The Mass Tragedy


“Tragedy of the Commons” is a dilemma which was first published in 1968 journal called Science, This was written by ecologist Garrett Hardin. This dilemma has relevance in lot many fields, right from Environment, Politics, Organization, Traffic Control to Technology etc. Later on, Tragedy of Commons was also mentioned as a System archetype in the famous book by Peter Senge The Fifth Discipline.

System Archetypes are the patterns of behavior of system, which can help identify some of the hidden behavioral aspects of the system. In addition, these can also help one understand what are the potential levers in the system, where we can bring about a great positive change with minimal efforts!!.

Coming back to tragedy of commons, when Hardin introduced this esoteric concept, he considered an example of Herders in Europe, they were sharing a common grassland and were entitled to graze their cows. In Hardin’s example, it is in each herder’s benefit to add an additional cow, as he will be having more milk generation by every cow added. However, over a period of time this behaviour may damage the entire grassland which is owned by group. In this situation, for a short-term benefit, a long-term resource could face an early extinction or destruction. Later on Hardin suggested that world’s population should also be controlled in order to ensure a better quality of life, as there are limited natural resources on our planet.

The examples of this tragedy are profound in our society, only a few have been listed below

1. Air pollution due to Industrialization

2. Water pollution, water crisis due to over-extraction of water

3. Excessive usage of Fossil fuel  (If we travel individually in our Car, are we contributors towards the tragedy?)

4. Excessive deforestation due to cutting of trees, destruction of natural habitats.

5. Traffic and Road accident problems in India, people want to take short cuts, violate traffic rules in order to meet the personal ends. Eventually, it starts from individuals, later on large number of people start doing this, compromising on each others safety.

6. Excessive conversion of cultivable land to real estate projects, farmers sell their lands to real estate builders for capital gains, many farmers start doing it. This may result in cultivable land extinction, may even lead to a food crisis.

7. Social degradation, collapse of civic sense, moral values

8. Political degradation, like in India we seen an exponential increase in the number of political parties in the last 10-15 years, each with its own selfish motives. This has diluted the process of democracy and has hindered the economic growth of the nation.

9. Financial institutions have been increasing their bad loans and financing bad debts to gain a competitive edge

10. Certainly it is true, as Hardin noted, that Nations who seek to maximize their material consumption contribute to the ever-increasing exploitation of the world’s commons.

A lot many examples can also be given from our daily lives where we knowingly or unknowingly contribute towards the tragedy, increasing the disorder every passing day, pushing ourselves closer to self-inflicted tragedy.

Considering that only finite resources are available, Is there a way out? Are government regulations on common resources enough to control their rapid depletion? Or Could there be appropriate community-based rules and procedures in place with built-in incentives for responsible use and punishments for overuse.

Can we avoid the tragedy, by changing the way we live. Hardin also says, The general statement of the tragedy of the commons demonstrates that an a priori ethics constructed on human-centered, moral principles and a definition of equal justice cannot prevent and indeed always supports growth in population and consumption. Such growth, though not inevitable, is a constant threat. If continual growth should ever occur, it eventually causes the breakdown of the ecosystems which supports civilization. Hence, the idea of an ethical solution was rejected.

One of the proposed solutions is to appoint a leader to regulate access to the masses. However, a general aversion to autocratic leadership exists, although it may be an effective solution, possibly because of the fear of power abuse and corruption.

A lot of alternative solutions have been evaluated till date, however, formulating a concrete model still remains a challenge, Can new emerging sciences like Consciousness Studies, Systems science help deal with this problem?

2 Responses to The Mass Tragedy

  1. Anu,

    There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Systems Thinking is the only panacea. In fact, it is the same for most problems faced by the human race.

    Systems view is the only way to visualize the hidden fifth dimension.

    The distinction lines between short and long term are fast blurring, and it is high time this approach gets embedded deeper in our day to day thinking.

    Only then would we be able to retain the social fabric.

    Lets’ continue to do our bit in propagating this unique approach! The Systems Approach.

  2. Anukool says:

    Sir, i have a different opinion, Systems Thinking, will not be able to solve the problem of Tragedy of commons, a system will always evolve towards maximum disorder. However, Systems thinking can definitely make the rate of increase in disorder slower.

    yes, Systems thinking should replace our thinking!!!!

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