Neva good. This theory does not apply

Neva LuthriaProfessor JerolmackIntro to Sociology6 December 2017Tragedy of the CommonsIn lecture, the concept of tragedy of the commons was explained as the phenomenon whereby each individual acts according to their own best interests, which leads to a negative outcome for the collective group. The lecture also pointed out that tragedy of the commons could be understood as the reverse mechanism of Adam Smith’s theory of the invisible hand, that competition in a free market means selfishness results in public good. This theory does not apply to the environment, as acting selfishly for self-maximization leads to the deterioration of a collective resource. The term was originally coined by an ecologist named Garrett Hardin, and our textbook reading from The Sociology Project expresses his point that we need to regulate common resources in order to prevent a tragedy of the commons situation from occurring. A tragedy of the commons situation could be avoided by the implementation of permits or quotas, punishing excess consumers with taxes, or rewarding sustainable consumption(Jerolmack 2017, 20.4.1). The texbook reading also makes the point that the tragedy of the commons has a temporal aspect to it in that individual actors are considering their own gain in the short term, but not looking at the bigger picture of the possible depletion of the resource in the future. The chapter sums up the lesson that tragedy of the commons situations teaches society, “we cannot expect the majority of society to regulate themselves as long as the negative consequences of their actions (1) will not be apparent until far in the future or (2) fall on other people”(Jerolmack 2017, 20.4.1). Mark van Vugt focuses on how we can use people’s thought processes to avoid such situations in his article ‘Averting the Tragedy of the Commons: Using Social Psychological Science to Protect the Environment.’ I thought it would be interesting to introduce a psychological perspective into our exploration of tragedy of the commons–psychology focuses on the dispositions that explain individual behavior while sociology concerns itself with the situations that create behaviors, and I think this a key part of what the tragedy of the commons is, an accumulation of individualistic strategies. Van Vugt’s thesis is suggesting “that in such commons dilemmas people are not just motivated by narrow (economic) self-interest but that they also consider the broader implications of their decisions for others and for the natural environment”(169). Van Vugt’s article refines Garrett Hardin’s idea of tragedy of the commons, and proposes that this human awareness of action can be used for good by considering information, identity, institutions, and incentives. Information is important in terms of social and evolutionary psychology because people are hard-wired to want to know as much as possible about their surroundings for fear of a threat(Van Vugt 2009, 170). The article suggests that overuse of resources could be prevented if people know exactly what kind of damage they are causing, and what the consequences of their actions are. Another key aspect of social psychology is identity, people have a strong need to be accepted by other people and to belong to a group(Van Vugt 2009, 171). Van Vugt says that this is useful because we could emphasize family ties, that the resource bring depleted should be available to people’s children. Furthermore, people do not want to have a bad reputation in their community, be blamed, or negatively labeled. Van Vugt notes the system of “sticking a ‘smiley’ or ‘frowney’ face on their home energy bill when their energy use is less or more than the neighbourhood average”(171). Then, the article notes the role that institutions play, essentially underscoring Hardin’s original argument that our textbook reading and lecture relayed, of the need for resource regulation. People will usually feel like they have to obey and respect legitimate authorities (just like in the Milgram shock experiments mentioned in class) so figures of authority serving as the protectors of a common resource will likely be effective(Van Vugt 2009, 171). Finally, people have incentives; they are motivated to shape their behavior to benefit from rewards and to avoid penalties. In the article Van Vugt discusses the the implementation of economic fines and subsidies, which seemed ironic to me since his thesis states that social psychology could be used to promote good behavior because people are not just motivated by selfish economic interests, yet one of his four sections is devoted to reinforcing this very facet of human behavior. A second journal article relating to the tragedy of the commons is ‘Extensions of ‘The Tragedy of Commons” by Garrett Hardin, the ecologist who wrote the original piece coining the term. In this article, he expands on the definition of the tragedy of the commons as we know it, adding that “the way to avoid disaster in our global world is through a frank policy of ‘mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon”(Hardin 1998, 683). He is referring to the regulations he believes must be implemented in order to prevent excess use of resources, and the phrasing seems to denote a democratic decision being made to avert disaster. In the case of an individual selfishly acting to deplete a common resource, the rest of the group would band together to agree upon a solution. The language Hardin uses dispels the idea that regulation of common resources would be forcibly placed on a community, instead it is the community itself that calls for it. The second main extension of the concept Hardin makes is that to avoid extreme cases of tragedy of the commons, “freedoms must be given up”(683). Hardin is presenting the previous perceptions of his concept in a different light, implying that using as much of a resource as one wants is a person’s right, their “freedom,” whereas we would perceive it in the original context of the definition as more an anomaly of selfishness. Hardin’s article revising his original argument seems to include a consideration of some social psychology. I think Hardin’s revision that “freedoms must be given up” is in line with the views voiced in the first article, particularly the section about identity. Rephrasing the overuse of a common resource from carrying a negative connotation parallels with Mark van Vugt’s point that people do not want to be blamed or labeled and seen as ‘selfish’ by others. Furthermore, the idea that everyone in a community must make a sacrifice strengthens the collective identity that the social psychology article is referring to. Hardin’s point about “mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon” correlates with the first article’s point about institutions. This appears to be a point of tension for the two articles, since Mark van Vugt’s article hopes to use the authoritative power of figures outside the community as protectors while Garrett Hardin suggests that this regulation comes from inside the community itself and is less of a matter of obeying and more a mutual agreement.  Ironically the two articles have in common the fact that they are refining and critiquing the same piece of work, Garrett Hardin’s original work ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ in the hopes of clarifying the subtleties and nuances of the phenomenon. A current issue that illustrates the tragedy of the commons is net neutrality. Net neutrality is the concept that the internet “enables and protects free speech. It means that ISPs should provide us with open networks — and shouldn’t block or discriminate against any applications or content that ride over those networks”(Net Neutrality: What You Need to Know Now). In other words, networks cannot exert control over what content people engage with online. Garrett Hardin’s concept of the tragedy of the commons seemed to me to resonate with the ongoing case to save net neutrality, seeing as the internet is a sort of common resource between its users. Controversially, the Federal Communication Commission is going to vote on December 14th on the ending of net neutrality. What could happen is that providers could give preferential treatment to sites that they approve of and that can afford to pay more, by “blocking or slowing transmission speeds and seeking payment in exchange for faster service in their networks, a practice called “paid prioritization”(Kloepfer, 2015).  Internet service providers are mistreating the open Internet because they are pushing to end net neutrality for their own selfish benefit: these companies would make a lot of profit by charging money for exclusive access to particular sites and by charging money for quicker content through ‘fast lanes’ that prioritize certain data. This can be seen as a tragedy because this means that small businesses and individuals publishing their own content online are discriminated against. This could also stifle innovation and entrepreneurship. Advocates of net neutrality bring up another point of social justice: “The consequences would be particularly devastating for marginalized communities media outlets have misrepresented or failed to serve. People of color, the LGBTQ community, indigenous peoples and religious minorities in the United States rely on the open internet to organize, access economic and educational opportunities, and fight back against systemic discrimination”(Net Neutrality: What You Need to Know Now). The internet service providers are acting for their own gain and self-maximization which would threaten the open Internet commons and end up in a collective societal situation of tragedy where companies decide which information people can receive.  Works CitedHardin, Garrett. “Extensions of ‘The Tragedy of the Commons.'” Science, vol. 280, no. 5364, 1998, pp. 682–683. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2895325.Jerolmack, Colin. “Tragedy of the Commons.” In The Sociology Project 2.5. Pearson Education, 2017. 20.4.1.Kloepfer, Sara. “Tragedy of the Commons: Net Neutrality and Public ‘Space'”. Conversation X. 1 Apr. 2015. http://www.conversationx.com/2015/04/01/tragedy-of-the-commons-net-neutrality-and-public-space/Save the Internet. “Net Neutrality: What You Need to Know Now”. Free Press. https://www.savetheinternet.com/net-neutrality-what-you-need-know-nowVan Vugt, Mark. “Averting the Tragedy of the Commons: Using Social Psychological Science to Protect the Environment.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 18, no. 3, 2009, pp. 169–173. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20696022.