how distant others might see us – the tragedy of the commons

I consume a fair bit of the news of the day, as I expect is true for others. Some of this news I read, some I watch, some I listen to; after all, the world is a complicated place, and when I sit and ponder the state of the world, I feel that I should be as reasonably informed as possible.

Looking out at the world, there seem to me to be some loose commonalities. One of these, and one that has been explored by humanity as long as we’re explored anything, I suspect, is the tension between the individual and the collective.

That is, what’s good for an individual might not be good if applied to everyone, and this we see played out in discussions of resource consumption, our impact on our planet, the phenomenon of climate change and much else that drives the news. Admittedly, there are situations in which we have developed and applied resolutions of the tragedy of the commons, but clearly we have not resolved all such situations.

One aspect of this tension comes out in the tragedy of the commons, but this is only one aspect. As tempting as it might be to put down my own thoughts on this particular tragedy, I want actually to go down a different path.

And this other path is as much as anything a question, and this question comes from a weird collision of the tragedy of the commons and Star Trek. In the Star Trek universe, we can caricature the different interstellar humanoid species with single word descriptions: the Klingons are war-like, the Vulcans logical. Perhaps the Andorians are duplicitous.

But if we consider how they might view us, what would be their brief defining characterization of humanity? Might it be that we are defined by the tragedy of the commons and our lack of clear and universal resolution of the tragedy of the commons, of this tension between the individual and the collective?

Or to phrase it another way, do we need to have a Surak-type revolution in how we think? I hold the view that we do not yet understand ourselves well enough. I’m sure for instance that should we encounter an alien species with which we can communicate, part of what we’ll need to do is to make sure that that species has no access to research on human psychology, marketing and advertising, et cetera, because of how they might be able to exploit all of this in their dealings with us.

So perhaps at a deep level, part of the solutions to some of these issues we’re collectively facing, the corners into which we’ve collectively painted ourselves, is to develop this better understanding of ourselves, because this is how we resolve the tragedy of the commons.

Or perhaps I’ve just watched too much Star Trek over the course of my days.

~ by Jim Anderson on 20 February 2022.

2 Responses to “how distant others might see us – the tragedy of the commons”

  1. Reblogged this on Loving Life in the Rain.

  2. […] a couple of other recent posts, in reading with hindsight: Superiority and beware the shiny and in how distant others might see us – the tragedy of the commons. In our stories, Surak sees a path for Vulcan to survive its biology, and so should we be seeking a […]

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