Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tragedy Of The Commons VII: Pathogenic Effects Of Conscience

An appeal to conscience has short as well as long-term disadvantages. Near the end of this section, Hardin says that responsibility is an attempt by society to get something for nothing.

(Individual do or forbear to do something because it is right. In exchange society ought to hold those individual harmless, relative to their competitors. If some individuals act in the general interest because it is right, and others individuals act in their own interests, against the larger interest, society has the advantage of the responsible individuals’ actions, without the cost of protecting them.)

The exploiter in the appeal to conscience hears that he will be condemned as irresponsible if he continues, and as a “simpleton” if he stops. Hardin invokes Bateson’s Double-Bind Theory of Schizophrenia.

("Double-Bind," not "double-blind." The idea is that paradoxical communication sets up the receiver to expect punishment no matter how he chooses: “Tell me you love me.” “I love you.” “Why do you only say you love me when I ask you?” An appeal to conscience will probably not produce many schizophrenics because the targets of appeals-to-conscience presumably have fully-formed ego, but it may be that pathological. The exploiter who is contemplating reform may expect the appeal’s founders to use his holding back to out-compete him. Certainly somebody will.)

Hardin says that appeals to conscience are tempting to leaders. He says every president in “the past generation” (Truman to Johnson) has asked labor to voluntarily keep wages low, and asked steel companies to keep prices low.

(More recently, Robert Reich, in his book Supercapitalism, has accused Congress of holding hearings, in which, by castigating business people, they appear vigilant, and business gets to continue to exploit, neither suffering the inconvenience of regulatory legislation. Appeals to conscience are a way for leaders to act without risking political capital. Talk is cheap.)

Hardin quotes Paul Goodman on guilt: “ ‘No good has ever come from feeling guilty, neither intelligence, policy, nor compassion. The guilty do not pay attention to the object but only to themselves, and not even to their own interests, which might make sense, but to their anxieties’.”

Hardin opposes policies of which the “tendency (if not the intention) is psychologically pathogenic.” Propaganda campaigns “browbeat” people into acting against their own interests. “Responsibility is a verbal counterfeit of a substantial quid pro quo.”

(The honest quid pro quo would be honest commerce, facilitated by regulation.)

Hardin says that if the word is used at all, it should be “the product of definite social arrangements.”

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