Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Nature's Republic Research - The Trap of a 'Realist'

Echo and Narcissus
by John William Waterhouse
By "realist" in the title I mean elected pragmatic leaders. As nature has it the most successful ones are not just gentle bullies, but also closet narcissists.

Now, for all of you who think Nature's Republic is a neat idea, you know I am a Nature's Republican, here is an interesting adage.

Give a bunch of self-absorbed (or narcissist) folks a replenishable forest as their livelihood and the task to lop enough trees to make it both a living and a success. And they are all faced with the same dilemma:

Act selfishly and cause collective disaster - even your own livelihood will be finished. Or act altruistically and aid someone else who is acting selfishly. Either way, selfishness wins. And the very tangible result: the forest is erased in no time.

This tragic dilemma is called the "Hobson's choice" and the result is the "tragedy of the commons."

To paraphrase the social psychologist W. Keith Campbell talking about the 2008 US Presidential primary: the political system is biased toward the narcissist. This is to say that the more-selfish person has a higher probability of winning. I am convinced, most political systems are such - in this they are most certainly perfectable.

But Campbell also devised an ingenious way to spot the narcissist. Just ask this questions and see what the answer will be out of the two available ones:
Q: Which of the two statements describes you better? Think about it carefully.
  • If I ruled the world, it would be a much better place.
  • The thought of ruling the world frightens the hell out of me.
Edella Schlager, political scientist from the University of Arizona puts the dilemma in another way:

"Rational individuals are trapped. To act rationally, to pursue one's self-interest, leads to collective ruin. To act irrationally, to place the collective interest above one's self-interest, exposes one to exploitation."

According to Schlager, their is a natural way of reasoned regulation:

Lorenz Strange Attractors.
Courtesy: Wikipedia
"The way to prevent tragedies of the commons is to set up structures in advance that reward long-term thinking and punish short-term selfishness. This happens mostly among competitors who share long-term interests and have social relationships of trust: If you and I are Maine lobstermen, we are likely to agree to set up limits on the overall catch each year because we see our future, and our children's future, inextricably linked. In the absence of trust and long-term relationships, the only way to prevent these tragedies is to have an outside regulatory agency step in to establish - and enforce - limits."

Now, I am not much of an enforcer - too bad. In fact, I am convinced that politics is managing complex systems of people and resources. So what I believe in is setting up a transformational framework that sets the basin and the attractors. Those are dynamic limits towards which the system will then naturally converge.

----------As an aside
An example I found for a complex system applied to people realm: - The notion of media enforced public relation reputation could be viewed as a non-linear complex system where attractor basins are the "adjacent realms that contain both distinct and separate topics as well as those that mutually influence one another." I'd be barking mad if I understood exactly what this meant, but if you are a mathematician with this kind on knowledge I respectfully agree that you probably do.
Update on this:
I am still not much wiser, but it could be close to George Lakoff's framing problem. The impossible terms "liberal elite" or "tax relief" might just be such starge attractors.

In Australia this would certainly involve a Constitutional reform and an infant Republic. In the US it would require more than a few amendments on the Constitution. These new instruments would then become the necessary social wherewithal to stock bipartisan policies for the long term. -- Emanate and reinforce a transformational change toward Nature's Republic acceptable to both major parties would likely have the support by the public as well as replenish the forests that be. The first question then: what kinds of amendments, what kinds of transformational reforms on the Constitution. The second: what kinds of policies?

But in the very first instance: we need to imagine it possible.


Clinton, Obama and the Narcissist's Tale

McRae, James J., 1978.
Optimal and competitive use of replenishable natural resources by open economies, Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(1), pages 29-54, February.
Note: this publication is available to subscribers only.

George Lakoff's Rockridge Insitute: An introduction to framing and its uses in politics

What is an attractor?

Attractors Everywhere
Order from Chaos: