Monday, November 16, 2009

Dealing with the Tragedy of the Commons

Hal Pepinsky,,
November 16, 2009
In retirement I have rejoined a single listserv where I post my blogs and engage in lively discussion on many issues— The sponsor is the Association for Humanist Sociology (, which met last week in New Orleans.
Olaf Krassnitzky and I have been sending each other a flurry of messages on that listserv. I don’t know Olaf personally, but it is a treat to engage with him online. In his latest message he asked why no one had responded to his question on how to deal with the tragedy of the commons in international relations. I told him I thought that good question deserved a serious response, so here it is, and thank you Olaf. Funny you should ask:
My browsers’ home page is, Indiana University, Bloomington. There I see a picture of Elinor Ostrom at the university press conference the day she received the Nobel Prize in Economics. I am one among countless people in Bloomington and from around the planet who have been warmly welcomed and embraced as participants in weekly seminars at Lin and Vincent’s Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis. I remember when in her presentations Lin began focusing on the tragedy of the commons. At her press conference Lin said that this had been the focus since her doctoral research under Vincent’s mentorship on control of water resources in the Los Angeles area. Field research under the auspices of the Workshop focused on isolating and documenting exceptions to the tragedy of the commons. In the press conference, Lin summarized these exceptions as social arenas in which people thought in terms of “the next seven generations.”
The research she did on policing, primarily with Roger Parks, found that police performance and community satisfaction were enhanced as police administration became decentralized; the tragedy of the commons abated as police power devolved.
Olaf, I share your focus and Lin’s on how to transcend the tragedy of the commons. I share with her as a would-be educator a quest to discover and share stories of how people actually manage to negotiate and cooperate. It happens all the time. I share Lin’s conclusion that in the long run, human synergy transforms violent confrontation by trickling up rather by being administered from any top down. To use my old buddy Rev. Bill Breeden’s term, mine and Lin’s have become a matter of learning and sharing the art of guerrilla peacefare. Thanks for asking Olaf. Love and peace, Hal

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