Competition: can’t live with it, can’t live without it

September 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

Both Wells and Heinlein project a bleak future for mankind in The Time Machine and “by his bootstraps,” respectively. Through his portrayal of the Eloi and the Morlocks as devolved (with an emphasis on the “de”) forms of modern humans, Wells takes the pessimistic view that for all of our technologies, inventions, and advancements, we are still only the plaything of biology, purely designed to fulfill the requirements of this day and age. Therefore, we are subject to change, evidently for the worse, however our circumstances see fit. Heinlein echoes this prediction of our eventual decline in the simplicity and docility of his future humans, whom his protagonist masters and subjugates in the blink of an eye. Such prophecies suggest that there is a fundamental futility in our efforts to overcome the challenges we face today and will face in the future. In the two authors’ eyes at least, it is only a matter of time before we reach the zenith of our existence and begin to retreat back into insignificance.

Wells and Heinlein both make a point of highlighting the lack of competition in their futuristic societies, suggesting that competition plays a critical role in our drive to progress and succeed. For both the Eloi and the people under the rule of Diktor, their instinct to compete has apparently vanished (I leave the Morlocks out of the discussion only because not enough information is provided to determine whether they have any sort of hierarchy or drive besides their desire for food), leading them to sink into ignorance and indifference. Not only have they eliminated competition among themselves, but they have also eliminated any form of competition with the world around them. Disease, war, and famine have all been completely wiped out – seemingly great achievements that are overshadowed by the fact that there is nothing left for the descendants of man to focus their attention on. According to Wells and Heinlein, our intelligence and motivation will become purposeless once we no longer have competition to drive us to our next project.

The premise of these worlds being that competition no longer exists, I believe that Wells and Heinlein had fundamentally flawed views of man’s future on Earth. Our two most basic instincts are to 1) stay alive and 2) reproduce, provided that we are alive of course. Indeed, these two instincts are by no means unique to humans; they are the basis of all life as we understand it. Furthermore, the will to compete is inherent in both of these programmed mindsets. We naturally compare ourselves to others and strive to stand out. To take away competition is to to take away the principles on which life operates. In other words, life cannot exist without competition, so Wells and Heinlein cannot be accurate in predicting such scenarios.

 

Hadley Wilson

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