Win-Lose is a Mirage

Posted on September 11, 2019 By

by Bill Samuel, Consistent Life Network Board member

As I was taking a morning nature walk, I was thinking of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s insight in Braiding Sweetgrass of people loving the land and the land loving us back. The reciprocity is vital regardless of whether you are comfortable with using the emotional term “love” to describe it. On my nature walks, I think about things like the trees providing us oxygen and the water being essential to our life. For this to continue, we need to exercise care for creation.

I thought about how some people see nature as something to be exploited, not something to be cared for. They look at life from a win-lose perspective. Their view of how to benefit from the earth’s resources is one where they win and the earth loses. As we can see from global climate change and the degradation of the environment, people don’t really win in this win-lose exploitation model. We suffer from our exploitation of the environment in many ways, such as the air being no longer safe to breathe, water becoming polluted and scarce, and climate change disrupting our lives. In the end, it’s not win-lose but lose-lose. The alternative is sustainably using the earth’s resources, which is a win-win proposition.

It occurs to me that this problem of a win-lose perspective applies across the board. In many different contexts, we may try to gain while others lose but it doesn’t work well. We’re interdependent, whether we recognize it or not. The consistent life ethic (CLE) inherently recognizes this interdependence. When we kill or injure another, we don’t win in the long run. We injure the whole, which includes us. The CLE rejects the idea of the “other” who is expendable for our gain.

War is a good example of a situation people see as win-lose when it’s really lose-lose. When we go to war, we’re seeking to win and make the other party lose. The result is an enormous loss of life and disruption on both sides. We can see in the wars waged by the U.S. in recent decades that the countries where they have been waged not only have suffered many deaths and injuries, but their infrastructure and the fabric of their societies has been torn apart. Terrorist organizations point to these effects in recruiting people to serve in their cause, resulting in our security being increasingly endangered. The U.S. has spent $6 trillion on the war on terror, resulting in our lacking the resource to meet our own human needs. These consequences of war affect us in the long-term, not just during the war itself. An objective look at war will not see it as win-lose but lose-lose. Our “victories” are almost always pyrrhic victories. Peaceful means of conflict resolution offer the opportunity for a better life in the long run for both (or more) parties, a win-win proposition.

Racism is another example. When those of one ethnicity seek to dominate those of another ethnicity, they see it as their group winning at the expense of the other group. However, racism has a dehumanizing effect on everyone, including those who are privileged by it. It is a very inefficient system, because it prevents society from benefiting from the full flowering of the gifts and talents of those oppressed. We have seen in our own country’s history other inefficiencies such as unnecessary duplication of systems- for example, separate drinking fountains – because the dominant group doesn’t want others to use the same systems they do. We also see the natural animosities racism produces, causing conflicts which reduce the safety of everyone. A racist system can never be a stable system.

In the U.S. and many other countries, the justice system – both criminal and civil – is based on an adversarial model. This is a binary system which in the criminal system labels a person charged with a crime as either guilty or not guilty and if found guilty, the offender is largely handled with punishment. In the civil system, the court generally rules for one party and against the other. Again, the system is basically win-lose. A restorative justice system, in contrast, looks at the needs of all those affected and finds a course of action which is best for the whole community. Such a system generally provides a much better outcome for the victim, as well as helping the offender to be restored to becoming a positive member of the community. In the civil system, it recognizes that sometimes both parties played a role in a bad outcome rather than it being a binary right-wrong situation. It can therefore address the needs in a more holistic manner.

Abortion is another instance of a win-lose perspective. The mother and her baby are assumed to have opposite interests, and the interests of one must be chosen over the other. However, in our society normally the mother-child bond is considered one of the strongest and most loving there is. What causes the reversal of this assumption in situations where the mother would consider aborting her child? Is the father abandoning them both, pressuring her to abort, or being abusive? Does her employer fail to provide for the needs of pregnant women and mothers? Are doctors or social workers pressuring her? Is she being abandoned or pressured by her birth family? Do childcare and other resources seem inadequate? Most of these factors show a heartlessness towards both mother and child. The rights and needs of both tend to go together, rather than compete with each other.

We can apply this principle to other areas of life. What we need is to recognize our interdependence and work together for the common good, rather than seeking to benefit ourselves through punishment and exploitation of others and the created world. The more people, governments, and institutions embrace this approach, the better off we all will be. This is the point of the CLE.


For more of our posts from Bill Samuel, see:

Does the Consistent Life Ethic Water Down Life Issues?

The Good Grandma

Supporting the Dignity of Every Life

Brown v. Board of Education and Me

Should Abortions be Illegal?



abortionconnecting issuesenvironmentracismwar and peace

  1. Tom Taylor says:

    Well said, Bill. Thanks!

  2. Carol Crossed says:

    Thanks to Bill Samuel. This explains the consistent life ethic is such a beautiful way. We hear that violence begets violence, a way of saying lose = lose. Bill makes it personal, brings it to our doorstep. Carol

  3. Ms. Boomer-ang says:

    Racism is wrong and would be so no matter how practical or impractical applying racial equality is in practice. However, to convince the public, it helps to point out practical aspects of treating individuals of all races and race-mixtures equally. Unfortunately, one practicality argument you mention is weakening, due to technological “advances,” and that makes our task of opposing racism harder.

    Bill Samuel, you say “racism is a very inefficient system.” It was, when computers could not suggest the race of customers, clients, consumers, patrons, etc. Computer automation advanced at around the same time as racial civil rights, and technophiles could brag, “we have Technology to thank for civil rights.”

    Now computers have gotten more sophisticated. It is no longer so extra costly for businesses and services to guess a person’s race (or closeness to some physical ideal). In other words, Capitalism is changing sides. It is changing from opposing to allowing (though thankfully not requiring) race-based service.

    The metaphor comes from Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia University, who wrote that “capitalism has begun to change sides,” from protecting privacy to favoring “mass surveillance,” in the New York Times on April 14, 2019. In the case of both surveillance and racism, the change results from– in the words of Professor Wu– “new technologies” that have “drastically decreased” the cost.

    Racism is one of the things that is wrong, no matter what stage of “economic and technological evolution” we’re at.

    Racism would still be wrong, despite its getting economically/technologically easier. But we should realize what we’re up against when we choose our practical arguments.

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