Phlebotomic is a blog experiment that seeks to gather multiple perspectives around a common prompt, which is provided weekly.

Last week's prompt was "Beauty"...

This week's prompt is "Path"...

28 January 2009

Victory: an idea whose time has come

What struck me first about the prompt is how “strong” the word was and how open to interpretation a definition of the word could be. Nevertheless, I do enjoy the broadness afforded to me in the “openness” of the topic.

When people think of victory they are inserting the term into their own situation. So, is the “victory” relating to a triumphing in a personal struggle……a business situation……an addictive habit? Or is victory rather, or more fully explained through the victory, or triumphing, of an idea or ideal?

An example: when you quite smoking you say “I’m victorious” (please add a “booyah” in there too, for good measure). So this is a victory, but what kind of victory? I am suggesting that it is a victory of an idea. In this sense, the idea being deliberated by the individual is, “will smoking cut short my life and is the enjoyment of smoking worth it?” I would add that the individual is considering the cost/benefit analysis before following through with his actions.

However the individual is “defeated” then the “enjoyment argument” outweighs the “life cut short argument.” What strikes me most about victory, in this sense, is the zero sum gain. By straight definition if someone/something/some idea is “victorious” someone/something/some idea must be “defeated”. I would suggest this is where we get the “drive” to be victorious as we know the outcome already if we are not.

Additionally, it struck me that “victory” is most commonly declared by someone with certain “point in time biases” that I am not entirely comfortable with. If I may use the example already mentioned, say the person who quits claims victory….fair enough. But what happens when they are “defeated” in 3 years time? How can you claim victory at a point in time if there is a possibility of later being defeated? Please note, this is a clearly defined situation and there are observable inputs, i.e. from the time you quit smoking until you die you wouldn’t be able to claim victory, for certain, over smoking. However, by strict definition you are, in fact, victorious. I would suggest that the “struggle” defines how long the timeframe needs to be in order for an unbiased observer to truly declare victory (or defeat).

To gain some insight from another vantage point we could use the technique I’m going to call “anti” (I believe this technique was used by the Scholastics, it has a good Latin phrase…I just cannot for the life of me remember it), i.e. we cannot define victory properly without also defining it as “not defeat”. So, anything that is “not defeat” would, ergo, be considered a victory.

Applying this concept to my suggestion – victory is defined by way of one idea beating out another – we find that if the person who has been “defeated”, i.e. he hasn’t quit smoking (in the short term), but hasn’t given up on the idea of quitting he has de facto the ability to claim victory as the idea has won the day. I would suggest that the idea of quitting in his mind is “victorious” and by association, he is victorious. This thought, of course, goes slightly “left” if the individual continues to smoke and subsequently dies. However, I would suggest that the idea never truly won…….ahh, I digress.

So, what is in an idea? As I have argued, quite a lot. For good or for ill, an idea can hold sway over one person, an entire nation or even the world.

In any case, I have attached some quotes that ya’ll might find of interest.

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all”., Oscar Wilde

“To act on the belief that we possess the knowledge and the power which enables us to shape the process of society entirely to our liking, knowledge which in fact we do not possess, is likely to make us do much harm”., F.A. Hayek

“Society has arisen out of the works of peace; the essence of society is peacemaking. Peace and not war is the father of all things”., Ludwig von Mises


  1. WKA - I'm intrigued by the quote about "an idea that is not dangerous is not worth being called an idea." I'll chew on that.

    In general, Austrians (hence von Mises) are not to be trusted. How can it be said peace is the father of all things?

    Victory as the anti-defeat is a vantage point I hadn't seems inclined to have plurality instead of a singular claim. To have victory sounds like a very specific proposition. Anti-defeat sounds like a catch-all for anything not technically a loss or defeat. Perhaps there's something in the delta there?

  2. Ha, not to be trusted eh? My apologizes, I took this quote out of its context. I don't believe he is making a general statement. Instead you may insert "economic growth, freedom, liberty, etc." in the the place of "all things". Not that peace literally begat, say, ice cream.

    I suppose this is where people get the idea of a "minor" victory? Then in the same token someone could have a "minor" defeat. To put in a military sense, this would be akin to a battle that was effectively a draw. Both sides, coming in with preconceived notions of what victory looks like, could both claim victory in a draw. I guess what I am getting at is, it depends how you define victory. If you read between the lines I was trying to work out a way of defining it so that it wasn't grey. I thought it odd that such a "strong" word could be potentially so grey.

  3. Can we really boil things down to a binary system? If we do, you very efficiently showed that victory could be not defeat, then is life just merely not death? Or love solely not hate? Or is freedom just the state of being not slavery? Would the same formula extend to other "ideas?"

  4. Good point, Paul.

    As my friend Marcus Buckingham says, "The opposite of 'bad' isn't 'good' - it is 'not bad'.

  5. To Paul:

    Yes, I suppose it could be considered a binary system. A point of clarification, I am associating the idea of a zero sum to victory and defeat. It cannot be extended beyond there. I believe I can do this as I am fencing the idea around two posts of reference. In the case of love or hate, they aren’t ideas, per se. After an idea, say, “I love my cat Fran because she is fuzzy”, I would then debate and either the idea would be victorious or defeated. Silly example, I know, but I think it illustrates my thought. That is, it is not by negation that I hate my cat it is merely that I don’t love her because she is fuzzy……I would be hesitant to associate the “either/or” thought here.

    I believe I feel comfortable doing this as I was only trying to define the victory “of the idea”, by way of negation.

    Fun (potentially) thought: From you post, a basketball game has a clear ending. At the end of which time there will be a victor and a loser (defeated person). Everyone clearly understands the parameters of victory or defeat. However, it is not always so in life. From before, consider love. If you were to look at a point in time, you would find a happy couple. Fast forward 5 years and they have separated. What has changed? It is not necessarily that the idea of love has been defeated; rather, the idea of separation is victorious. It was thought in a point in time, but it reverberates through time. I would say that at the point of thought there is a decision, either for or against. Granted, there could be 1 Million different decisions/choices…so there would be 1 idea victory and 999,999,999 idea defeats. However, the same idea could be debated in the mind until the point where the individual dies. At which point, the victory or defeat of the idea would be resolved…..if it is something that an individual could decide on.

  6. How are love and hate not ideas? I would argue that they are the most powerful and dangerous ideas. They are both, oftentimes, based on assumed knowledge that is very dangerous. Also, peace is an extension of love, and war is an extension of hate. All your quotes reflect the fact that they are both ideas.

    Just to spur the conversation, why is there a clear victor/loser in a basketball game (or any other game)? I have been involved in games that we won that felt more like defeats, and I can think of many games where we lost, but we felt empowered and rejuvenated, more like victors.

  7. Ha, well I did say “they aren’t ideas, per se.”……wiggle room. What I was drawing out was that in our defining ideas of love, hate, etc., we set boundaries which ultimately will give us a guide post as to whether we are victorious or not. That is, one could say, “Gerald has a strange idea of what love is.” Gerald could define his “victory” in love by how many times his feet are tickled by the one he loves…and visa versa. Strange notion of love indeed.

    Giddy up, spur away.

    What you say is true. In my response to Mike I speak to people bringing in their own notions of victory. Say, you lost the game, but only by 2 points against a significantly superior team…….a victory. Either before the game or at the end you have conceived your definition of victory in that specific space. I meant the time duration more as an illustration that at the end of the game you have to, if you haven’t already, decide the definition of victory or defeat. So there has to be a victor and a non-victor even if the “winner” feels like a non-victor and visa versa.

  8. Perhaps you are both trying to address victory in a single dimension and stretch it across a continuum of scenarios. There are accomplishments that fall short of a victory, just as their are wins that are short of a victory. You lose the game by only 2 points to a team that should have swept the floor with you - well, that's not victorious but it certainly is a dig and a boost in future prospects. Cheapening any word by trying to stretch it over all cases of echo-similarity is semantic dilution.

    What drives that in us?

  9. ^ don't we love to able to answer everything...?

    victory is...

    well, it must be quantifiable somehow. or not.

  10. all the more ironic in a tragic manner when Victory is sunk by inclement circumstances: