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Shoot-outs and comparisons

Why are we a people so obsessed with comparisons? Above are just a few of the magazine covers I found searching for “comparison magazine covers” in Bing. What is it about them that attracts us? The intrigue, the thrill of finding out who’s the winner? Comparisons and superlatives (best, fastest, biggest, costliest, coolest): what is it about them that draws us in time after time? I don’t have an answer, just thoughts.

Here’s what I’ve noticed:

  • In many – perhaps most – cases, we don’t pay much attention to who’s doing the comparison, to how qualified or experienced they are to declare a “winner” in whatever class of subjects they’re comparing
  • Speaking personally, I know that many times I don’t even read the article. I just want to know who won, and if it’s what I expected, I feel admiration or pride toward the subject, and if it’s not, surprise and/or disappointment set in.

Why is that? Is my pride intertwined with objects? At least for the moment of that comparison, I would say yes. I don’t linger on it afterward but for that moment, I am worth what that {fill in the item’s type here} is worth; I’m as good as it is. If I bought it and it’s the best (according to some stranger), then I feel proud. If not, I either discount the article or console myself with other thoughts: I got a good deal, I’ll judge my experience for myself and not go by what a magazine says is best or even just better, etc.

One idea I had is that respect for authority is so deeply ingrained in us that we need some authority figure, however credible or qualified, to tell us what to feel and think. Authority and obedience are intrinsic to all the institutions that touch and shape our lives, and even our most important relationships: parent and child, teacher and child, professor and student, coach and athlete, supervisor and employee, and even government and civil subject.

So since I don’t have the resources to test every option for myself, what do I do? I trust some authority. But that’s not the same as reveling in comparisons, in needing them, to feel good about something (or even yourself). Is it not bad enough that I’m defined by what I do, that now who I am is also partly defined by what I like and own?

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