All Commentary
Saturday, December 1, 1962

Everyone’s Favorite Game

Mr. Raley is a free-lance author, speaker, philosopher from Gadsden, Alabama.

One of man’s first accomplish­ments was the perfection of a simple, sure-fire, almost fool-proof method of build­ing his ego. Often known as the “better – by – com­parison” method, it has seen no im­provement since Adam claimed su­periority over Eve because she ate the first apple.

The beauty of the “better-by comparison” method of boosting one’s ego is its simplicity of operation. First, you make a state­ment that, being true, would give you an edge on someone. Next, you assume the statement is true and up goes your sagging ego. Don’t ever, under any circum­stances, try to prove the original assumption. That’s not in the game, although it is quite often true.

All races, creeds, and colors, as such, are egoists. Many races built themselves up in their own esteem for hundreds of years by calling the Chinese heathen, while the Chinaman smugly fattened his own ego by claiming to have cooked his meat long before other men quit eating theirs raw.

Hellenic women enjoyed little of the glory that was ancient Greece. Because of Pan­dora’s alleged cu­riosity, Greek women were kept at home while the less curious men went about mark­ing the begin­nings of a few dozen branches of science and bursting their laurel leaves over new explorations. It is difficult to visualize the heights Greek culture might have attained had they been able to confine their ego-building to other races in general and women in particular. But this “better-by-comparison” game is a growing thing. When Greeks be­gan to apply the formula to other Greeks of another city, the end of Greek leadership was just around the corner.

Early Semitic civilization went down the same drain. The Jew had a natural ego-builder because of his unique position in relation to God ; but this alone was not suffi­cient to satisfy him for long. Tribe after tribe was expelled so that the remnant might feel “better­by-comparison,” to the end that this remnant fell easy prey to the enemy from without.

Each Germanic tribe fattened its ego by playing the “better-by­comparison” game at the expense of other tribes of the same origin. They, in turn, provided ammuni­tion for the conquering Roman ego.

Racial Pride and Prejudice

Thus it has been from the be­ginning and quite likely will be until the end. By far the greater part of racial tension in the United States today stems from this same source. Negroes are able to get a boost by feeling “as good” as whites. Segregationists build their ego by feeling better than Ne­groes. Integrationists feel better by comparison because they claim to believe all men are equal. Seg­regationists pump their balloon even larger by calling the integra­tionists hypocrites who don’t prac­tice what they preach ; and so it goes. The present Supreme Court may feel it has rendered a deci­sion more in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution than any like court in the past (and possibly get a large charge from so believing), but it appears doubtful that any such decision can separate man from one of his oldest and most cherished motiva­tions.

The same game is played quite extensively on a person-to-person basis, especially among children. Most adults, in a more subtle vein, use the “left-handed” method. This method gives the same re­sults but leaves no grounds for legal suits, hair-pulling, and right hooks.

To begin with, Smith, an archi­tect, will agree Schweinsty, also an architect, is one of the best ; but,—well, who wants plans drawn by a man with a name like that? Blabberwise, the salesman, is quick to pass out orchids to a fel­low craftsman, but Old Slowpoke just can’t close one out, implying that he, Blabberwise, is a sure­fire closer. Hammermore, the con­tractor, builds his ego by believ­ing he’s the best there is, but he doesn’t come right out and say so—that would be childish. To hear him tell it, Plumbline, the most persistent competitor, is a fine man, four square and all that, but—those mechanics of his—why, even his crew leaders can’t read a square.

Inkwell, the writer, keeps his ego on the summit by believing Blotter owes his success to an “in” with assorted editors. Circu­lation may sag but not the editor’s ego. He blames the distribu­tion agency. Distribution blames the editor. The publisher calls both to account—the publication may fold, but everyone’s ego is preserved.

No profession is above or be­low playing “better-by-compari­son.” People who do manual labor are especially adept at the game. Pete, the shovel operator, admits George can move more dirt; but look at the equipment he fouls up. This without thought of the cables he, Pete, breaks by crowd­ing too fast. Bill, the carpenter, swells his ego by telling how Jim fouled up cutting a set of jack-rafters, while Jim takes pride in relating Bill’s inability to fit a joint.

No one gets a larger charge from playing “better-by-com­parison” than the gals. Their scope is extensive (most of which would seem unlikely material to a mere man). It includes color of hair and eyes, height, weight, walk, talk, personality, clothes (and how they are worn), pro­fession, running a home, children, family, men—considered personal property as a hat or bag—driv­ing, and a hundred other things too numerous to list.

Nowhere is the game played with greater enthusiasm than in the field of religion, recent gains in religious tolerance notwith­standing. True, we no longer burn heretics at the stake, and there is a commendable feeling of toler­ance among most Christians, but that does not hinder the game. Every member of an “ism” feels strongly that he and the members of his “ism” alone are practition­ers of the “true way.” The Ortho­dox Jew is quietly dignified in the certainty that his is the only way. Roman Catholics take pride in be­longing to the oldest Christian re­ligion. Protestants of different de­nominations are firm in their con­viction that the church of their choice presents the more clearly defined road to heaven. In a mat­ter of such prime importance, mankind longs to be part of a group capable of instilling such a feeling.

So popular is this game of com­parison, so deeply imbedded in man’s subconscious self, so im­portant to his ego and necessary to his general well-being that families who might defend each other to the death are unable to resist playing the game at the ex­pense of brother or sister, mother or father, wife or husband.

On the Other Hand

No one could deny that much of man’s uncomplimentary nature surges to the fore in the process of playing “better-by-comparison.” Many complimentary attributes, however, owe their origin to the game. Indeed, it is quite difficult, and not at all pleasant, to contem­plate a world without the influ­ence of this most popular game. The exalting feeling known as pride would cease to be. No per­son would value country, race, col­or, class, religion, political belief, or school of thought above an­other. Among other things of greater magnitude, this would mean all Frenchmen would agree. No longer would all good Irish­men have cause to kiss the Blar­ney Stone. The Scots would cease to be conservative, and English­men would have no preference be­tween coffee and tea.

Germans would no longer brag that the Fatherland produced the world’s greatest scientists. Span­ish boys would have no reason to dream of becoming great mata­dors, and Italian chefs would serve French fries with great gusto. There would be no motiva­tion for Americans to boast of their country’s ingenuity. Sons of Eli would not feel superior to graduates of Harvard, Brown, or Princeton. Lower class would have no cause to fight for middle ground, and middle class would no longer strive for a foothold at the top. Southerner would love Yankee, Yankee would respect Southerner, Westerner would feel no better than the rest, and Texas products would decrease in size at an alarming rate.

Women would cease to indulge in all the little tricks of the trade that make them more alluring. There would be but one political party, one way of life, one reli­gion, one school of thought—the zeal to live, create, achieve, suc­ceed, accomplish the near-impos­sible, build a better home, and furnish it better would be buried in one great abyss. Man would find small incentive to provide more abundantly for his family. Women would not deem it impor­tant to appear beautiful.

It is extremely doubtful that any normal adult ever lived who did not play this ego-building game to some extent, although few will admit participating. As a matter of fact, many people be­lieve they are above playing this game—and get quite a charge from so believing. In any case, if you should chance to meet a teeto­taler, no one will have to acquaint you with the fact. You will recog­nize the bum at first glance.

  • Mr. Raley is a free-lance author, speaker, philosopher from Gadsden, Alabama.