"The Tragedy of the Commons" - VeggieBoards
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#1 Old 01-27-2005, 01:17 PM
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http://dieoff.org/page95.htm



It's a very long article, but also very interesting.



Here's a summary of their argument:



At the end of a thoughtful article on the future of nuclear war, J.B. Wiesner and H.F. York concluded that: "Both sides in the arms race areconfronted by the dilemma of steadily increasing military power and steadily decreasing national security. It is our considered professional judgment that this dilemma has no technical solution. If the great powers continue to look for solutions in the area of science and technology only, the result will be to worsen the situation.'' [1]



I would like to focus your attention not on the subject of the article (national security in a nuclear world) but on the kind of conclusion they reached, namely that there is no technical solution to the problem. An implicit and almost universal assumption of discussions published in professional and semipopular scientific journals is that the problem under discussion has a technical solution. A technical solution may be defined as one that requires a change only in the techniques of the natural sciences, demanding little or nothing in the way of change in human values or ideas of morality.



In our day (though not in earlier times) technical solutions are always welcome. Because of previous failures in prophecy, it takes courage to assert that a desired technical solution is not possible. Wiesner and York exhibited this courage; publishing in a science journal, they insisted that the solution to the problem was not to be found in the natural sciences. They cautiously qualified their statement with the phrase, "It is our considered professional judgment...." Whether they were right or not is not the concern of the present article. Rather, the concern here is with the important concept of a class of human problems which can be called "no technical solution problems," and more specifically, with the identification and discussion of one of these.



It is easy to show that the class is not a null class. Recall the game of tick-tack-toe. Consider the problem, "How can I win the game of tick-tack-toe?" It is well known that I cannot, if I assume (in keeping with the conventions of game theory) that my opponent understands the game perfectly. Put another way, there is no "technical solution" to the problem. I can win only by giving a radical meaning to the word "win." I can hit my opponent over the head; or I can falsify the records. Every way in which I "win" involves, in some sense, an abandonment of the game, as we intuitively understand it. (I can also, of course, openly abandon the game -- refuse to play it. This is what most adults do.)



The class of "no technical solution problems" has members. My thesis is that the "population problem," as conventionally conceived, is a member of this class. How it is conventionally conceived needs some comment. It is fair to say that most people who anguish over the population problem are trying to find a way to avoid the evils of overpopulation without relinquishing any of the privileges they now enjoy. They think that farming the seas or developing new strains of wheat will solve the problem -- technologically. I try to show here that the solution they seek cannot be found. The population problem cannot be solved in a technical way, any more than can the problem of winning the game of tick-tack-toe.
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#2 Old 01-27-2005, 01:54 PM
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An interesting article.

While I agree that a technical fix for the problems described is unlikely to appear any time soon, I disagree with the whole "tragedy of the commons" myth and the proposed solutions. A more elaborate response will be forthcoming.



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#3 Old 01-27-2005, 10:37 PM
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I think that it's unlikely you can "breed out conscience" traits, I still think that, given the current short-term and medium-term outlook on world population, it may be necessary before long to implement anti-growth measures.



Now one fact not mentioned by this article is that, in 1st world countries, population growth is slowing down substantially. Any population model has to take this into account. However, it isn't necessarily slowing enough to a maintenance state fast enough for there to not be any, shall we say "recoil"?, from our current unsustainable population/growth rate.
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#4 Old 01-28-2005, 02:17 PM
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Okay.

Here are the issues I have:

1. The tragedy of the commons is a cultural myth bolstered with logical "proof" based upon untenable axioms. If we look to the dawn of capitalism in Europe, the real tragedy of the commons was that the rapidly emerging bourgeoisie claimed private ownership over land previously held in common by the peasants (i.e., the enclosure movement). This, coupled with legal prohibitions against vagrancy, helped coerce the emerging proletariat into working in return for wages.

2. If we look at patterns of population growth in the present day, we find near zero (or even negative) rates of population growth in the first world, barring immigration. Additionally, looking to paleolithic culture, we see the use of rudimentary yet moderately effective birth control. A large part of the reason that we see high rates of population growth in the third world is that it is necessary for family units to produce children who labor, either on a farm or for wages. This situation would be remedied through a more equitable distribution of wealth worldwide.

3. I may have missed a second page, or something, but I missed the part on nuclear proliferation. Although the prisoner's dillema may be an apt description of some aspects of the situation, we should also not forget the corrupting influence of power as it plays out on an international scale.



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#5 Old 01-28-2005, 05:56 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ebola View Post

Okay.

Here are the issues I have:

1. The tragedy of the commons is a cultural myth bolstered with logical "proof" based upon untenable axioms. If we look to the dawn of capitalism in Europe, the real tragedy of the commons was that the rapidly emerging bourgeoisie claimed private ownership over land previously held in common by the peasants (i.e., the enclosure movement). This, coupled with legal prohibitions against vagrancy, helped coerce the emerging proletariat into working in return for wages.

2. If we look at patterns of population growth in the present day, we find near zero (or even negative) rates of population growth in the first world, barring immigration. Additionally, looking to paleolithic culture, we see the use of rudimentary yet moderately effective birth control. A large part of the reason that we see high rates of population growth in the third world is that it is necessary for family units to produce children who labor, either on a farm or for wages. This situation would be remedied through a more equitable distribution of wealth worldwide.

3. I may have missed a second page, or something, but I missed the part on nuclear proliferation. Although the prisoner's dillema may be an apt description of some aspects of the situation, we should also not forget the corrupting influence of power as it plays out on an international scale.



ebola



1) He gave more than one occurrance of a "tragedy of the commons"-like situation. For example, polluting is an act of which the costs are shared by all yet the benefit by few, and thus permitting freedom to pollute in our current system in unattainable.



I think the implicit argument you're trying to make is not that we should do away with the freedom to pollute (or more pertinently to the article, the freedom to reproduce) but to end our capitalist system such that (theoretically) you can redesign the system so that both the gain and cost of polluting would be shared equally be all, ending the dilemma entirely.



I'm going to avoid debating that for now, but if that's what you're trying to say, you might as well say it.



2) I think it is unreasonable to say that, in 3rd world countries with the highest population growth, it is done for the wages alone. This seems like a troublesomely *gigantic* statement (to try to get into the minds of billions of people and tell me what they're thinking), but then also you need to start showing what percentage of the population of africa (with the highest population growth) is urbanized, then the labor structure of that urbanized class, etc, etc.



3) Nuclear proliferation is just an example for his larger theme, I don't recall the prisoner's dilemma showing up in the article though I can see the relevance, and power is going to always exist, it's just a question of who has it. I suppose my point is that you can't destroy power without destroying the meaning behind it, and I'm not even talking about anarchy here, because even then there is still power, it just isn't directed. You can only get rid of power by destroying all global production and the architecture behind it.
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#6 Old 01-29-2005, 04:03 AM
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Quote:
we find near zero (or even negative) rates of population growth in the first world



How do you see the entire world becoming like the first world? Do you mean living in the same manner, with the same affluence? Or do you mean something different by



Quote:
a more equitable distribution of wealth worldwide

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#7 Old 01-29-2005, 12:02 PM
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>>How do you see the entire world becoming like the first world? Do you mean living in the same manner, with the same affluence? Or do you mean something different by

>>



No, I do not. I envision a sustainable economy (this would entail the demise of the personal car, a vast reduction in the scope of disposable commodities and packaging, and numerous other conservationist practices) where there is not widespread poverty which requires families to draw wages or agricultural labor from their children. I also envision the demise of profit, which, among other things, lies as the heart of the world-economy's need to expand.



Daral, a proper reply is forthcoming...



ebola

np: poison the well.
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#8 Old 01-29-2005, 12:49 PM
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Ebola, thank you for that thoughtful reply. I look forward to that as well.
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