The myth of the struggler
Carlos Basurto | Wednesday, January 18, 2023
It is of our inevitable interest, particularly within a society like ours, to associate ourselves with the story of The Struggler. The Struggler is the person who has faced hardship after hardship, at times even failing, yet that through each obstacle they have acquired the knowledge, experience and ability to ultimately succeed in their endeavors. It is a story of hope, perseverance and determination. It is also merely that – a story.
The reason the story of The Struggler is so compelling is rooted in the belief that that which The Struggler achieves is deeply deserved. After all, they endured through every challenge they encountered to in order to reach their objective. It is not simply justified that they attain it: it is expected. It is only fair, no?
That begs the question whether suffering is the sole prerequisite to deserve something. Other proposals then begin to emerge to determine whether they were worthy of their success relate to the capability or morality of The Struggler. Were they smart enough, hardworking enough, loyal enough, diligent enough? Were they good enough?
These questions are asked because we have attributed virtue to achievement. He who is successful must be virtuous, for the greatest struggler shall be the greatest achiever and they will be the one who unequivocally deserves it the most. It is only logical that the degree of success is directly proportional to the time, care and effort one has invested into accomplishing greatness. This is the idea of a meritocracy, where the greatest strugglers are recompensed the most. It is a story of justice, fairness and order. It, too, is also merely a story — one that is certainly nice to believe but that does not reflect reality properly.
Though many understand and accept the idea that life is inherently unfair, this concept remains in the abstract beyond particularly catastrophic moments. Nevertheless, said unfairness is present from the moment one is born and never departs. One never selects who to have as parents, in which nation to be conceived or what color of the skin to bear. Since the second the infinite die is rolled and the lottery of life handpicks its winners, for some their future may have been decided. Irregardless of how smart, hardworking, loyal or diligent one is, when the hands of fate conspire against someone there are certain paths that are forever sealed. This is not to say that one’s entire existence is determined from their very first moment, but to pretend that one’s birth does not play a significant role in the possibilities a person has at hand would be irrational. Most importantly, when life spins its wheel and decides that a certain person will grow in a certain place, it does not inquire on the goodness of a person. This fact cannot coexist with a truly meritocratic system, for such a place would ensure that every single human being has the exact same opportunities in order to exclusively have those that succeed be entirely the result of their unique characteristics.
Yet this simply does not happen. The Struggler is not a myth because there are no successful people who struggled, but rather, because to struggle is not a guarantee for success, it is not an equivalent exchange. This is not to discredit those who have struggled and succeeded, but we cannot blind ourselves into the belief that there are no other factors at play. I was indeed accepted into the University of Notre Dame as a result of my individual efforts, talents and skills, but would I have been able to even come close to that level of academic proficiency had my parents been unable to offer me a proper education? Would I have been able to come here had I been required to work full-time in order to ensure there would be food on the table, preventing me from focusing on my studies? Would I have had as much financial leeway if I did not count with a slip of paper that happens to say I was born in a specific region on this planet? I cannot know, but I cannot help but wonder how many better qualified people out there were never given the slightest chance. Is it fair for me to be where I am? Should I have struggled more? Am I good enough to deserve it?
Worst of all, followers of the myth of meritocracy have begun not only to venerate those that succeed but also to despise those that fail. This is due to the fact that its logic can be applied inversely: he who is not successful must, then, not be virtuous. The greatest failures are only product of their lack of effort. If you do not thrive, it is simply because you don’t try hard enough, no? The homeless and poor are lazy, the wonders of meritocracy would benefit them if they just tried! Surely, they do not, otherwise how would they be in that position? What could possibly explain it?
As a society, it would perhaps be fruitful to reconsider what it truly means to succeed or fail. Neither are a necessary mark of innate ingenuity, masterful adaptability or moral supremacy. We must face the discomfort that may arise from this realization by approaching the world with a nonjudgmental frame of mind. For in the end, do we not all struggle in our very own unique way? Why must success be the determining factor as to whether our suffering was justified?
Carlos A. Basurto is a first-year at Notre Dame ready to delve into his philosophy major with the hopes of adding the burden of a Computer Science major on top of that. When not busy you can find him consuming yet another 3+ hour-long analysis video of a show he has yet to watch or masochistically completing every achievement from a variety of video games. Now with the power to channel his least insane ideas, feel free to talk about them via email at [email protected] (he is, tragically, very fond of speaking further about anything at all).
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.