Would You Go Against Everyone Else?





Have you ever asked yourself what (really) motivates you and how your decisions align with your motivations? If so, have you asked yourself how your motivations and decisions align with those of other people? With all the people? Alina has asked herself these questions, and does so daily.


While you are pondering about it, I will add that this is the most important question every person should be asking themselves right now.



It is typical for individuals and groups to possess misaligned incentives. That used to be very reasonable, but now, however, it is no longer sustainable on a global scale. Having different incentives boils down to the problem of having limited resources and the need to compete for them. If there is only one bush of berries and both you and I want to eat the berries, our incentives will just not align  —  I definitely will not let you eat the berries, because I am hungry and I want to eat them. However, you seem hungry too, so you also want to eat those berries. You and I have different goals — to feed you or me. Splitting the number of berries will not work either, as we are both too hungry to step back and negotiate. And then what about our people in the village? Should we give them some berries too?


In today’s economy of abundance — yes, abundance and do not believe anyone who says otherwise  —  even that we have as many berries as we like, we still play this berry-bush game. We think the more berries we have, the less hungry we are going to feel and be merrier. This is trapped thinking.


We seem to be quite ill-skilled in taking into account all players that are affected by our decisions, and as a result, we are destitute in making necessary adjustments in reasoning. With all the advances in technology we make, we have not developed a mindset to encapsulate the consequences of our power and make necessary moral considerations (the economic and political systems only exacerbate this). We are scared of letting go of resources that we have in abundance to share with others who have none of it, for reasons we do not scrutinise enough.



Connectedness

In the process of reaching our own goals, we do not usually consider the full range of externalities to which we are indirectly connected. There are too many things to which we are connected. Think of your electricity provider, or of the oranges you bought from a local grocery shop. Since it does not come naturally to think on a global scale  —  about all people who are alive and somehow responsible for us using computers today. We are not equipped to do so since there are cognitive constraints imposed on us — it is just impossible for an average person to have comprehensive relationships with, and a consideration of 8 billion people and their daily activities. However, there is a way to expand our thinking : moral circle.


Just for a moment try to think of the world as an extensive dynamic system, considering the complex interrelationships of everything in nature. All the species somehow depend on the other species: a tree is interdependent with birds, insects, bacteria. Now, think of the human-created world. As in nature, our everyday activity depends on so many factors and interactions. However, we still somehow naively assume we have little dependence or impact on what surrounds us (and vice versa), including other people who we never met.


We not only seem to be particularly bad in understanding enormous, complex challenges like the ones we are currently facing, but also at the emotional responses to these challenges and having the right mindset moving into action. There is an urgent need to develop new social norms and policies to guide us in this unintuitive path of the age of connectedness.



Common good

The question of the common good can be thought of from different perspectives in the game theory. One of them  —  zero-sum game  —  is the most prevalent. Since this theory is coming from a respectable field of economics, many people including political and business leaders employ this type of thinking in their daily decision-making, affecting thousands, sometimes millions of people and of course the ecosystem. It is considered normal to have the “cut-throat” or “jungle” mindset to let each other down for one's own benefit. It is considered normal to act imprudently, behave unethically and be utterly selfish to serve one's own ends (and sometimes those of family and close friends).


The question we should ask ourselves is not “Are we really want to live in this society?”, but “Is it possible to live in this society any longer?”


The connectedness is salient enough, but we as a society are reluctant to acknowledge it and act accordingly. Motivations, decisions and behaviours, if aligned with those of others, can bring advances in any field of activity, if we want society to flourish. Many endorse the idea that zero-sum thinking is obsolete and no longer can be sustained on a global scale. Instead, win-win thinking for the common good must be applied in a paradigm shift manner, and first of all by institutional, businesses and government leaders due to their scale of impact.


The question of mutual benefit and progress on a global scale is complicated enough. It requires to work on many layers, think in terms of interactions, large timescales and assume the impartiality of people. The necessary research on the complexity of social motivations and behaviours is scarce at the moment. For now, it seems that we do what we can get away with it.



Business and Government

The complex nature of the human activity is defined by interaction of only partly rational agents with the current economic system crowning it. The economic activity in many ways is fundamentally flawed, to allow us to meet a positive future: there are many devastating problems that society currently faces requiring immediate action. If we continue to endorse current economic values it would be impossible to solve these problems due to their urgency and complexity. Until recently, the only worry of many business models was income. However, this attitude is long overdue and the consequences are dreadful.


Indeed, why in the age where a robot has citizenship, should people be exploited or die of famine? Until recently, the only worry of many business models was income. This has become unsustainable. Many corporations realise that some of their practices are not in line with the necessary obligations, such as fundamental human rights, in order to secure the flourishing of a global society. This realisation is the first step, but the motivation and responsibility to adapt necessary behaviours is a vital next step to be enacted.


Businesses, private organisations and government play a vital role in tackling global problems. Open conversation and exchange of experiences and ideas of business and governing leaders, provision of clear insights on relevant research can be mighty in motivating a positive global change.


Many prosperous and advances nation-states are preoccupied with their reputation on the global scene or other social aspirations, such as the need to protect the national honour, status, and respect. This inconsideration is mostly due to little understanding of the possible actions that will bring the most good, not only to oneself but to many others.



At present, only a relative minority of agents — individual, institutional or governmental — make their decisions based on the criterion that can bring the most good to most people rather than out of competitive considerations. The reasons for this include historically built political practices, limited ethical and philosophical pondering of the world leaders and obsolete economic values of individuals. In our age, we can no longer ignore the fact of “connectedness” and need the appropriate principles to guide us as a society into the flourishing future. Before we realise we no longer have one.

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©2018 by Merle van den Akker