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Competition increases change and motivates people to excel. For example, gamers recently competed to solve a scientific problem that has "vexed researchers for a decade." Companies compete for your business and, as a result, become more productive. Children sometimes compete for a parent's limited time and attention. Sports competitions are fun to watch as athletes try to win. Let us not forget the governments who compete in weapons and military strength (the so-called "arms race"). Even Darwinism is, in a sense, a type of competition (i.e., survival of the fittest). Let's face it: competition is everywhere.

Not everyone likes competition. Monopolies hate competition. If they had to compete based on reputation or good will, they know they'd lose. There are others who think that competition brings out the worst in people because it's looked at as one party trying to succeed at the expense of another (i.e., a zero-sum game). It creates a rivalry that can turn people against one another. Competition can also lead to competitors not playing fair or trying to hurt others in order to win (e.g., cheating, bribery, corporate espionage). Competition is a key component of capitalism. However, many call into question the ethics of capitalism because of the nature of the competition.

Which competitive struggles do you identify with? How much should we stimulate competition? Is competition healthy? In which contexts does competition perform better/give better results than cooperation or isolation? How should we measure the value to define "better?" Why does competition create animosity? What are the ethics and proper components of competition? What constitutes success in a competition? Would an ideal world be without competition?

In adversarial situations we routinely have to do things unto others that we would not want them to do unto us. A businessman will try to drive his rival out of business so that he can capture his share of the market. A political candidate will air attack ads that distort her opponent's record. A boxer will literally punch his opponent in the mouth. So much for the Golden Rule! But these actions in the real world of business, politics, and sports can still be considered ethically permissible.

What the people in these roles have in common is that they are all players in highly structured competitions. In fact, the deliberately competitive situations that define their roles and relationships are among the most important institutions in the modern world-those of business, democratic politics, criminal law, and sports. And we find such institutions indispensible: free markets organize the production and distribution of goods, adversarial legal systems allow the accused to defend themselves, and democratic elections decide who gets to govern.

Of course, we are painfully aware of the shortcomings of competition. Companies may seek to profit by exploiting workers or polluting. Parties may win elections with lies and skullduggery. Lawyers find loopholes that let guilty men go free, and some athletes take undetectable performance-enhancing drugs. We accept these "errors" in the system because we believe that these competitive institutions will still deliver better results for society in the long run. To minimize these errors, we impose regulation-a complex set of rules along with a system of monitoring and enforcement-on everything from baseball to the market for mortgage-backed securities.

Rules and referees can't catch everything, however. So in every competition there are further ethical norms that go above and beyond the rules, or that appeal to the spirit of the rules-we call this good sportsmanship, business ethics, professionalism, or statesmanship, depending on the setting. We admire the athlete who doesn't fake a fall to be awarded a penalty shot or free-throw, but who instead struggles to keep his feet in an attempt to score. We laud the politician who refuses to exploit details of her opponent's private life even if this is the only way she could avoid electoral defeat.

These "players" keep in mind the expectations of those outside "the game" whose interests these institutions and professionals are supposed to be serving. So while competition may not create saints, it doesn't have to create jerks.

Does competition bring out the worst in us?


Original posting by Braincrave Second Life staff on Sep 23, 2011 at http://www.braincrave.com/viewblog.php?id=650

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