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Communism & Capitalism: Two Mindsets in Amtgard
[09/21/2007] [Brennon]

I have put a lot of thought lately in to what separates great fighters, artisans, and leaders in Amtgard from the mediocre or incompetent ones. What is it that drives some people to excel? Why do some people not strive towards excellence? Why do these two types of people so often find themselves in conflict with one another? Is there a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to be?

The drive to excel is an interesting thing. It is the internal desire to constantly best yourself, and those around you. This sounds as though it is be pride-based, but that would be a shallow and incorrect interpretation of what is going on. The drive comes entirely from within. It is a push to meet and exceed all the benchmarks you can find: To build the better mousetrap, paint the better picture, give the more passionate performance, beat more and better opponents. To somebody with drive a victory is hollow in and of itself; It is only the meeting of the milestone. A victory only signifies the start of the quest towards the next goal. Never satisfied, never resting. The challenge itself is the important thing. Success is only a side-affect of this constant push to better ones self. A person with drive does not care about their opponents, contemporaries, or competitors except in that they provide a challenge. This is not a negative lack of caring but simply recognition that their desires and goals are completely internal to themselves. It doesn’t matter to them that they beat you. They don’t care how you feel about that. If you take umbrage at being defeated, you have only yourself to chastise. If you defeat somebody with drive and they express frustration then be assured that it is entirely internal. They don’t care that you beat them. They care only that they have identified a challenge and not yet risen to it. It is frustration, but it is also perverse joy in finding another milestone. This mind set is a classic example of capitalism: Division of wealth through merit as determined by market forces and entrepreneurial success. In this case ‘wealth’ is awards, tournaments, titles, offices, and prestige. While a person with drive may not care about the accumulation of any of these things it is important to realize that their drive to evolve past market forces (competition of those around them) is going to leave them in a situation to accumulate these things.

If drive is internal and affects only oneself desire to be the best, why does it produce conflict with any other group of people? To get to the heart of this question it is important to identify the mindset of the second group. Generally it is characterized by the following: Desire for equality, even distribution of wealth (awards, offices, tournaments, etc), belief that happiness is a right, and the concept that trying deserves recognition. The desire for equality is best described as wanting everybody to be perceived as have the same value or worth on a grand scale. By necessity, then, this mandates that the first day players is held in the same esteem as a twenty year veteran who excels at arts, sciences, service, and combat. The even distribution of wealth mandates that every person should (at some point) be able to hold an office, win a tournament, and get awards. Belief in the right to happiness dictates that, by necessity, any persons right to act ends at a point where it would impinge on the happiness of any other person. The desire to recognize an attempt at something, regardless of success, mandates that we do not only reward achievement but also the attempt at achievement. These are the basic philosophical tenets of communism: All men have an equal value and wealth ought to be distributed evenly amongst all people, regardless of their individual contributions.

With the two mindsets defined it should be possible to determine why this conflict is endemic and persistent in Amtgard.

First consider the division of wealth as embodied by awards, offices, prestige, etc. The capitalist desires only to excel against all odds, raise the bar for themselves, and measure their change in proficiency against others through competition. As a result they collect wealth because the Amtgard system of awards is merit-based. Elections are based upon perception of capability and track record. The artisans and fighters who constantly push themselves to better their former work and the work of their peers win tournaments. People follow and look up to people who succeed. The communist believes that wealth should be distributed evenly. The options to achieve this are to either recognize everybody equally regardless of ability or to constrain the advancement abilities of the capitalist by not letting them compete. Obviously this creates direct confrontation between the two groups. The capitalist wishes to excel, while the communist wishes to constrain excellence in favor of equal wealth distribution.

Second is the conflict created by differences in the concept of equality. The communist sees all men as being equal in the grand scale of things. The capitalist sees all men as having equal opportunity to excel, but ultimately as having a specific value which is the sum of all the skills and ability they offer to society. A first-day player (assuming no prior skill existence) has little value to a capitalist. Their only contribution is their presence, which could be replicated by anybody else with exactly the same effect. They have contributed nothing to the club and do not offer competition in the arts, sciences, or combat. To a communist the skills and contributions of a player is irrelevant; All players have identical inherent value. This becomes evident when one considers the idea of respect, which is based on value perceptions. The capitalist gives respect proportional to the merit of the individual. The communist gives the same respect to all players, regardless of ability or merit.

Third is the idea that happiness is a right or an entitlement. The communist believes that everybody has the right to be happy, and any action by a person that impinges upon the happiness of another is wrong. The capitalist believes that all people are entitled to the pursuit of happiness, but ultimately you are on your own in finding that happiness. While obviously there is a social framework that deals with issues such as violence, theft, etc as a threat to happiness that is not the sort of concept being looked at. The communist would posit that if annihilating somebody efficiently and quickly without ever providing them an opportunity to swing would cause them despair then you ought to provide them a ‘sporting chance’ to protect their happiness. The capitalist maintains that providing you with happiness is not my business and should not interfere with my pursuit of excellence. The capitalist recognizes your right to strive towards happiness, but does not feel compelled to artificially constrain himself to provide it to you.

Fourth point of conflict is attaching value to attempting a task versus succeeding at a task. The capitalist believes that attempting something has value in that continued practice may eventually lead to success. The attempt itself has no value if it yields no results. The communist believes that the act of trying something it, itself, noble and worthy of recognition. A model for this might be the Olympics compared to the Special Olympics. In the Olympics you receive a gold medal if your performance is superior to that of your competitors. It is a merit-based system. In the Special Olympics all attendees take home a medal; Attending has value in and of itself.

Having analyzed the main differences of the mindsets and the points of conflict between them, can it then be determined which is correct? No. ‘Correct’ is a value judgment and a matter of opinion. What can be extrapolated is the environment these two mindsets foster. Capitalism in Amtgard fosters an environment where achievement is recognized, encouraged, and fostered. New players are told that it is a highly competitive environment and you can be as good as you want to be if you apply yourself and work hard. The best teachers are easy to identify because they are the ones in office, winning tournaments, and being rewarded. It does mean that people who are not interested in applying themselves, working hard, or are uncomfortable with the concept of their value being determined by their merit are not likely to stick around for the long term. It does mean that people who participate in that environment are far more likely to invest in Amtgard and stay with it for years. Communism creates an environment where it is very easy to enter into the community. New people are accepted with the same value as all other players and told that whatever level they are capable of participating or performing at is all that is needed. The desire to achieve is minimal, since it is not stressed and can cause inequality amongst players. In this environment people come, they play for a while, and when they reach the bottom of the shallow pool of challenges offered by the communist mindset, they move on. A communist group is constantly full of new people, but few veterans and no real depth of ability to challenge the group to succeed.

At this point I will make a value judgment. I prefer an organization where merit, achievement, and ability are both encouraged and rewarded. I prefer my leaders to be the ones with demonstrable ability, not merely the person whose ‘turn it is on the slide’. Amtgard is not a playground at school where everybody gets a turn. Amtgard is an organization that needs the best leadership, fighters, and artisans we can build to succeed. We need to offer a breadth and depth to abilities that will speak to the new player in search of a challenge and provide him with a lifetime of milestones to strive towards. Is there anything wrong with communism? Yes, there is. Communism inherently discourages excellence. I am a capitalist. I promote your ability to excel, should you so choose. I support your drive to challenge me in all areas. I will mentor you and help you along that path so that I may provide myself with further challenge. I will respect you when you earn it, and when you have my respect you know you deserve due to your abilities rather than simply for existing. I will never tell you that you cannot do your best because you might hurt some one else’s feelings.

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