Winning: Reflections on an American Obsession

Winning: Reflections on an American Obsession

Winning: Reflections on an American Obsession

Winning: Reflections on an American Obsession


Most of us are taught from a young age to be winners and avoid being losers. But what does it mean to win or lose? And why do we care so much? Does winning make us happy? Winning undertakes an unprecedented investigation of winning and losing in American society, what we are really after as we struggle to win, our collective beliefs about winners and losers, and much more.

Francesco Duina argues that victory and loss are not endpoints or final destinations but gateways to something of immense importance to us: the affirmation of our place in the world. But Duina also shows that competition is unlikely to provide us with the answers we need. Winning and losing are artificial and logically flawed concepts that put us at odds with the world around us and, ultimately, ourselves. Duina explores the social and psychological effects of the language of competition in American culture.

Primarily concerned with our shared obsessions about winning and losing, Winning proposes a new mind-set for how we can pursue our dreams, and, in a more satisfying way, find our proper place in the world.


Now of all good things, truth holds first
place among gods and men alike.

—Plato, Laws, book V

ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE MARVELED at the American spirit. His travels through the country in the early 1800s revealed a people with great ambitions, in constant motion, with remarkable ingenuity, and an appreciation for getting things done. In Europe, people seldom dared to dream. In the United States, where the established social and cultural orders of the old continent had been set aside and everyone had been given a fresh start, people could aspire to great things. A new society founded on equality unleashed fantastic energy, freedom, and movement. When Tocqueville asked an American sailor why the ships of his country were built to last such a short time, he was told that technological advances made any given ship obsolete in a few years. The “great nation” of the United States, Tocqueville reflected, “directs its every action” ultimately towards one goal: “indefinite perfectibility” (Tocqueville 2003: 523).

This may have been too simplistic an interpretation of the new country. But my recent yearlong stay in Denmark helped me see that Tocqueville captured something of life in the United States.

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