Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Free Rider Problem? Increase Competition.

Given the free rider problem, why do species cooperate? As it turns out, free riders succeed only under monopoly conditions, while cooperators succeed under competitive conditions. When there is competition, the free riders are far less successful, and the number of cooperators increases.

To say this has significant implications for economics is an understatement. There is in economics the "free rider problem." How does one get rid of free riders? Well, the answer seems to be to create the social conditions in which competition is maximized and monopolies are minimized. Our governments are often monopolistic in nature. The result is the creation of more free riders. More decentralization of the government, from a central government to states and, preferably, counties and cities/towns, would result in competitive polities, reducing free riders on government.

The same is true in the economy. Freedom of entry and exit help create the conditions for increased competition. Under competitive conditions, there will be fewer free riders in the economy itself.

We should be on the lookout for where we can learn things. Yeast and bacteria growing together, it turns out, can be quite informative to those who want to understand human economies.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Human Brotherhood, Race, Essentialism, and W. E. B. Du Bois

Work, culture, liberty---all these we need, not singly but together, not successively together, each growing and aiding each, and all striving toward that vaster ideal that swims before the Negro people, the ideal of human brotherhood, gained through the unifying ideal of race; the ideal of fostering and developing the traits and talents of the Negro, not in opposition to or contempt of other races, but rather in large conformity to the greater ideals of the American Republic, in order that some day on American soil two world-races may give each to each those characteristics both so sadly lack. -- W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk
I have been reading Lisa Zunshine's strange concepts and the stories they make possible, in which she discusses at length the fact that we humans ave a default essentialist reading of human beings and other living things. We view humans as having essences, and this includes not just each individual (I am essentially "Troy Camplin" ten years ago and today as far as everyone is concerned -- and that is why people are surprised when I have changed my mind about something, as much as they are surprise when you have changed your mind about something, as that seems to violate one having an essence) but group membership as well.

Zunshine cites the following story told in Susan A. Gelman's The Essential Child about one of Gelman's colleagues, Francisco Gil-White, who was having a conversation with a group of Kazax men in Mongolia:
Gil-White asked the following: "If I stayed here, and learned Kazax, and Kazax customs, married a Kazax girl, and became a Muslim, would I not be a Kazax?" The respondent's reply was: "Even if you do everything like a Kazax, and everybody says you are a Kazax, you still aren't a real Kazax because your parents are not Kazax. You are different inside."

We thus essentialize our group membership as well -- especially any we are born into. And it runs deep. After reading the above, I proposed to my Hispanic wife that I was going to become Hispanic. The look she gave me was one of extreme confusion. Her first response was to ask me if I was just going to start marking "Hispanic" on forms -- and how was that going to work out? It is not at all surprising that her first thought went to perhaps the most superficial "meaning" of my statement. Essentialism is so deeply ingrained in our thinking that superficial readings of proclamations that one is going to violate that essentialism are the most likely response.

If we then consider Du Bois' statement above, perhaps we can make sense of it, as it seems to be contradictory. How is it that one can gain "the ideal of human brotherhood . . . through the unifying ideal of race"? After all, the ideal of human brotherhood is achievable only insofar as we accept each and every person on earth as equally and fully human. However, group membership -- including racial identity -- tends to create an us-them mindset. And when there is an us-them mindset, there is an Othering which all to easily leads to racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, etc. Thus, it seems that Du Bois is arguing that only if people feel unified by their racial identity will we achieve the ideal of human brotherhood.

One can make sense of this in a number of ways. Given Du Bois' education in sociology, it is perhaps not too much of a stretch to argue that he is perhaps making the argument that one state of collectivist thinking leads to another. Insofar as racial identity is essentially collectivist in nature -- one is, in part, one's race -- and the idea of human brotherhood is collectivist in nature (it doesn't have to be, but it is perhaps not much of a stretch to believe Du Bois considered it such), then racial identity is a stepping stone to human brotherhood. One form of collectivism leads to another.

In Du Bois' conception of racial identity, though, he sees each race as equal, and as being in a position to equally educate each other. In this sense, he would oppose the current conception of multiculturalism that treats all other cultures as equal, while degrading Western culture. Du Bois clearly loves Western culture, and believes it can teach the other races much, just as he believes the other races have much to teach the white race. This co-equal collectivism leads to treating others as being part of a human brotherhood -- as co-teachers of each other.

A  more individualistic (in the Scottish Enlighenment sense) interpretation of Du  Bois would see individuals as being in part informed by their group membership(s) -- cultural, ethic/racial, ideological, etc. -- with the understanding that all groups are equal and have something to teach each other. For Du Bois, this attitude that we are equal and much learn from and teach each other is what unifies us into a human brotherhood. We thus learn to be more human and more humane. Not by rejecting our group memberships, but by simultaneously embracing them and not just tolerating, but appreciating others in different groups, with different ideas, and different world views.

But is Du Bois right to recommend this? Given the fact that we are essentializing creatures, perhaps Du Bois' formula is the best we can accomplish. But note well that Du Bois rejects such notions as cultural imperialism or cultural appropriation. He wants us to appropriate. He wants us to learn from and teach each other. In this sense, perhaps Du Bois would embrace what Frederick Turner termed "natural classicism," in which artists learn from other cultures as much as they learn from their own, to create a new world art.

As every fiction writer is taught, you do not write universal stories by being vague and abstract -- you write universal stories by being detailed and specific. Some nondescript guy doing something somewhere is not universalizing -- but a red-headed Scotsman taking care of his family in the Scottish highlands is. When you see him taking care of his family, interacting with his family, one comes to understand, "Hey, he's a lot like me. My family does similar things." Thus does one come to empathize with the unknown other, to embody that character and thus come to know the subtile differences through the deep similarities. Thus do stories unify us into a human brotherhood -- by showing us that no matter what our differences, we are all brothers. That we are all, esssentially, human.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Some Advice to the GOP

I am going to offer the Republicans some advice. I don't expect them to listen to me, and I don't even expect any to happen across my blog. As with voting, this is just one person feebly expressing his opinion, hoping what is right will prevail.

  1. Drop the opposition to gay marriage. There is in fact a conservative argument for gay marriage. Conservatives favor strengthening social bonds. Allowing more people to get married will allow for the creation of more and stronger social bonds. And more than half the population believe gays should be able to marry -- and those numbers are growing.
  2. Drop the anti-immigration rhetoric. George W. Bush did it, and he was elected twice. It may be too much to ask the GOP to adopt an open borders, free movement of people stance, but can we at least come up with a way to make it easier for people to come here and work?  I am talking about a work visa that can be attained on this side of the border, so people don't have to deal with the corrupt system at home just to get here to work. Do that, and the socially conservative Hispanic population will start to come your way.
  3. Drop the pro-war rhetoric. There is nothing conservative about imposing change on others. There is nothing conservative about offensive wars. Our military should be defensive in nature. We can still use our navy to fight off pirates -- now, how many ships do we need off Somalia to accomplish that? Concerned that the world won't remain at peace without a strong American military presence? Well, if you are actually concerned with maintaining peaceful relations with other countries, history has shown over and over and over that the best way to do that is to . . .
  4. Drop the trade war rhetoric. Drop trade barriers of all sorts. Promote nothing but free trade between America and every other country. When a Democratic candidate such as Obama complains about Americans having access to cheap Chinese tires, the answer should not be "I agree with my opponent." It should be, "Seriously? You oppose the American people being able to buy cheap tires so they can have that money to buy other things?"
If you just do these things, the GOP will start winning Presidential elections again. If you keep doing what you're doing, if you keep nominating the same exact guy each and every time, you won't.