Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.
Published in 1968 and written by Garret Hardin, Tragedy of the Commons provides a startling look as to how we are killing our own planet with our irresponsible attitude in areas such as population and pollution. The “Commons” that is the focus of the article is any resource or area of the planet available to any member of the population. As our population grows in number, the abuse of the Commons becomes more and more noticeable on the environment. A few centuries ago, if a wasteful act was committed by someone, its impact would be minimal, if at all. Now as animal populations are nearing extinction and pollution ravages our natural habitats, those abuses are magnified. Hardin says that there are no technical solutions to this problem, this problem can only be addressed by the human race as a whole making a decision to determine what is a want, and what is a need, and we will have to come to realize that our planet is a finite resource. As in a growing population WILL eventually exhaust Earths ability to sustain this population.
Hardin gives the famous example of the shepherd to explain his theory of the Commons. A shepherd that is faced with adding another sheep to his herd despite this creating a strain on the resources of the land will almost ALWAYS choose to do so. It is because to most, personal gain > common gain. The shepherd fears that if he does not choose this way, then someone else will choose it and then will gain an advantage over him. This is the Tragedy of the Commons. We wish to add to our profits without limits on a planet that is limited.
Hardin’s solution to wastefulness is to make it a cheaper option to treat the problem than it is to continue being wasteful. In the case of pollution, make it cheaper to treat sewage than it is to continue dumping it into the environment. We need coercive laws in place to encourage these doomsday methods to stop. In the case of population, I believe it would apply as lowering taxes or other incentives to those that have fewer children. Add another member to the family, make the family pay more. Our existence as a welfare friendly state of course impedes this idea.
This can be tied into the Digital World. In his book “Here Comes Everybody”, Clay Shirky states that he believes the Commons will benefit from the creation of Digital Media due to the fact that interest groups can be formed easily via the web and thus communication between these groups is able to be done instantly and span the entire globe. As I have found in my research for this class, interest groups have long been a source of relief for the worlds problems, and the Digital Age has only made things easier for these groups to come into existence.
Despite Mr. Shirky being somewhat of an idol of mine, I will have to point out my belief that this Digital tool may actually be a double edged sword. While Digital Media has indeed made it easier for research to be done with access to information and resources, and has led to groups of like-minded scientists with the good of the planet in their causes to come together, it has also encouraged us to explore our planet, and thus create pollution as we speed off to see first hand the far away landscape we viewed online. Instead of going out with the girl we sit next to in class, we are meeting a girl online that lives in England and therefore getting on a smog blasting jet and spending our money on travel instead of going about our normal lives in our home cities. The Digital Age has allowed us to do so much without ever leaving our home computers, but it also has driven us to do so much thousands of miles away from it as well.
I guess I can say I am 100% guilty in both the light and dark side of Digital Media. This actually came into my mind as I sat and watched the following music video in a bar in Tallinn, Estonia last year. I was visiting Estonia purely on the fact that I had become interested in the country while surfing the web as well as talking to an Estonian girl that I had met on an online community.
Smite the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered
Hardin, G. 1968 The tragedy of the commons. Science (New York, N.Y.), 162(3859), http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/162/3859/1243
Shirky, Clay. 2008 Here comes everybody : the power of organizing without organizations / Clay Shirky Penguin Press, New York :