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Cardiac Diary: Winners and Losers

October 27, 2023

Two weeks in from a heart attack, successfully (it seems) treated by angioplasty, I’m starting to wonder when I’m going to forget that I’ve had a heart attack. Perhaps another way of putting this is when it becomes no more significant as a past medical event than the appendectomy I had a few years earlier, or the hernia repair earlier than that.

Forgetting about it means that I’m doing everything I did before without wondering if I’m overdoing it. It also means everybody else no longer thinking of me as “someone with a suspect heart” and treating me, if not with kid gloves, then as someone who’s likely to keel over at any moment.

Clearly I’m not at that point yet, but I find myself casting around for role models – people who have had heart problems but don’t appear to have let those problems dominate their subsequent lives. Yes, I know it’s a bit silly for someone of my advanced years to be looking around for role models, so perhaps I should say “points of reference”.

And indeed there are plenty of people who have had worse problems than me – bypasses and even transplants – who have achieved plenty since their operations. Probably the best-known is Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Arnie has had several bouts of open-heart surgery, yet still pops up in the public eye on a regular basis. At the moment he’s promoting his self-help book, which brought him to London the other day. And then there are his video monologues, the latest of which is on hate in political and social dialogue and has gained huge traction on the social media. Even I’ve watched it. Whether or not he wrote it, it’s a very impressive piece of speech-writing and oration.

As ever in these cynical times, I find myself wondering why he’s doing them. What’s his motivation? The good of mankind or to promote the book? I’d like to think it’s the former, though both reasons aren’t mutually exclusive.

One of the interesting motifs in Arnie’s latest video (previous ones have included a tirade against Trump in the wake of the 2021 storming of Congress), is that those who hate are losers who through their hatred ruin their own lives. I can’t argue with that. Hatred never made anyone happy in the end, even if the communal variety can provide a huge adrenaline rush.

But what’s equally interesting is his depiction of a world of winners and losers. You’re either one or the other. Trump uses the same theme. In the former president’s world just about everybody who opposes him is a loser. And of course there’s only one pure, unadulterated winner.

This, it seems to me, is a fundamental element of American culture. To call someone a loser in the US is to insult them. There’s nothing worse than a loser. Losers in life deserve contempt or worse. If you’re poor, if you’re unsuccessful, it’s because you’re a loser. You can only fix this by pulling yourself up by the bootstrings. And if you can’t, well, tough shit.

If someone does give you a helping hand, it’s not because of a generally-accepted sense of social obligation, It’s because you’re lucky. And I certainly don’t see strong evidence among the Christian Right that Jesus’s pronouncement that “blessed are the meek” holds much sway. There are plenty of billionaires who would have something to say about such people inheriting the earth. For are the meek not losers?

This ethos is famously mocked by Dustin Hoffman’s character in Meet The Fockers, in which Hoffman’s proud Dad has a wall full of certificates celebrating his son’s sixth or seventh places in various school and sporting competitions.

I don’t know whether the obsession with winning transcends the American political spectrum. Interest in sport, where I suspect the whole thing started, certainly does.

But what about Britain, and the wider European continent? I don’t think we have the same contempt for the loser that’s prevalent in the US. Indeed, especially in the sporting arena, we have a tradition of being gallant losers. Heroic failures attract praise, not scorn. And we often find people who blow their own trumpets to be rather vulgar.

What’s more, much as one political party would have us get on our bikes, we’re much more culturally sympathetic towards those who fall by the wayside, often for no fault of their own. Hence a bigger welfare state and our catch-all National Health Service, founded on principles that are still anathema in the United States: described with horror as socialised medicine.

There is, of course, one recent historical exception in Europe – Nazi Germany, founded on the principle of the survival of the fittest, an ethos that has survived among the various neo-fascist groups that have sprung up since World War 2, and has found its purest form in Putin’s Russia.

In lots of ways, Arnie is clearly a winner. Even if I don’t share his political views, I congratulate him for rising above his medical problems and remaining a relevant public figure in his eighth decade. He conducts himself with dignity and, I think, sincerity, unlike the other “winner” who I fervently hope will turn out in the near future to be the greatest loser of this century,

In short, I’d rather have a terminator with good intentions as a role model than the lying, manipulative conman who’s currently having so much fun in the law courts of America.

From → Politics, Social, UK, USA

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