Bryan Caplan  

A Deeply Misguided Sentence

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"Nothing is more irrational than spending our lives trying to fend off mortality when no one has ever escaped that fate." (Westen, The Political Brain)

You could just as easily say, "Nothing is more irrational than going to the movies when no one has ever seen every movie ever made."

This is a great example of what I call the Woody Allen Fallacy - the idea that an infinite amount of life is valuable, but a finite amount isn't. Trying to fend off your inevitable demise is as rational as you can get, because dying sooner is worse than dying later.


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COMMENTS (8 to date)
Lord writes:

Not if fending off mortality means not living it in the first place.

Unit writes:

I agree. Moreover, people could try to fend off mortality by having one more child, because this increases the expected size of their nth generation of descendants and hence increases the probability that at least some of these descendants will be interested in keeping the memory of their common progenitor alive.

cak writes:
dying sooner is worse than dying later
You can't really believe that this is always true? There are plenty of cases where dying sooner rather than later is perfectly rational. It's going to be different for each individual...right? Your comments seem to go completely past rational to the other extreme.
Matt writes:

Every economic decision must extend outlook, according to your theory.

That is fundamental. Every economic transaction must increase information about long term availability of resources, is but one conclusion.

Good insite, easily applied.

And also, just because nobody has ever succeeded doesn't mean it isn't possible.

But I think life was meant to be finite. We take enough for granted as it is, acting as if people and opportunities and things will always be there when we know that they won't be. Imagine how often you'd call your parents if they actually would always be there.

Justin writes:

From the merit of the quote itself, as is:

It doesn't seem to me that he was assessing the wisdom of endeavoring to extend one's life, but rather making an observation regarding the futility of endeavors to actually escape death.

While it is indeed good and wise to extend the length and quality of our lives, we may in no way contemplate ultimately avoiding death.

(Please pardon me if I've taken the quote out of context)
-J

Wayne writes:
we may in no way contemplate ultimately avoiding death.

Why not? Watching other humans use their creativity to make themselves happy is a past time I could enjoy forever.

M. Hodak writes:

"Nothing is more irrational than spending our lives trying to fend off disease when no one has ever escaped that fate."

- Westen's medieval counterpart

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