Monday, February 16, 2015

Evaluating Competition

It seems that here in the United States we compete for everything. This is certainly the case with politics (managing government) and business (managing the economy), which arguably have the the largest direct impact on our lives. Most of us are effectively slaves to the economy, where we must constantly convince someone that we are better than other people in order to survive. Lost in this competition are answers to some fundamental questions:
  1. What are we ultimately competing for?
  2. Are the winners really "better" than those they defeat?
  3. Is the competition worth the cost?
Biologists would say that most competition can be best understood in evolutionary terms, as a selection of mates whose offspring have the best chance of surviving long enough to have offspring. In this case, the net result of the competition defines its goal: extending the collective lifetime of our species as long as possible. The term "better" is more than just a verdict of who wins a particular competition; it is a value judgment, assessing who supports a particular value more than others. If the value is "human life," then the better people are those who do the most to maximize the amount of human life over time. The cost of the competition must be weighed against the results to determine if the competition is worth it, which involves an additional value judgment used to identify what constitutes a "cost." We can most simply use the same value (or values) for both costs and benefits; for example, assessing whether the rules and conditions of a competition will lead to a net increase or decrease in human life over most potential outcomes.

From the perspective of an individual person or organization of people, the primary value is personal happiness, which is intimately tied to longevity, physical consumption, and the assistance of related individuals. Individuals can choose to collaborate or compete, a choice that is determined by both personal predilection (some of us are more prone to compete than collaborate) and the availability of resources (when resources fall below a threshold where everyone can meet their needs and wants, people will be forced to compete with the others to get what they need and want, unless collaboration can increase the amount of resources).

Artificial competitions, such as those between businesses, manipulate these variables by imposing goals, rules, and conditions, and often selecting participants with particular inclinations and abilities, with the effect of (at least temporarily) increasing happiness for those who win and those who support the competitions with resources. Little, if any, consideration may be given to the net gain or loss to anyone or anything else because the values embodied in a competition do not extend to them, unless additional values are imposed by an outside entity which acts on their behalf, or are inherently shared by the competition's participants who are part of an impacted group.

Political competition is perhaps the most critical of artificial competitions, because it determines the leadership of government, whose influence is derived from its function to enforce and support values common to a society, especially the the lives of its citizens, by for example acting as the "outside entity" influencing other competitions. For societies such as ours that have global impact through artificial (abstract and technology-driven) means, the natural large-scale value of human life should be explicitly discussed and accepted or rejected by all citizens on a routine basis; and, if accepted, it must be intentionally integrated into the values that underlie all activities contributing to that impact, especially the governance of our society and how we choose our leaders.

Due to the world's complexity and global proximity to natural resource limits, those of us with significant influence can no longer follow our natural proclivity to increase our happiness, with its attendant and excessive consumption requirements. Humanity has arguably passed the point where significant additional resources are available, and some of us are already using technology and wealth to manipulate institutions like government and business, which enabled our growth, to facilitate the opposite: competition (with unfair advantage) for what is already being used by the rest. Together we need to reexamine the competitions we are participating in, and consciously decide whether the values they serve are in line with the future we want, before that future is decided for us.