Thoughts on the ‘success cult’

In the US there is a point of view which I call the ‘success cult’.  Basically it is a tendency in American culture where everyone has to succeed or win in everything.  Great effort and work is done to achieve this goal.  More often than not, in winning or succeeding, there is no real benefit, only in the fact that you ‘did it’.  As such, it has the appearance of a bunch of people enslaved to a social ideal, an ideal that can cause great strife in the people who practice it.

People will literally kill themselves to win or succeed in everything.  It forces people to go through great stress in life.  It also creates a pain and a sense of endless despair for many people.  More than once have I felt this is one of the reasons why Americans are so unhappy (though they often don’t know it).  It seems, at least to me, that many people would find life better, easier, and healthier if they no longer catered to this mentality.

In addition, this cult causes people to become physically unhealthy.  This mentality makes people live in an unhealthy manner.  It can cause premature aging, heart attacks, strokes, etc. 

A person who caters to this mentality often has a whole world perception based on the premise of success.  Their whole view of life is often looked at as if success is all there is in life.  This means that nature, animals, economy, art, etc. will then be looked at as a ‘drive to succeed’.  They will often see it in everything.  I’ve seen it create philosophies about life based from this premise.  How many times have I heard people say things like ‘only the fittest survive’?  What a way to look at life . . .

Being that success is a result of competing with someone else, that means that it creates a condition of ‘dog eat dog’ oftentimes.  They may see everything as a threat.  Everything, then, must be squashed.  Because of this, there is a tendency for people to lose a sense of humanity with this mentality.  They see other people as just another person to ‘succeed over’ and squash.  It creates horrible social conditions and its a terrible way to look at other people.  It also creates a tendency to be very self centered, as winning and success is all about yourself, not others. 

Often, people who are not ‘successful’ are sneered at and treated with contempt.  Failure can have devestating effects.  I can remember, when I was in high school, hearing about kids who committed suicide because they got a B or even an A-.  Such failures . . .

Its not uncommon that many people who believe this point of view must always be doing something.  They often can’t sit still for very long.  The pursuit of success and winning has no vacation and they continually have to be doing something in their pursuit of success.  This, as you can imagine, can lead to very unhealthy conditions, as I’ve seen many times.

I jokingly call it a ‘cult’ because it seems to almost be like a religion as people are so devout and committed to it.  People, in a sense, ‘sacrifice’ themselves to it.  It also seems to have cultish qualties, at least to me, in that it has an attitude of exclusiveness with it.  It’s ‘them’ and the rest of us.  Often they treat themselves like a private club, only associating with other ‘winners’.  I’ve seen ‘winners’ almost spit on other people for being ‘normal’.  I can also recall people who didn’t fit in or were socially awkward being called ‘losers’ all the time. 

To me, it seems to have many origins.  These include:

The ‘work ethic’.  In the north of Europe the ‘work ethic’ was very strong, as in the harsher climate work was needed to maintain life.  With the coming of protestentism this received ‘religious sanction’ as a virtue, giving work a more serious tone. 

Protestentism.  As I said above, this gave the ‘work ethic’ a great sense of seriousness and authority.  It was like God made it a necessary need in life, something a person must do.

The success of the middle and merchant classes.  Their success greatly emphasized the importance of the ‘work ethic’ and how it leads to ‘success’.  In many ways, it was their success that created the ‘success cult’ for it made not work but success as a virtue and an ideal.  It also brought into this mentality a great ego and pride as well as greed and the pursuit of gain.

– The idea of nobility.  With the success of the middle and merchant classes many people began to ‘ape’ the nobility.  Often, success in business meant wealth and this meant the ability to ape the nobility.  This is what many people did.  It created in the ‘success cult’ a qualtity of aping the nobility.  This eventually led to something like a mild social class development.  There became something like the winners, the losers, and all the rest of us mediocraties. 

No other place displayed this more than the US that I’m aware of.  It developed over a long period of time and seemed to come together in the northeast of the US by the mid-late 1800’s (probably after the Civil War).  As people moved west it spread westward but it tended to be more mild in its manifestations.  This mentality, though, doesn’t seem to of spread to the ‘old south’.  I also seem to think that it got quite a boost after WWII, with the economic boom that followed.  But, more recently (about 2005-2011) it seems to of diminished and I’ve not been seeing its effects too much. 

It’s interesting to point out that this cult seems to be prevalent only in good economic times.  This seems to show that its just a bunch of people trying to make themselves feel important in life.

This entry was posted in Historical stuff, Modern life and society, The U.S. and American society and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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