Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Blogging opportunity #3

"Us" vs. "Them" - or - "The player and the game"

We've discussed Garret Hardin's "The Tragedy of the Commons" throughout the semester in just about all of our resource topics. Hardin discussed the herdsmen who were compelled to continue putting additional animals out to graze in the community land. We described this as individually rational as the individual received 100% of the benefits from the action (revenues from a fatter cow) but paid only a fraction of the costs (everyone shares in the lost quality of the common grazing land). Everyone following the same reasoning of course leads to ruin. Self interest, in the case of rival and non-excludable resources, is not compatible with the interests of society.

Who was Hardin really talking about? Was his paper a treatise on pervasive greed years ago or do you think he was talking about someone else? Who are the modern-day herdsmen?

The reason I'm posting about this has to do with something I've been considering for a long time, but really started hitting home during the presidential campaign... When you feel strongly about something, say, a political candidate or an environmental problem, it is easy, useful and convenient to point a finger at a "bad guy" and say "It's his fault. He's just being greedy. We have to stop that guy from doing all this damage!" Us vs. them is so easy. It feels good to have someone to blame for problems.

Examples abound. Titan Cement is bad! The loggers are greedy! The whalers are evil!

Is this productive? More importantly, is this even close to being a useful or correct approach to environmental problems? Are there good players and bad players? Or does the game just have really ineffective rules?


Anonymous said...

Modern-day herdsmen are characterised the same today as they were then...greedy. The drive to acquire more and more will surely send mankind to ruin. While this greed seems more evident in the corporate world, it is perpetuated by regular people. Considering modern standards for living and wellbeing, would we do what is necessary to save earth?...can we really regress and still be comfortable?
On the other hand, is the change a "regression"? Does making the tough choices mean that we step backward? Perhaps this is the problem why so many good "green" practices are not followed; Being mindful of the many benefits of making better and "greener" choices, we should view the change as progessive rather than backwards. The will of society can lead the change necessary but the "greedy" complacency of society blocks the path. This complacent attitude is partnered by the "blame game" i.e. nothing is ever our fault...look at the other guy! The rules of the current game are indeed inefficient and should be shifted. To help solve environmental problems there should be an inward shift of blame; Do this by showing how our actions ripple in society and in regard to impacts on the earth. Secondly, we should strive to solve environmental problems at the local level...each piece of the massive global puzzle falling into place to acomplish the broader goal.


Whitney Knapp said...

No matter what way you look at it, The tragedy of the Commons is about people who are only looking out for themselves. They either don't care or are uneducated about the consequences of their actions. These people go through life doing what they want without pausing to consider the impacts they might have on the people around them.

In the case of finger pointing, plenty of people try and blame others without knowing the whole story. When this is the case, it isn't productive because neither side is willing to look at the facts in an unbiased manner and come up with a solution that would follow with the fact pattern.

Where the environment is concerned, the practice of finger pointing is ineffective. For example, whaling. Every year the International Whaling Commission meets. The so-called experts from each member county meet and try to determine an effective whaling practice. The U.S. and Japan are both present. Japan currently practices "scientific whaling" but has never presented clear data on what science is being carried out, and sells the whale products on the Japanese market. The U.S. is against whaling. Currently, any country can be a member of the IWC, they just have to have an interest. It doesnt matter if that country is near water, and could be completely land-locked. This is used to "recruit" countries with either pro-whaling or anti-whaling viewpoints.

Nothing gets accomplished at these meeting because so much finger pointing and arguing occurs. Everyone wants to look at the opposing side as wrong or bad. This is not useful at all for coming up with a global approach to whaling. If people tried to step back and consider all the facts, and stop name calling, possibly, there could be a solution to whaling that is sustainable.

Anonymous said...

matthew pickett
no, no, yes, and also the rules are ineffective. There is no doubt that some could care less and that others are paying not more of a price maybe, but feeling none of the benefit. Obviously the villains like that on the childhood cartoon of captain planet are few and far between. However when I most recently took a charter from the obx out to do some king fishing; the seasoned captain new full well mileage regulations on dumping and proceeded to drop everything but the anchor before we were even a mile off shore. My minister once asked the congregation if there are good people and bad people. I have thought many times about this question, it seems that people are capable of both and the outcome must be the final tally, ie scoreboard. Some people are really good and some just slightly better than bad, and of course don't forget the scum.

Mandy Isaac said...

One can only speculate on Hardin's true intentions in his essay. From an economic standpoint, he could have been referring to everyone that uses an open-access resource. Modern-day herdsmen could be fishers since so many fisheries are facing extinction and people continue to over-fish since it is an open access resource that they receive full benefits and pay partial costs for. However, from an environmentalists standpoint, Hardin could be pointing his finger at people that take and take and take and could care less about the side effects. The best way I can describe this is using a movie reference (sorry) "There Will Be Blood." The main character in this movie is an evil man. Not because he takes oil from the ground and makes millions off of it. He disowns his son, kills people, and continues to be a dark, greedy, self-centered man throughout his life. In contrast, the average fisherman is not like the man I just described. I don't think a fisherman that only knows one trade, can't find a different job (especially not these days), and perhaps has a family to support. It may be that when a certain fishery struggles he moves on to a different fishery that he could make more profit off of. Both men are taking from the commons, but that does not make them the same kind of person. They are not both "bad players" just because they are taking from the commons. After all of that....I still don't know what Hardin was so hyped up about.

Fingerpointing, name calling, and generalized statements are productive in only one way in my opinion: to get more support for your cause. It's much easier to get your neighbor's attention about a current issue by posting a "STOP TITAN" sign in front of your house then handing them a 10 page reseach paper analyzing the costs and benefits to both parties that the project has and asking them to make their own opinion.
This approach is not even close to being useful in helping envirnonmental problems, especially from an economic standpoint. This was made strikingly obvious to me after our lecture in class about why my "stop titan" line at the end of a blog earlier this semester was completely biased and ineffective. Making statements like these takes away from any support you may give and will never help in changing policy. (learned that one the hard way. ha :) )

Drew Moxon said...

As an aside, the other issue with finger-pointing is targeting your audience. When your audience is academics, scientists and experts, it is often useful to have CBA, studies and statistics to back up your argument. When your audience is the common public or congressmen (I throw them in with the common public because they are only in office to represent thier constiuancy, not to be experts on issues...) you have to know how to present your case in an easily-understood manner. You can still use the same statistics or methods, but you better be able to explain them in a basic way in twenty seconds or you won't capture peoples attention. This is where finger-pointing comes in. Those who aren't able to be this concise or don't know the information well enough fall to finger pointing as an easy way to push thier message.

BrandonHedrick said...

It is very obvious that the overwhelming majority of people want to point their finger at someone else for blame. Very few individuals will simply say, ‘maybe this is my fault’ or ‘maybe I am contributing to something destructive’. Most people think more highly of themselves than others think of them. They would never be wrong in their own eyes.

Take riding a bike to class for example. When the price of fuel was above $3.50/gallon, riding a bike grew more popular. However, fewer and fewer bikes are now cruising the sides of roadways. Why were people riding bikes in the first place? It was a benefit to them, and eliminated their cost of driving. Granted, some people do green activities to support the environment, but as a whole we are all greedy.

We can criticize this point all day (we could be like Washington criticizing banks, the auto industry, and any other failing companies), or we can face the natural instincts of human nature, greediness, and we can move on. One of the great things about economic is the ability to predict the economy; and in turn, the ability to predict global greed.

Moving towards programs such as, eco-system based management is probably the avenue to success. While I can argue my opinion all day, and someone else can argue their own agenda all day, at some point we have to face reality in that we are both going to look out for our own interest. If everyone’s interests are taken into consideration, the best solutions may be presented.

Brandon Hamm said...

To start with,I Would like to say that I dont believe that the main message hardin was trying to convey was thet men should be seen as greedy. I felt like he was leaning more towards the common instincts that men have to be survivors, that when push comes to shove a man will do what is necessary to provide him and his family with what they need to survive. If that means that he must go out every day and fish for a diminishing population of fish to feed his family, who could consciencly call him greedy. The same goes for the farmers clearing rainforests, mine workers digging for coal, and roughnecks out on the oil rigs. The CEO's and presidents who own and run these types of businesses may be on a seperate level, but the bottom workers are just trying to make ends meet. Most would even be the first to tell you that the business they are in is biting off more than our planet can chew, but for them it means another day of food for thier children. Any fisherman would be the first to realize that stocks are shrinking when they have to spend more time on the water to catch less fish, but the decision not to catch more many times just is not available.
Being unducated and apathetic may be part of some common tradgedies, but the will to survive and push on is what i believe to be the motivation for the masses. This will hopefully shall influence us to change some practices, and help the rest of us who may not be able to help themselves.
I dont feel that most people just plain dont care, but that they see no other way to survive.
So keep pointing your own finger at those who are feeding thier family and stretching ends to make them meet, but next time that happens look in the mirror and ask yourself, what have i done about these things today, are they good? bad? proactive? counteractive? or are you pointing at someone else talking about how they are passing the buck??

Anonymous said...

Thomas Bledsole
I think a more accurate heading would be
"us" vs. "ourselves" or "the pawn in the game"

Life is the ultimate "game", but its crazy to think that I am the "ultimate" captain.