Competitive Emulation: I

Brass Tacks

Let us begin with a Sample Problem.

Given two chimpanzees (A and B), both "other directed," both infinitely fond of food scraps, and occupying neighboring cages in a public zoo. By making a fool of himself (by scratching, jumping, chattering, etc.), Chimp A wins the love and peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches of the selfless little schoolchildren who visit the zoo. Question: How do A's antics affect the behavior of B?

Answer: Chimp B, jealous of his neighbor's popularity, also begins scratching, jumping and chattering in an effort to regain the attention of the spectators. He is forced to imitate A to compete with him. He is forced, in short, to utilize the principle of competitive emulation.

This principle explains why intelligent animals like chimpanzees make fools of themselves in public zoos. It also explains some real problems in international relations.

Real Problem 1: Given two super-powers (U.S. and U.S.S.R.) in international competition. The U.S.S.R., which has given highest priority to science education, wins world acclaim by launching Sputnik I. Question: How does the U.S. respond?

Answer: The U.S. overhauls its anti-intellectual Zeitgeist, intensifies its Outer Space Program, and gives loans, grants, and encouragement to advance science education--all loans in accordance with the principle of competitive emulation.

This is not to suggest that competitive, emulation is in itself an independent cause of change. Everyone knows that education (especially science education) is an integral part of the American Dream and that the external demands of competition can bring about change only in terms of the internal situation. Competitive emulation does not create but only stimulates domestic reform.

But its influence is pervasive nonetheless, for in differing degrees both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. are operating on a national competitive ethic. The Soviets have always made competitive success a national goal. Witness the motto on their state seal: "To Catch Up and Surpass." In meeting the Soviet challenge the formerly isolationist United States have slowly moved toward a similar competitive orientation.

This tendency to argue for reform in terms of competition rather than principle is forcefully illustrated in President Kennedy's recent address on Cuba. "... the soft societies," the President said, "are about to be swept away with the debris of history. Only the strong, only the industrious, only the determined... can possibly survive.... We intend to re-examine and re-orient our forces of all kinds; our tactics, and our institutions here in this community. We intend to intensity our efforts for a struggle in many ways more difficult than war.... I am determined upon our system's survival and success, regardless of the cost...."

These are, as the saying goes, fighting words. They commit the United States to the ethics of conflict in a time of formal peace and thus foster on this side of the Cold War an atmosphere long present on the other--a tense, wartime atmosphere favorable to the operation of competitive emulation.

The principle of competitive emulation teaches that when two competitors engage in protracted struggle each tends to adopt the other's most successful "tactics" (to use the President's word). And to the extent that the struggle permeates their domestic situations, they also tend to adopt similar "institutions."

Thus, President Kennedy's half-hearted attempt to intervene in Cuba might be construed as an emulation of unscrupulous Soviet tactics. His recent call for self-censorship" in newspapers might be taken as a first step toward imitation of the captive press institutionalized in the Soviet systems. Or one might be more charitable.

In any case, the principle of competitive emulation warns that there is much truth in an old proverb, now a cliche among the more cynical neutrals: "The longer two enemies fight, the more they become the same."