The Tragedy of the Commons
I have enjoyed the dramatic sound of this term since I first heard it studying undergraduate economics in the 1980s. Throughout the ensuing 30+ years, I have seen this tragedy play out many times and I am currently witnessing it firsthand with CFIC.
The tragedy of the commons is a concept that was popularized by biologist Garret Hardin in 1968. He defines it as “a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users, acting independently according to their own self-interest, behave contrary to the common good of all users, by depleting or spoiling that resource through their collective action.”
The example that resonates with me is of a neighbourhood with joint parkland. If all the neighbours pitch in to keep the parkland clean, everyone can enjoy it. However, if everyone assumes someone else looks after the parkland, eventually the parkland is ruined because no one is actually taking care of it, because they assume everyone else is. Now no one can enjoy the park, a tragedy for all.
Why am I seeing this with CFIC? Our readers all (I presume) recognize the crisis of fake news. People and institutions are spreading false information and pseudoscience to serve their self-interest at the expense of others. Our readers recognize that the common good is served by promoting the values of secularism, science, and critical thinking. However, too many leave this work for others to do, while still reaping the benefits.
Because of apathy, we see a current instantiation of the tragedy of the commons with fake news and pseudoscience gaining ever greater prominence. We need critical thinkers like you to help create a more just society by dispelling the lies from the many purveyors of fake news and rebutting deceitful, self-interested propaganda from anti-scientific purveyors of climate denial, for example. Whether you represent an organization, an informal group of like-minded people, or simply yourself — we need you to get involved.
Organizations and informal groups are invited to reach out to us at email@example.com to explore how we can collaborate to find better ways to promote critical thinking and defeat pseudoscience and fake news.
If you are not already supporting CFIC, now is the time to do so. Without you, we cannot continue to fight for this important cause. Please don’t let CFIC wither due to the tragedy of the commons . Please join , donate , and volunteer . We need you.
This article appears in the December 2019 version of Critical Links.