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The Victory Fallacy -- How Achievement Can Deceive

Updated: Nov 4

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Imagine yourself as a fighter, not just any fighter, but one who takes their art very seriously and even manages to win several fights successfully. At least in fighting games, beating up your opponent is much more gratifying than being on the receiving end. Violance in general can be gratifying when it is done in safety (unlike when getting punched in the face), or when you have nothing to lose (like your physical condition or even your life).

However, in our pursuit of success, we often overestimate our own abilities. We rely on our past victories and experiences to fuel our confidence, but this can lead to a dangerous fallacy. Just because we have won before doesn't guarantee victory in every situation, or even our next "encounter" against adversity or a challenge. We must recognize the limitations of our strength and avoid underestimating the challenges ahead.

Nothing ensures victory, and only our incompetence and ignorance ensures defeat. And I quote from "The Art of War" by Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu/Sunzi: "If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer defeat"

Opponent after opponent, you may manage to create quite a name for yourself, even at times defeating opponents in a row. Your self-esteem gradually skyrockets, your head is held high in pride, in a sense of a well-deserved accomplishment for all the time spent training in combat or any other skill such as debating or any other talent which involved competition. Indeed, the path to mastery often requires much sacrifice of your time and energy, both of which are limited. Such is the nature of success.

In interpersonal settings, we tend to believe that our attractiveness or charm alone will bring us success. However, true success with people requires more than just physical appearance, as that is not everything. It demands hard work, dedication, and the ability to adapt to different circumstances. Adaptation, by the way, is what determines higher possibilities of victory and success. Adaptation is how the human species manage to survive and reign supreme over the species of those who failed to adapt.

But as your opponents are defeated quite easily and your ego grows, a regular-looking opponent may arrive, giving you the illusion that they will go down like the rest. However, things are not always like they seem and thus, it can be clear as to how the story ends: That regular person defeats you with ease, even after your hardest efforts to strike and to protect from their overwhelming, unexpected power.

Life is a series of walls. Your hard effort invested into climbing one wall will in no way guarantee you that you will manage to overcome the many other walls that are in the way of your chosen journey in life.

And indeed, when we put things into perspective, many of us are not as strong, attractive, and so, like we think we are. There may be a gap as to how we percieve ourselves and what we're truly are. We are more than fixated titles and nouns. We are dynamic and developing, and thus, never absolute masters, regardless of the proficency of our skills.

Therefore, don't always have what it takes, despite our self confidence and everything else that we got in our "toolbox" of abilities. Like the universe, we may be "expanding" because there is more room for growth, and therefore we are not only developing but far from unlimited in our powers and virtues. It is why we should never deem ourselves absolute in any way. We are always flawed, and it is not a bad thing necessarily, especially when it comes to love.

We often rely on our delusion of being capable of great success, based on experience gained thus far, and use it to underestimate the challenges—and other people—who may be far more powerful in whatever field the issue is about.

Should we be wiser, we may realize that there are always individuals who are more powerful and skilled than us in various fields, much to our surprise or otherwise. It's important to acknowledge their expertise and learn from them instead of underestimating their abilities. In other words, there may always be higher "walls" that we won't necessarily succeed in climbing. We might not overcome them, but even if they are our rivals, we can learn much from them. "You need to put yourself in the place of your enemy so you can predict his actions."

That is the problem with the wrong usage of evidence when it comes to future endeavors. The facts may be misrepresented even by yourself, in front of yourself, leading to unintentional self-deception. This in turn could lead to an incorrect reading of the facts.

The width of your biceps will not definitely give you victory in arm wrestling, your ability to snipe the enemy from a far distance will not guarantee you perfect aim at all times, being very proficient in English does not mean you know every single word in the English language, and so on and on.

From this we can learn that logic is also required alongside the attribution of evidence. Truth is comprised of more than evidence alone. As such, evidence of victory is insufficent to certainly foretold future victories, and they won't always even come easily.

A perfect example is the comic relief character from the Dragon Ball series, Mr. Satan. Despite being able to win several martial arts tournaments in the globe, he is but an insect compared to many other characters in the franchise, like a villain named Cell. No matter how many wins he will achieve during his career, he will never be as powerful as much of the franchise's cast are.

The solution to overcoming this problem is this: Consider putting all the vanity aside, and be prepared to be devastated by life just as you may prepare to succeed in it. When you consider the two options at once, you will realize that strength and weakness are not always opposite to each other. You can be a very decent fighter and be crushed over and over again at the same time. After all, we all have our weaknesses.

The same logic provided in this fallacy can be applied in its inverted case as well. Sometimes, we face a series of defeats that can be demoralizing. However, it's crucial to remember that setbacks are opportunities for growth. And thus, victory can be achieved even after a demoralizing series of defeats.

And finally, remember this: it's okay not to be number 1 when you can still rank high enough. Even if we're not always number one, we can still rank high enough and achieve success by learning from our failures and persevering. Winning and losing, success and failure, can by synergized.

The Exception

The only exception to this fallacy is when a victory is ensured, or in other words, when there is no chance for defeat. The exception occurs when one is sure to win, based on the power and skill of all parties involved. It isn't necessarily that past experience ensures victory, but on one's capability to overcome the enemy/opponent. If one's power is strong enough to the point that absolute victory is ensured, then the victory fallacy is untrue. Therefore, the victory fallacy is not true at all times.

There are times where, after all, defeat is not even a possibility, and thus shouldn't even be considered as such. The victory fallacy cannot apply when absolute victory will occur. A cockroach, for example, has no chance to defeat a human being, unlike a human who isn't afraid of cockroaches and can simply squash it.

Can we truly say cockroaches have any chance against people who are not afraid of them at all? Fear is a tool that can be used against us in psychological warefare. However, some people are simply incapable of being afraid, although their condition is very rare.

Should these type of people encounter a cockroach, they won't be hesitated to simply get rid of it without much effort or concern, thus ensuring an absolute victory.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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