Tragedy of the commons – system archetype – human flaws

Allo Reader, goedemiddag,

In het volgende artikel wil ik graag mijn begrip delen naar wat in de terminologie van systeemtheorie letterlijk vertaald;  ‘systeem grondwortel’ betekent. Ofwel, we praten hier dan over een universeel herkenbaar patroon waar elke maatschappij te maken mee kan krijgen. Vrijvertaald zou het de ‘tragedie van de gemeenschappelijkheid’ kunnen zijn of de tragedie van de alledaagse persoon.

In this article I will try to share my understanding of what is called a system archetype flaw; ‘Tragedy of the commons’ .

First, I, briefly want to try too explain the concept of a system archetype.

Creative writing starts here;

When a person/entity/agent (all that has to make decisions and choices) is out of alignment with the collective interest, one can have the possibility of the tragedy of the commons. The tragedy of the commons is hard to miss in our world where we all suffer from the so called negative externalizations (negative effects on people, planet, prosperity, and many more layers of ‘existence’ due to individual and collective behavioural patterns. That being said, it is next to impossible to have zero negative effect on the greater span of existence. It is not easy to look at a flower without uprooting the whole damn thing from the earth. Therefore, life is not easy, and making mistakes is part of the School of Life. The oceans are getting over fished, jungles deforested and fresh air is getting more polluted. One of the plus sides of Corona is, therefore, that there is less air pollution due to air traffic for example. These disastrous effects are commonly understood as a system archetype and a common defect in the rise and fall of civilisations. According to traditional game theory, transferred in contemporary economics of the Peacock and the Peahen, a purely rational agent would want to follow its self-interest in gaining the most out of public and open resources without having to deal with the cost and maintenance of these resources. However, this is a very limited way of being human. We can do much more then simply operating from the rational brain itself. This is the archetypal image of an agent who wants to maximise its payoffs and minimise the costs. There is something to say about it though by approaching the tragedy of the commons by using game theory and complexity sciences, some light could be shed on why it is the way it is. This awareness, in and of itself, can cause one to clearly see the negative externalizations on this planet caused by increased behaviour motivated by self-interest, in individual, family and collective life. It does not mean it is always a competition for resources in the tragedy of commons, since we can still deplete the planet by cooperating to deplete it. There is just this massive alienation from nature that has occurred, that we are now at a turning point that we have to suffer the consequences of this alienation on an individual, group, global and perhaps universal and multidimensional level. The planet is heavily under the loop so to speak… Eventually it is also in our self-interest as a global species to nurture the natural resources if we want to continue as a species from my viewpoint or just go full on cyberpunk without a body to worry about?

In traditional economics, the products and services of nature aren’t accounted for and are basically accessible and open for all players who are able to benefit from it. There is however a limit on these shared resources in a given society, and if it cannot be sustained through the individuals who are enjoying these resources, the ‘need’ arises to have centralised institutions to manage the sustainability of these resources. Similar in the way that I recently read that the ‘nature devas’ have left (TLE forum). Devas in the sense that these were or still are natural entities responsible for making sure the atmosphere of the planet is ideal to live in. The official Michael teachings terminology from the book Journey of your soul by Shepherd Hoodwin is; ‘nature spirits or elemental who take/took care of the earth ‘behind the scenes’, they work and/or worked with the mineral, plant and animal king and Queensland, as well as with larger elements such as the oceans, clouds and mountains. An enforcement system like this is, however, costly and no guarantee for success seeing the great amounts of corruption that is likely to occur when you centralise power too much. Besides going into devas too much I guess, one could say that humanity is for sure now the stewards of the planet in showing how to keep it tidy. 

Interesting then to note is that small tribal communities probably do not need large enforcement systems to sustain their collective resources, because it is easier to recognise collective interest and well-being from a grassroots level perspective. So the bigger the organisation grows, the more central lines of command can exist due to the enormity of the organisation itself. In thermodynamics the following metaphor perhaps makes more sense. A empty bucket has a limit to how much water can be carried in that bucket. However, when the amount of energy or water, in this case, exceeds the limit of the system, or in this case, a bucket,  the amount of thermodynamic energy needed to run a system collapses on itself when the limits of such a system have been reached. This collapsing unto itself is what one can observe in most natural ecosystems in daily life. Therefore it could be smart to organise larger organisations with correct feedback mechanism on local levels, so that the greater organisation is preserved as well as the more local systems that are intertwined with the greater supra-systems of a particular organisation.  Not only where tribal communities not alienated from nature, and, therefore, had a high respect for it, they also were closely tied with each other. When someone is messing up the resource in a close and tribal community, you probably get expelled and ruin your own reputation. So the solution to such a tragedy is dynamically solved on a grassroots level through a reputation and punishment system. When a society becomes more complex, individualised and advanced you probably would need the invention of property rights, either private or public in order to execute ownership for the negative and positive externalities caused by the society. However, this can cause great forms of inequality, inability to access natural goods when water becomes the new oil, causing even more disaster.

So the question arises; how to align the individual and the collective cohesively without having to sacrifice one or the other?

To be clear, these questions are too complex to expect a serious scientific answer from it by using contemporary methodologies, I would still argue.

Rant continues here;

We can all agree that we shouldn’t deplete the natural resources of this planet, because eventually it is also in the interest of nations, towns and eventually individuals that we sustain these natural resources.

I think a great part of the solution will be found in technologies like the chain technology which basically enables us to distribute ownership in a decentralised fashion so that everyone can be a player in the game of shared resources and is empowered to make a contribution. Such a system also makes it possible to see how the cost/benefit analyses is spread per individual agent, so that negative and positive externalities can be equally distributed among the agents who are causing these negative, neutral and positive effects. A decentralised database, accessible for everyone, would make it possible to prevent a tragedy of the commons in my view. Especially, when economics integrates capitals like social, intellectual and natural capital in the value creation, by doing so, shifting from a single value economy to a full value economy, we can use these communication technologies to solve the issues of scalability, coordination and ownership.

A decentralised database is like integrating the grassroots level solution of the tragedy of the commons, but then on a much larger scale. You already see this happening with big corporations who are doing much harm to the environment. Big corporations have been the defectors and free-riders of public good games for quite a while now, but due to the rise of communication technology like the Internet, more and more people are standing up against such business practices. The Internet on itself is basically already creating a digital environment in which we evolve as a global, interconnected planet by which every agent in the game of life can expel other agents who are causing too many negative externalities. In a hyper-connected world agents cannot escape the consequences of their actions anymore, and are just like the grassroots communities punished by the collateral damage they create, and in so doing, ruining their own reputation and existence.

So I think contemporary society will not annihilate itself by this system archetype this time (hopefully). The negative externalities are so extreme in some places in the world, effects that cannot be ignored by the world population, and hopefully will cause a shift in value systems to reduce and revert the diminishing returns for shared resources.

A combination of a shift in value systems, helping agents to undo the alienation by connecting them to these open resources, and finally having the technology to communicate and distribute ownership and opportunity for equal entrance to an economic environment by which agents can contribute, must be a solid response to combat the negative externalities most of the world is suffering from.

More then happy to start a conversation to learn together.

I would like this website to be a co-creation.



Author: Kees Berg

I'm a practitioner of holistic healing, a student of social-economical systems and like to move around throughout the day to write during the night. Currently living in the beautiful city Breda. Hit me up on the street or come by for a visit at my place if you dare or find some other way, or just telepathically, depends on the circumstances. It is pretty hectic these strays. Can enjoy adventurous travels or just some couch hanging obviously with a nice snack, refer to exchange list.

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