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May 26, 2009


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Jon Husband

Each person in the life boat has two hands, let's assume (even if one or two of them are unfortunate to have a hook instead of a hand, let's also assume it's a reasonable proxy for a hand).

Might it not be reasonable, in many corners of the world, to at a minimum drag two in-the-water people along sufficient to at least hold their heads above water until all strength gives out, in the possibility that some form of rescue happens by. Might that be construed to be lending a helping hand ?

The sharks might be put off by such a display of compassion and solidarity.

Jeff Trexler

If we're going to bring sharks into our philosophical deliberations, then the answer's obvious:

"We're gonna need a bigger boat."

Phil Cubeta

The fundamental principle of certain ethical systems is reciprocity, or treating like things alike. Do unto others. Put yourself in the other's shoes. Will only those maxims that can be universalized. Adopt rules that you would adopt not knowing the position you would be in when the rule set goes into effect. Given the odds of being out of the boat, versus in the boat, would Hardin "will" the rule that if he draws the short straw in life's lottery, and ends up in the water, that those in the boat fend off his struggling hands on the gunwale? Would he say, "Yes, my death is right and just so that these privileged ones may survive? There is no better system, life is so hard, no better result possible. I die in the best of causes. God bless the winners!"

Jeff Trexler

@PBC Mutuality derived from the veil of ignorance--could it be that you've swapped Aristotle for Rawls?

tom matrullo

Age of Terrorism meets age of socialism:


I'm not sure "socialism" is the right word, but it's Kelly's word. Some interesting sites cited, including Kiva.

Jon Husband

I've been asking PBC a few questions about Hardin's thoughts / writings by email (ashamed to admit I had not read Tragedy of Commons before nor known of Hardin's work, per se, before).

Thx to tm for posting Kelly's bit on Wired, and some of my questions to Phil are partially addressed (I think) by this assertion of Kelley's"

How close to a noncapitalistic, open source, peer-production society can this movement take us? Every time that question has been asked, the answer has been: closer than we thought

Jon Husband

I find myself wondering how the parable of the lifeboat plays out if the ship that sank had been a navel vessel, and those in the water and in the lifeboat were all armed with pistols.

If I interpret Hardin's logic in Lifeboat Ethics correctly along with his notions about the unequal distributions of resources, if the naval vessel that sank had been USian or British, say, it's likely that there would have been plenty of rescue vessels and equipment sailing rapidly towards the rescue zone, if not already there waiting to pick up those in the water .. no lifeboats needed, in effect.

No ?

Phil Cubeta

The tragedy of the commons is when we all pasture our sheep on the commons, none of us care for the commons, and soon the ground is bare and the sheep dead. In fact many a commons, like open source, and actual grazing lands, or irrigation resources, in many societies are managed by peers, or stewards, or codes and councils and are productive and sustainable. Elinor Ostrom is a good source. http://tinyurl.com/oeeanv

Of the many ways to destroy or deplete a commons, like folklore, copyright is a pretty big one.

Phil Cubeta

@Dr.Trexler, Rawls, indeed. "Friends hold all in common," said Aristotle over and over, as did his peers, but the friends in question were slave-holding, males.

I hear that CA is so strapped they will no longer fund the parks. That too is a tragedy of the commons, as will it be if they now begin to sell the public lands off to balance the budget.

Raven Tintype

It's sort of reassuring to to discover that the Tragedy of the Commons dribbled out of the same cracked pot as Lifeboat Ethics. Cause for optimism, no?

Raven Tintype

I don;t see how oprn source could be taking us towards socialism because under socialism the concept of open source would be meaningless - there would be no closed source to define itself against. People other than Kevin Kelly look at the same constellation of practices and technologies and dub it Capitalism 2.0. This is perhaps nominatively more honest than kelly's approach, but similarly deficient in that it imagines that social antagonisms will magically be ameliorated merely through approaching copyright and work processes differently. Collaboration can be a dirty word, too. This strategy is as old as the Cluetrain: bludgeon the corpse of Fordism, and then yell "I killed it!" Nicholas Carr had a pretty interesting piece on the Cathedral and the Bazaar, ten">http://www.strategy-business.com/press/article/07204?gko=b7f91-1876-26241227&tid=230&pg=all">ten years later.

Raven Tintype

Carr link:


Phil Cubeta

Either Hobbesian lifeboat ethics, or it must be socialism. I have feeling that Canada probably has a hand in all this cooperation business. Must be the French influence.

Jon Husband

Hey ..

Canada's titulular head of state, a black immigrant woman from Haiti married to a French national, just ate raw seal heart in a ceremonial circle as a symbolic gesture of solidarity with the Inu people in the far north. That's real socialism for you.

Who needs lifeboats when you've got ice floes ?

Top that, Obama !

Phil Cubeta

I guess you can see why we don't embrace Canadian ways. Sara Palin might have ripped the beating heart out with her own hands, but she probably would not have eaten it in a ceremonial circle. Fed it to her hunting dog, probably. Ceremonial Circles like that are for sissies and the losers in human history, the ones left behind by progress. You bond to losers and it just makes it harder to watch them die off. Save the sentimentality for family.

Jon Husband

Yeah, back full circle to Garrett Hardin.

"Nice guys finish last".

Phil Cubeta

Days later, the lifeboat is picked up by passing steamer. Only Hardin remains, eyes crazed, surrounded by the bones of those he has eaten. "The boat kept getting smaller," he raves, "there was only room for me."


There's an efficient secondary market for those bones. Sell them to art classes maybe. Men and women in dusters learning to draw from life.

Jon Husband

Hey, don't forget .. the boat can be listed on eBay or Craigslist, too.

It's got a history, to boot .. will fetch a bit more than usual as part of Hardin's legacy, no doubt.

Phil Cubeta

Still, the bones must be rearticulated so they can receive a proper burial, each skeleton in a coffin purchased by the approprate next of kin. Can you imagine paying for the burial of bones not those of a family member? Potters Field is a commons. Maybe the sea as well. Maybe we toss the jumble of bones overboard, offer a hasty prayer to various Gods, to respect the cultural diversity of the dead, and haul Hardin aboard. With luck we might join him on the talk show circuit with tales of his daring rescue. The sheen of health speaks well for his diet.

Phil Cubeta

Still, there are times, when the bad breath is overwhelming. Did he brush his teeth? And what is he picking at with the toothpick?

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