Adam Jutt ’25 is majoring in economics and math. Aside from being an opinions editor, he is a member of Club Tennis and involved with InterVarsity. Feel free to email Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.
“Competition is the lifeblood of democracy.”
I’m pretty sure someone once told me that quote, accrediting it to some ancient Greek philosopher. I don’t remember who that “someone” was, but the quote is so deeply embedded in my soul that I’m sure I was told it at some point. Google doesn’t seem to recognize it, however, which casts a serious shadow of doubt on whether it was ever actually said by a famous philosopher. In fact, when I Google “competition is the lifeblood of democracy greek philosopher quote,” the first thing that comes up is an Aristotle quote that has nothing to do with competition, though to its credit it may be the worst political take I have ever read: “In a democracy, the poor will have more power than the rich because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme.” This guy is known for having smart thoughts?
Back to the topic at hand, though, the fact is I’m not sure anyone famous ever claimed that competition is the lifeblood of democracy. I sincerely wish I could remember who it was who insisted the contrary way back when, either to chew them out for lying to me or to learn who told them that a Greek philosopher said that competition is the lifeblood of democracy and continue working backward until we reach the quote’s inception. Also, if I had time left over after that investigation, I would want to get to the bottom of the meaning of the word “lifeblood.” In my opinion, it is a very silly word that should not exist, and yet all academic sources I have consulted agree that it does. Unfortunately, I don’t quite have the free time to pursue either goose chase.
So, maybe competition is not the lifeblood of democracy. That doesn’t mean it can’t be a lot of fun.
The College of William and Mary has many clubs and student organizations. More specifically, the College has many clubs which are not the only club on campus of their respective category. A cappella groups are a prime example, the last time anyone counted it seemed we had roughly eleven such groups at the College. Or, take improv groups — we have six of them, I believe. As a slightly different type of example, let’s examine the political groups on campus. Young Dems, Young Independents, College Republicans, College Socialists, and probably more associations of young or college-aged (never both) politically like-minded individuals meet regularly on this campus. I could give more examples of club-categories, but I am not going to do that. Whether that is because I assume you understand the point by now or because I lied and actually can’t think of any more categories of club which lend themselves to my imminent argument, you’ll never know.
My argument is that the various clubs in categories at the College should annually compete with one another. The type of contest would, obviously, be fashioned to the type of club. The a cappella groups would have an annual riff-off, the improv groups would have an annual improv-off, the political groups would have an annual debate-off, the literary magazines would have an annual literary magazine-off, the religious organizations would have an annual religion-off (wait no scratch that one), the dance groups would have an annual dance-off, etc. I do not feel qualified or motivated to detail what each of those specific contests should look like. The way I picture it, the exec boards of each pertinent group would come together to discuss and plan them. However, there are a few elements that each contest absolutely must incorporate. They must be well-advertised and open to the public. There must be a clear winner. And, there must be a trophy of some sort, which the winning group gets to keep until next year’s competition.
Now, I recognize that these events are easier to conceptualize for some categories of club than others. The riff-off or improv-off could be planned by a toddler in five minutes, while designing an unbiased system to determine the winner of the political debate-off would require a methodology deserving of publication in the American Political Science Review. Similarly, I will not pretend I have the faintest notion of what a literary magazine-off would entail. That said, I think each category of club could ultimately figure out how to make it work, and it would have some clear-cut advantages for everyone involved. First, for the clubs involved, it would represent a brilliant opportunity to showcase their talents to a wide swath of campus, which includes potential new group members and potential new audience members or subscribers. Second, for the audience, it would represent free entertainment and an opportunity to compare groups before getting involved with one. Finally, it would bring our community closer together; people with similar interests who otherwise might not interact due to disparate group allegiances would have an opportunity to get to know one another better and learn from each other’s strengths.
The main potential downside of this plan is, the way I see it, groups taking it too seriously and getting upset if they don’t win. Maybe instead of bringing all the groups in a given category together, this tradition would lead them to antagonize one another. This concern would be especially relevant in the debate-off, as differences between political groups are more protuberant than the differences between iterations of other group categories and because — for some unknown reason I think political scientists should research — the category “politics” tends to sow division of a more vitriolic type than the categories “song” or “laughter.” I cannot in good faith declare that this downside is negligible or unlikely to materialize. All I can do is urge you to evaluate the costs and benefits; maybe some tension is worth it if it means the lifeblood of democracy will course more richly through our campus.