Sunday, November 15, 2015

We Can't Have Nice Things

The 'tragedy of the commons' is the idea that individuals acting without regard to the interests of the group often damage the well-being of everyone, including themselves. Littering, for example, is easy for the individual and costly for society. In the most extreme case, a good thing is ruined for everybody through the actions of one person, like Hitler and the toothbrush mustache.

The basic requirement for a utopia is that the tragedy of the commons doesn't exist. In reality, harmful individual tendencies have to be discouraged by the threat of retaliation, i.e. laws and rules. To try to eliminate the tragedy of the commons by force, however, probably makes a dystopia. World governments and societies have to find a balance between individual freedom and societal good.

The extreme options, then, are anarchy and totalitarianism. The middle ground seems better, but still far from ideal. If things are not as they should be, it's because of human nature. It's not a characteristic evolution could change; the conflict between individual fitness and species fitness seems to be ingrained. The way to a perfect world must be sought elsewhere.

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