"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Just Showing Up Wins No Prizes - In Praise Of Darwin, Competition, And Total Victory

Alexa Thomas was one of the most competitive children her kindergarten teacher had ever seen.  Despite her attempts - following school administration guidelines, to promote inclusivity, cooperation, and respect - the little girl insisted on being the first, the best, the most recognized.  The thing of it all was that she was indeed more talented, more intelligent, and more coordinated than her peers.  She had already learned to read, could do advanced arithmetic, could faithfully draw animals, people, and flowers, and could run faster than anyone in her class. 

When field day rolled around, Alexa was ready.  She would enter all the most difficult events, and by the fourth grade she could throw a baseball far over the back fence and run like a sprinter.  For this, she got no recognition - everyone got a medal.  Just showing up was enough.  

‘How could that be?’ said the precocious Alexa sitting in the gallery of District Court while her mother made mincemeat of the defense, a no-holds-barred, scorched earth, Genghis Khan prosecution that few could match. 

"You want to see what Mommy does for a living?', she said to her daughter, and saw it she did in all its majestical fury.  

Whether Nature or Nurture - probably both - Alexa followed in her mother's footsteps.  There was no alternative to success regardless of what her teachers said.  What was this nonsense of 'multiple intelligences' when only one - the rational, disciplined, cognitive one - counted? 

In fifth grade the school district adopted the principle of 'cooperative learning' where the brighter students were to take the slower learners under their wings, help them along, give them a hand up. 

It was an educational disaster.  The slow students were born slow, raised in intellectually indifferent families, got coopted by the street at an early age, and couldn't put two sentences together; and it was these students that Alexa was charged to tutor. 

Even at her young age, she understood the bell curve.  No matter how much her teachers insisted that everyone was equal, reality was far different.  She could understand the logic behind number theory while Jamey and LaShonda couldn't add 8+6.  They were holding her back.  She was wasting her time. School was a joke. 


Her parents were quick to see it was time to make a change.  The public school was a nice idea, just up the street, all her pre-school friends were there, etc. but when she learned about the non-competitive course of study, the absence of grades or honors, and the misery of cooperative learning, Alexa was out and in one of the city's most prestigious private schools. 

The Marshall Friends School was known for its academic rigor and challenging curriculum.  Its administrators were proud of the percentage of graduating seniors who got acceptance to Harvard, Yale, MIT, and Stanford every year. 

Ironically this highly academically competitive school was miserable on the sports field. Excellence at that kind of competition was frowned upon by the Quakers.  It was team camaraderie, the fresh air, and the sheer physical joy of physical exercise which mattered, not winning.  

Coaches were told to play everybody, not just the good athletes, so players bumbled and stumbled on field and court, and were welcomed on the sidelines to hugs ('Good job!!') and cheers.  Each Marshall team went 0-fer every season, every year, and the school was proud of the record. 

By the time Alexa started her studies there, the school, under pressure from parents and a more competitive private school market decided to raise the level of sports performance and in a cynical two-fer maneuver combining affirmative action with sports recruitment, filled their rosters with inner city kids who could not add a column of numbers but who could run rings around the opposition; and soon Marshall was at the top of all-Met teams. 

The hypocrisy of it all was too much for the super-bright Alexa whose parents opted for private tutoring.  Finally the girl was taught at her level.  The city was home to some of the nation's best universities and finding students who could work with their daughter was the perfect solution. She now could compete only with herself - and for an extremely driven, competitive girl like her, it meant only excellence day after day. 

Harvard accepted her without a second thought, early acceptance, all privileges granted; and Harvard Law School was the logical next step.  Finally she was in an environment which not only accepted competition as a normal expression of human enterprise, but embraced it.  While the miasma of affirmative action and its post-SCOTUS legacy marginalized and ghettoized a small percentage of students, striving for the top was the ethos of the university and the law school. 

Now, despite the professional example set by her mother - the indefatigable victor of District Court - Alexa chose Wall Street.  There, in the closest thing to pure, laissez-faire capitalism in America and in the most purely competitive arena imaginable, she would thrive. There were no gold stars or blue ribbons handed out on Wall Street, only nine-figure salaries.  

Success and being at the top were measurable, and in a short time she was there.  No investment banker had seen such a prodigy, such a native talent, a born trader.  She had no fear, no hesitation, and no compunction.  A marvel, a pure marvel, The Demon of Wall Street. 

In her off hours - even she had a few to spare - she played competitive squash and was the champion of the Harvard Club and the inter-Ivy squash league of New York.  There simply was no end to her competitiveness, no draw-down of aggressive reserves, no relaxation of desire or ambitious enterprise. 

Her social life was no different, but given her well-established priorities, the trolling for a like-minded mate would certainly yield a prize catch; and so it did.  Harrison Porter III was a scion of New York society, as well-bred and -educated as she, and as driven and brilliantly successful as a real estate investor as she was on Wall Street (the Fifth Avenue Porter Tower was the jewel in his crown). 

Where were the chinks in the armor, jealous snipers asked? An expensive divorce was sure to come, side deals and insider trading scandals would inevitably surface and jail time would be in the offing...but no such luck,  Alexa and her husband continued their remarkable trajectories of unparalleled success, had two beautiful, blonde children who followed in their footsteps. 

It all started in kindergarten, Alexa reflected, bursting out of babyhood with elan, unstoppable from the very beginning.

In the course of all this skyward thrust, she was never dismissive of those left behind.  They were only marginal points on the bell curve, the natural distribution of intelligence and ability.  Human society had always been thus - there had always been great hunters and those gored and trampled by the wild game they were after. Penthouses and tarpaper shacks, all part of the same curve.  

Alexa's children had children so the genes, breeding, and innate drive for excellence was passed on to yet another generation; and so it would be - the competition for reproductive mates would assure that excellence would continue, accelerate, and spread. As it should be. 

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