The Best Thing About Losing

No one likes to lose.  It hurts your pride.  Depending on how attached you are to winning, it can make you feel and even look like an idiot.  You even have the painful thought:  I am such a loser!  The power of negative thinking seeks to destroy your happiness.  As Darth Vader would say to his son, chip off the old block Luke Skywalker, “Let your hate flow.”  Hate yourself and you won’t be able to love anyone else.  That’s the biggest loss of all.

Where I come from, the winner-take-all mentality has made perhaps the lion’s share of the populace (congratulations, folks!  You’re going to be eaten by lions) feel like losers or failures.  It’s a sad state of affairs–fifty sad states, to be exact.  Hypercapitalism has cultivated a society in which a precious few people can clean up, while the rest of us empty their chamber pots into the river from which we all have to drink.  Some of us are able to accumulate enough goodies ourselves to be distracted from the fact that we’re being raped on a daily basis (but only of our rights).  Since we gleefully participate in a dysfunctionally omnivorous system that consumes its own foundations, I guess we have no right to complain too much about it.

Here in Seoul I sometimes feel the human race has left the building.  Korean people are generally kind and considerate, but as I’ve mentioned before in this blog, there’s an alarming display of antisocial behavior in public that makes me wonder what the hell is happening to everyone.  Asocial might be the more accurate term, as most people on the subway or the bus appear to be absolutely indifferent to the welfare of their fellow creatures.  There’s a zombified hollowness about people that makes me wonder if they’re still all there.

The ubiquitous popularity of hunching over a smartphone with earbuds pumping noise into your brain has become the default setting for the jackals’ share of the commuters one sees in this idiotic city.  Don’t get me wrong:  I love Seoul, but I love wordplay even more.  

I also enjoy breathing, and I’m not able to do as much of it these days without stopping to wonder whether it’s safe.  I’ve gotten so fed up with trying to figure out the level of toxic shit in the air, half the time I don’t even bother wearing my dust mask anymore.  Hell, I’m going to die anyway.  It’s probably all right though–safe as cancer.

Divided and conquered, these chronic post-postmodern media consumers have given up any hope of political involvement as citizens.  The ancient Greek word polis, from which politics derives, meant city, whereas an idiot was someone who avoided political involvement (at least according to Texan populist Jim Hightower).  To me that seems unfair to all the rest of the idiots who participate in political movements, especially most of the politicians themselves.  I’m being unfairly cynical; in fact, I do think everyone should pursue civics as a matter of course.  Unfortunately, it appears that most of us have given up hope for any substantive political change for the better.  The prevailing sentiment seems to be:  We will get fooled again–repeatedly.

None of these aspects of losing is particularly pleasant, healthful, or wise.  Neither is the disintegration of families, communities, villages, coral reefs, or mountain ranges destroyed by coal companies in their mission to contaminate the water supply along with their brethren in the natural gas industry (frack till you crack).  It makes for a depressing world.  Who stole the hope from the bottom of Pandora’s box?  What did they trade it in for?

But before you kick yourself for losing the precious glory days of your past, your marriage, dignity, or loved ones to disease or accident, as if these things were your fault (they’re certainly not), remember that some of the greatest people in history have been losers:  Jesus was a loser.  So was Martin Luther King.  And John Lennon.  And Marilyn Monroe.  As well as Princess Diana.  And Robert Kennedy.  And his Big Brother John.  And Colonel Henry Blake.  What did they lose?  They lost their lives before their time.  Add to that list all the brilliant comedians who got snuffed out by their own excess:  John Belushi, Chris Farley, Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, Freddie Prinze.  (Poor Gilda Radner, who created some memorable characters for Saturday Night Live in its heyday, including Emily Litella and Roseanne Roseannadanna, succumbed to cancer at an early age.)  And don’t forget the heroes of soul, R&B, rock and roll, jazz, and punk:  Otis Redding (26), Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Kurt Cobain, Hank Williams, Amy Winehouse, Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin, Joe Strummer, Bobby Darin, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Jimi Hendrix.  (I didn’t include Jim Morrison, mainly because he was a major league asshole.  As for actors, while a lot of people extol James Dean as the greatest thing since sliced cheese, he was no great shakes; he makes Tom Cruise look like Laurence Olivier.  Billy Joel may contend that only the good die young, but sometimes the mediocre do too.)

Finally, there are those artists who lost their lives due to the agony of rejection (Vincent Van Gogh), or whose stellar reputations in early life were replaced by an unjust thrusting into obscurity (Herman Melville, whose novel Moby Dick was a commercial and critical flop in his lifetime and wasn’t recognized as the masterpiece it was until around 1920, long after he’d gone to hunt that big white whale in the sky).

Shakespeare, who at least had the taste of considerable success during his lifetime, was apparently unhappily married.  (He was also evidently a bit of a prick, a landlord who hounded his tenants for every last penny.)  He didn’t make it past fifty-two.

So I guess I’m in good company when I keep losing at ping pong and chess.  (Shakespeare’s ping pong-playing acumen is thus far undocumented.)  There’s no need to get bent out of shape and throw my paddle against the ground like John McEnroe having a shit-fit or burn down the church in protest.

And since our species may well be on its way to premature (as well as immature) extinction due to the way our genes are rigged, and our essential inability to reign in our catastrophic appetites for food, land, and non-stop movement (I fidget, therefore I am?), it may not be amiss to say that we’ll also be in good company, considering how many other wonderful species whose wing-beats, tailfin-shifts, and staggering footsteps to the mass grave we’ll be following in.

It’s a small world, but never fear:  this earth is big enough to contain all of us, winners and losers alike.  Indigestion won’t be an issue. 

 

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