes to make it occur. And the causes are not in our DNA. Or in our stars. They are, instead, all around us.
If Joe is in jail and Joe doesn't see the sun each day, or eat well, and so on - we don't say, it is due to Joe's inner nature. We say it is due to the cell he is in. How simple. How obvious. Anyone can see it, understand it. In contrast, how incredible that we can hide from ourselves that our condition regarding being viper like - or poor, or rich, or pretty much anything else, is like Joe's condition in lacking a sunburn. We are confined.
Our jail is the social institutions around us. Just as Joe's jail is the one whose bars he stares at each morning, noon, and night, our jail is the institutions we act within and fulfill the dictates of if we are to get through each day, and get some benefits along the way.
If you think we are viper like because the social institutions we daily relate too require viperism if we are to rise instead of finishing last, again, kill yourself, or play the game as prescribed by your position, or - whoa - consider this, you could reject the choice. I don't want door a or b, I want to opt for a new situation. I want to seek changed relations in the present, but, much more to the point, in the future. Yes, there it is, you are a revolutionary.
And it really is true, with eyes open we must be suicidally resigned, cynically viperish, or - revolutionary. Take your pick! One of these isn't poison.