Zero-Sum Bioethics

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If you improve yourself, does that mean I lose? Arnold Kling writing over at TechCentralstation demonstrates how the fallacy of zero-sum thinking constantly misleads bioethical discourse.

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  1. Me no play zero-sun game. Me take Thak’s meat. Give to hot cave-girl. She like Zog.

  2. The implication of widespread biotechnology use (or even the possibility of it) is that we’re nothing but information processing machines whose behavior is determined by the affective reward and punishment schema given us by our genes. How can one with a thoughtful cast of mind ever be proud of an accomplishment or value a relationship when he or she knows that it could have been no other way? That the values he or she uses to determine the worth of a fellow human being or a particular action weren’t even self-selected? Just think: you like libertarian politics because for whatever reason (your cognitive limitations preclude an accurate determination of what the causes were) you’ve attached a lot of value to “freedom”.

    Kass and his cronies think the conclusions they’re drawing are unavoidable, completely ignoring the possibility that there are plenty of people out there whose value schema dictate that they don’t give a rat’s ass whether or not their behavior was determined through the interaction of their genes with their environment, i.e. that they’re automatons, but just want to experience as much pleasure and as little pain as possible.

    Need I direct you to hedweb once again? hedweb.com, reason. HedWeb.com.

  3. I see the point about zero-sum in sports which also applies to figuring odds. Everything is 50/50, since everything either will happen, or won’t. Everything is 50/50. In the coming NCAA basketball tournament, I predict that exactly one-half of the teams entered will lose the first game played. 1/2 will win — Zero-sum.
    However, there will be one winner, the one which can win so-many straight games is the winner, and then there is the #4 team, the loser, for it alone will lose TWO GAMES. Negative sum. In truth, since a team that has lost to the team it beats in the last game, could become #1, there is nothing decided. It is a net-zero, zero sum, 50/50, forced choice contest with hundreds of losers and one winner, that has simply won one more game than all but one other team in the tournament, and lost less (0) than that team. All teams lose one game, save one that loses two, and one that loses none. To conclude, I have said nothing. This is a sum zero conversation.

  4. I.C.: You have said nothing, yet I am richer for now I know your words are empty. And you are richer for having practiced your skills with language.

    Perhaps we could have found more effective uses for this time, but we still have something to show for what we spent.

    The idea of winners and losers, with sport representing combat, strikes me as an undeveloped perspective. It is true, or useful, as far as it goes. Which is not very far. It might be easier for Zog to beat on the weaker Thak and take the only mammoth cutlet they have. If Zog can find his own mammoth, no enemies are created and both paticipants are better nourished. (O.K., sure, the mammoth loses)

    In sport, a team may lose, yet the audience is enriched by viewing the contest. Overall, the sum is greater than zero. The zero-sum mindset presumes a limited game. The world doesn’t set those limits, our minds do. We stake out a field and attempt to dominate. If instead that energy was spent making the field bigger, we would all have room.

  5. What a lame article.

    I quote from it: ‘”On average, each new drug approved during the period 1970-91 saved 11,200 life-years in 1991 ”

    I won’t argue those statistics, but each DELAY caused by having to approve each new drug in the first place probably COST lives.

  6. You have said nothing, yet I am richer for now I know your words are empty. And you are richer for having practiced your skills with language.

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