erica cheng

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Tragedy of the Commons

The Tragedy of the commons--by Garret Hardin

This article provides analysis of overpopulation problems, based on the theory of the commons. The commons can be referred to a society composed of the population. The ideal commons consists of optimum population, in which the resources of the commons can be eqully distributed to everyone without restricion and the resources will not be exhausted. However, since the a finite world can support only a finite population, overpopulation in the commons causes problems. That is, as population becomes more under the circumstance of the limited resources in the commons, resources then is restricted in order to prevent the resources being used up.

Furthermore, Hardin pointed out that, with the belief that everyone born has an equal right to the commons in sharing the resources, this freedom of the commons plus overpopulation will lead to ruin of the commons, thus causes the tragedy of the commons. Also, the pollution problem (e.g., air, water, advertising pollutions) is another factor that causes the destruction of the commons. Overpopulation and pollution make the commons not sustainable. Therefore, In order to prevent the tragedy of the commons, population control is required. Hardin suggested that laws, legislators, bureaus, and watchers who watch the bureaus to legislate and enforce the laws, are the critical elements of controlling the population in the commons. A government of laws, is needed instead of a government by men, so as to achieve the purpose of fair population controll in the commens. Further, the population should be able to give the corrective feedbacks on the legislation and administration, so as to keep custodians honest. The population should find ways to legitimate the needed authority of both the custodians and the corrective feedbacks. Moreover, Hardin asserted that the conscience and sense of guilt are not enough to keep the population to restrain themselves. The responsibility, which Hardin defined as the product of definite social arrangements rather than product of propaganda, can better create the coercion among the population, and thus create temperance. The coercion referred here doesn't mean prohibition, but the carefully biased options regulated by the government of laws in the commons. And the mutual coercion is mutually agreed upon by the majority of the people affected, so as to be able to achieve the most benefits for most people in the commons. Persons can "freely" make choice between the options offered by the laws, but generally they are "coerced" to choose the option that restrains themselves. It is because that if they choose the other unrestrained option, they have to pay more prices or run more risks of losing something valuable. For instance, people accept compulsory taxes because they recognize that voluntary taxes would favor the conscienceless people who don't pay the taxes.

As far as I'm concerned, in this way the theory of the commons applies much to the political systems, especially to the democracy. Similarly, in the democratic society, people have the basically equal rights to share the resources, and the freedom to pursue their interests. Nonetheless, the freedom of individuals is restrained in some ways, in order to maintain the commons and achieve the benefits for all or most of the population. Thus, people votes to set up a representative government, which can legitimate and enforce the laws so as to assure everyone's freedom not to be exploited. The elections are periodically repeated in order to ensure that the population give the corrective or "updated" feedbacks on the existing governing system, so as to keep the governers honest and fair. The voting system is a way to legitimate the needed authority of both the custodians and the corrective feedbacks, though it still needs to be modified to improve the fairness and justness. Also, everyone has to take the reponsibility, which can be viewed as the mutual coercion, in order to assure everyone's freedom not to be exploited by another one's freedom. Although the mutual coercion is somehow unjust for some people, it is necessary in order to maintain the stability of the society.

Hardin concluded that education can put an end to the tragedy of the commons. To illustrate, people need to be educated, so as to be capable of making the corrective feedbacks on the legistration and administration of laws. However, I think this viewpoint is somehow paradoxical. Education can also be used to brainwash people. Consequently, it can make people "think" they give the "corrective" feedbacks, but actually they are making the feedbacks according to the education they recieve from the authority in the commons. In the end, the education is a tool for the authority to maintain their interests, rather than for the majority of people in the commons to get the most benefits.

This article further inspires me on the discussion of the advertising pollution in the commons. It occured to me that there are more and more advertising pollution on the Internet, such as spams, pop-up ads, and spims (the spams in the instant-messaging (IM) services). The Internet is recommended for its efficiency for communication and cooperation. However, the advertising has polluted the internet, making people take more time to delete the spams and distract people from their browsing or researching activities. Since the Internet spreads the messages so fast, the pollution becomes more serious and almost all-pervasive. For instance, the blog is a new use of Internet, but the problem of spams has already become serious. If bloggers don't use the spam-blocking tool, their blogs will almost immediately be polluted by the spams. How to reduce the advertising pollution is critical to the development of the Internet industry.