i've been thinking about how to change the world for a number of years. i think a lot as you might imagine. unfortunately, i haven't quite managed to come up with anything you might call clear cut as yet, however i thought i'd share some of general observations.
decision making and the vacuum of blame
I've realised that some problems are fundamentally about the difficulty of making decisions because those making decisions don't have all the information necessary in order to make a good decision, particularly about the decision-making of other people. The term 'the tragedy of the commons' was coined as means to describe scenarios like over-use of a natural resource which is utilised by everyone. A good example is a fishing area which fisherman fish until there is no fish left, not because they individually want to run out of fish, but because the benefits of fishing sustainability are so diffuse and the benefits of taking as many fish as possible each time they fish, so immediate, that they act in a rational manner and heavily discount the future in their decision-making.
I have come to believe that such fisherman are not necessarily to be scolded as bad examples of human beings, as greedy or as lacking virtue. Indeed, i believe there to be a certain inevitability about these scenarios, unless information can be provided, and crucially 'trusted', amongst all participants.
I've become very interested in the applicability of game theory in explaining what look like irrational and immoral outcomes for collective groups, but what instead turn out to be simply the outcome of individuals or small groups acting in a way with reduced knowledge and/or trust in the behaviour of others.
i tend now to look at decision-making failures and don't immediately assume there is someone or something blame. For example, the capitalist system, corporate greed, bad government, lack of confidence etc. If some of our problems are fundamental to our ability to process information and make decisions for the group as individuals or smaller groups, we should acknowledge that, and attempt to address without necessary recourse to a moral reckoning for the participants.
Of course, sometimes there are culprits! It's just useful to note in my book that sometimes it's not useful or helpful to think in terms of blame.
Prisoners Dilemma and Theory of the Bomb
one of the most important things we can do then is to incentivise co-operation between individuals where the value to the group exceeds that of the individual. note that i say incentivise rather than enforce. Depending on your view of human nature and your political persuasion, you are likely to either favour enforcement, gentle incentive or a complete lack of any attempt to control or incentivise other individuals. This is my problem with political persuasion, you have to stick to your guns, when in fact each major social or environmental problem benefits from a different analysis being in a different context.
Sometimes a gentle incentive might work best, sometimes we need to punish cheaters and show them who's boss. Maybe we should be voting for policies and not parties? www.simpol.org.
Note that i don't really care about co-operation because it's nicer, but because it's better for more people to be better off than less. Survival of the fittest implies not the strongest or the greediest, but the fittest, those most adaptable to change. Often, and increasingly in human history, co-operative behaviour works best for survival of individual organisms.
Axelrod in Evolution of Cooperation mentioned ways to improve co-operation, including making the future more valuable (get rid of short termism) through people interacting together more often so that they will have to deal with the consequences of their actions with the people that are affected by their decisions. The example of the behaviour of soldiers from Britain and Germany in Great War is testamount to that fact. They organised signals to each other for dinner and recreation time and resumed fighting using dummy shells to make their captains/generals think they were fighting. What we're after here is encouraging reciprocity of behaviour which helps the individual in ways which help the group.
evolution and politics
I've heard it say that Marxism is a great theory, but simply that it was suggested for the wrong species. For those of a left-leaning disposition, the notion that there are aspects of our human nature which unalterably lead to certain outcomes or pre-dispositions within individual behaviour is anathema. We idealists would prefer there to be a blank canvas on which to inscribe the future of humanity. I think one of the most important things the left needs to do intellectually, is to acknowledge the fundamentals of evolutionary biology and seek to address the limitations (and therefore the true potential) of what it means to be human.
Darwinian Left and The Blank Slate, both great books in highlighting the challenges we face in uncovering and dealing with fundamental issues of human nature and how this affects social policy formation.
Well, i guess i'm thinking right now of some specific solutions using the above insights. They are business solutions, or at least commercially driven and socially motivated which is why i think of myself as a social entrpeneur. I hope to meet people here in NZ who i can discuss these things with. I should say that i believe in specifics. We're only here for 70 odd years if we're lucky and i'm not interested in just positing another interesting theory about why we are the way we are. I'm interested in making something that demonstrates possibilities and ideally, that make peoples' lives better whilst allowing me to live.
nice nice nice
i must apologise to Ben, for whom my blog is 'too nice'. As i am no longer in Britain, i have obvously lost all trace of cynicism and bitterness behind in old Blighty. Not so, i'm simply experimenting with having a Positive Mental Attitude ™. Look, i know i'm going to die, you know you're going to die, there's no point getting too upset about it. Perhaps that's the only reason we laugh (no-one's ever really worked that one out either). Who was it that said 'every laugh is the sound of an emotion dying'.
Till next time.
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