Competition and Equality

Here is a problem in human behavior whose solution might seem obvious but which turns out to be a sociological problem of great significance. Some people admire people who do things they can’t do, like playing the violin, while other people are dismissive or jealous of people who can do things that they can’t, such as dance or do statistics. When is it one rather than the other, and is it a matter of the personality of the person involved, in which case the explanation is psychological, or something to do with their circumstances, which is the sociological explanation? Let us look at some cases before getting on to my thesis, which is that we are in the presence of the conflict between competition and equality, something that is universal and very deep in social structure and has been going on since, I presume, cave man days or before, but is certainly visible throughout recorded history. Cain was, it seems, jealous of Abel, while Agamemnon admired and made use of the cunning of Odysseus.

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