Reality Blind - Vol. 1

The effects of this are myriad and have steered human history in the past as they are - arguably - steering it now. Two of those emergent outcomes we ’ ll mention here to illustrate this point are known as the tragedy of the commons and the prisoner’s dilemma. The Tragedy of the Commons refers to a situation in which a finite or fragile resource is open to exploitation by many different parties with no accountability to one another and no immediate ‘ downside ’ to maximizing individual gain. This has cropped up many times in human history; large - scale examples are water resources, the atmosphere, fisheries, and grazing land, though anyone who has lived in a large house with roommates has probably experienced it to some degree. If everyone has access to a renewable resource and there are no effective controls to prevent it, personal gain and tribalism cause individuals or tribes to take more than a sustainable amount, ultimately damaging or destroying the resource, which ironically (or “ tragically ” ) is worst-case for everyone. People assume that others will act in their own logical self-interest and destroy the resource; therefore, it makes logical sense to act the same way to minimize one’s own loss. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The seas are a classic example. Most large fish are now gone from the ocean due to what has effectively been a free-for-all, despite there often being such things as treaties and quotas. Fishermen typically consider themselves good stewards of the resource, but assume their competitors are plunderers, and foreign competitors are the worst. They feel compelled to increase their takes until overcapitalized fleets are competing for the last fish … and when the fishery is no longer viable, they blame it on the foreign fleets. But every fleet is someone ’ s foreign fleet: that is the tragedy. These sorts of outcomes are not inevitable, but they constitute strong attractors for aggregate human behavior precisely because they spontaneously emerge from sound individual logic. For instance, an international aid organization pushed the adoption of “ gillnets ” to more efficiently catch fish and stop people from starving, with the ultimate result that the more effective fishing caused the collapse of many fisheries, and thus ultimately less fish for people to eat. The prisoner’s dilemma is a two-person game with a choice of cooperating or defecting. The best result (for the individual) is to defect each time. The best result ‘ for the world ’ (both people in the game) is if both players cooperate. Rational self-interest would suggest that humans (if we were actually rational) would defect every time – but in fact in real life examples of this and other games we choose to cooperate significantly


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