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Spill the Beans

tomahawk's picture

If I figure out the cure to cancer, do I have to tell society?

My immediate answer is no. No one has to do anything. I strongly believe this. I do not have to wake up tomorrow morning, I do not have to go to my ESEM, and I definitely do not have to buy everyone Christmas presents.

But, I now realize a hang-up of semantics. It is not that I have to tell society, but that I should. 

Imagine if your neighbor gave you a teaspoon of salt, and you used that salt to make macaroons. It would be nice of you to give your neighbor a macaroon, but you don’t have to. Similarly, if society gives you all of the tools that help you shape your identity and your thoughts, you don’t have to give them your innovative ideas.

However, you should. Since you would have never made the macaroons without the salt and you would have never come up with the idea without society (the education you received, all of the experiences that allowed you to formulate this idea etc.), you should give your neighbor a macaroon and your idea to society.

This seems far too easy, and far too simple to me. So let’s try a new question: If I come up with an I-bomb, a bomb that is far more powerful and destructive than the H-bomb, should I give it up to society?

Once again, the answer seems to be yes. Although the I-bomb will most likely wreak havoc on the world, there is no way for me to know for certain. Maybe, in some ludicrous way, the I-bomb could actually take the greenhouse gases out of the air and restore the planet to how it was before we polluted it. What I’m getting at is that we never really know how an idea will affect the world so we should still give all of our ideas to society because society helped to cultivate them.

What actually ends up making this claim complex is not the idea itself, but the impact of society on our ability to shape ideas. Say I was abandoned on the day I was born and grew up with a pack of wolves. If I came up with a cure to cancer then, should I tell it to society? Considering that human society did nothing to help me have my idea, it seems that there is no reason for which I should tell society. This seems hunky-dory and neat, but it implies something interesting. If my lack of involvement with human society allows me to not share my ideas, there must be a line. What I mean by this is that there must be a cut-off in which society has influenced me enough that I should tell my idea to it.

Lines, as everyone knows, are entirely arbitrary. Obviously, if I were a wolf girl, I would’ve spent at least one day in society. Would this be any different from me spending two days in society? How about one day and one hour? No, the distinction would be arbitrary. Nonetheless, I have found that a difference does arise. If I spend all of my time immersed in society, I should give it my ideas. If I’ve spent very little time in society, then I do not need to. The line then becomes what complexes my argument. And, I have not come up with a way to solve it as of yet.

I have found another crack in my argument. So let me ask one more question. If I make my cure to cancer (it is no longer an idea, I physically have it), do I have to give to society? Perhaps. I would not have been able to make the cure without my idea that was facilitated by society. But, the cure and the idea are still one step removed. I put physical work into creating the cure. Still, to play devil’s advocate, didn’t society put work into creating the cure as well? The tools and the chemicals I used were made by someone else and what they used to make the tools and the chemicals was also made by someone else (and so and so forth). Doesn’t that mean that society owns the object as well as the idea? Doesn’t that mean that I do not own my detergent or my scissors, but that everyone does?

Thankfully, Kant saves me. No, everyone doesn’t own my detergent. If everyone owned ideas the world would not result in chaos. However, if everyone owned objects, it would. Anyone could take anyone else’s belongings. There would be rampant theft and overall complete confusion. This may sound cynical. But, to me, it is entirely reliving. I have answered all of my main questions and I am very happy that a person who thinks up the cure to cancer should spill the beans.