Re: The Tragedy of the Commons

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Sat Jul 21 2001 - 04:53:36 MDT

On Fri, Jul 20, 2001 at 11:49:25AM -0700, Brian D Williams wrote:
> I am having an interesting time reading Garrett Hardin's 1968 paper
> "The Tragedy of the Commons".
> It relates to a number of issues discussed here.
> Those interested will find it at:

It is a real classic. Unfortunately, I regard it as a "dark side"
classic (fitting website for it).

One have to remember that it was written long before Axelrod's studies
of iterated prisoners dilemmas and during the height of the technocratic
paradigm where the only way of ensuring safety and prosperity was
centralised control.

This morning I was going through _När Var Hur 1973_ ("When What How"), a
fairly comprehensive swedish yearbook. I found an article about
technology in the year 2000. It was quite amazing: it talked about
composite materials, how computers would be used in design and
manufacture, that television and computer would meld together into a
single media (with over 50 channels! :-) sent using fiber optics over
computer networks. A small sections about how enzymes would
revolutionize everything was totally wrong, but if you replace the word
"enzyme" with "nanomachine" you would get a fairly good description of
early nanotechnology. It seemed to be a very good extrapolation of then
current trends into the present - but the author claimed that none of
these systems would be possible without a stringent technology
assessment system, regulating what was invented and how it was applied.
So the biggest mistake was not in extrapolating technology, but in
extrapolating *how technology is developed and applied*.

I think the author of this article and Hardin make the same mistake.
They see a problem, note that the methods of solving the problem at
present are not enough, and then deduce that the problem must be solved
using their favorite paradigm. But there are often many ways of solving
problems, many of which are entirely alien to the current paradigm. We
have moved beyond planned inventions and centrally regulated resources
in many ways - but many people are still looking more qat the past for
their policies. Hence it is important to read and understand Hardin so
that we can counter the naive interpretations of his ideas that are
still very prevalent.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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