Reality Blind - Vol. 1

This same dynamic applies to our resource depletion and environmental issues. A collective action problem is a situation whereby if everyone performed a certain action, all would be better off, but the high cost to an individual of doing the action makes it likely that few (or none) will perform that action . 75 For instance, it ’ s simple logic to take just a sustainable amount of fish from a fishery each year, but mos t world fisheries are now collapsed, depleted or heavily overfished, meaning that everyone gets less fish. Since individual fishermen expect others to take outsized amounts, they reason that they might as well too. The upshot: everyone (wide boundary) would be better off in the long run if we consumed considerably less, saved our biosphere and left high quality resources for our grandchildren. But doing these “ right things ” for the environment and for the group (or species), comes at a cost – physical, social and economic – to the individual. (This dynamic was famously articulated in the Tragedy of the Commons by ecologist Garrett Hardin 76 ). Biologist E.O. Wilsons states: “ Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary. ” Me over Us and Us over Them. 77 TaaL: That Wilson hominid is largely correct, if one appends the qualifier “ all else being equal. ” Of course, other things are rarely equal: selfish groups with firearms and smallpox blankets beat unselfish groups with arrows and spears. Though I suppose I ’ m lapsing into commentary (which is an alien ’ s prerogative). The advantage of altruistic groups exists because a social group takes on many attributes of a superorganism and competes as one. This is a remarkably effective ecological strategy: a single insect is just an annoyance to a large predator, but jaguars will flee army ants on the march, and for good reason: the army ants are the more formidable predator. Once one steps outside the narrative that humans impose on the world, it becomes clear that a hive of honeybees is, in most ways, a single genetic and functional organism. To achieve that, they evolved to have no intra-hive selfishness or mating conflicts. Human groups can take advantage of the same dynamics and, to various degrees, have done so, as attested by houses built of mammoth bones, an animal too large for one individual to hunt. In effect, human tribal superorganisms became “bigger” than mammoths and were able to treat them as prey. Being a functional superorganism with semi-autonomous sub-units can be the “ best of both worlds ” in terms of


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