Tyranny for the Commons Man

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Published on: August 24, 2009

In a recent article (aug 2009) Barry Schwartz talks about the Tyranny of the Commons Man. The problem is posed very elegantly. “How does one escape a dilemma in which multiple individuals acting in their own rational self-interest can ultimately destroy a shared limited resource—even when it is clear this serves no one in the long run?” Building upon recent works like Non-zero, Evolution of Cooperation and others, he puts forward few ways to overcome some of the dilemmas. One approach is to appeal to the moral side of the people and the states. Another approach is to appeal to the self-interest side, offering incentives for the good behavior and punishments for the bad. An interesting and relevant issue is also discussed, which is a slippery slope in cooperation issues – the issue of naive realism…
..”As states enter these negotiating processes, leaders must also beware of “naive realism” and “reactive devaluation.” Parties to a conflict tend to think that while they see the issue “objectively,” the other side is biased. Stanford psychology professor Lee Ross dubs this psychological characteristic naive realism, and it’s not hard to see how it can lead to a negotiating impasse (“We’re being so reasonable; why are they so intransigent?”). It is hard to get into a virtuous cycle of cooperation if the parties cannot see the negotiations from the other side’s perspective. Because not only do states suffer from naive realism but they tend also to devalue what the other party offers. Suppose, for example, limits on fishing rights in international waters and standards for smokestack emissions are on the table. “We’ll pollute less if we can fish more,” you offer. “No deal,” says your negotiating partner, “you’re getting more than you’re giving.” “OK, then,” you say, “we’ll fish less if we can pollute more.” “No deal,” says your negotiating partner, “you’re getting more than you’re giving.” And you, of course, would say the same thing if your partner made either of those offers. We seem to assume that if someone is willing to give something up, it must be worth less than we think it is.”..

In the end, he puts out a thought which indicates simply how difficult this problem is and the solution could start with just one small action taken by one person in the right direction.

I know, I know. America really is exceptional. We are entitled to drive Hummers. We need those tanks because the safety of our kids is more important than the safety of anyone else’s. This feels right and true, so I understand how it might govern the attitudes and behaviors of most people (in America). But then I remind myself of the phenomenon of naive realism. Everybody, everywhere, has exactly the same feelings as we do. Like us, they can’t understand how people in other places don’t see things the way they do—don’t see things as they “really are.” This reminder of the above-average effect, sometimes called the “Lake Wobegon effect,” is enough to get me into the market for a Prius.

More of this here: [The Link]

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