The following HTML text is provided to enhance online
readability. Many aspects of typography translate only awkwardly to HTML.
Please use the page image
as the authoritative form to ensure accuracy.
The Drama of the Commons
lems. Collective decisions, whether representative and rational or not, often have such durable effects as to constitute a form of cultural evolution. For example, the U.S. Constitution has shaped the political culture of the country for two centuries. The linkage of individual and small group-level culture with larger scale collective institutions is a complex problem with causal arrows running up and down the organizational hierarchy. The possibility of making collective decisions at all depends on some sufficient number of individual actors having norms and beliefs that support the institutions involved. If authors like Putnam (1993) are correct, the evolution of grassroots political culture is necessary to make higher levels of decision making work well. The ongoing evolution of beliefs and norms may act in concert with collective policy decisions, but some degree of friction is routine. The overextension of the state regulation of commons can wreck successful village-level systems, and the ideological and behavioral conformity demanded of all citizens by state authorities in authoritarian systems like Hapsburg, Spain, and Austria can damage the social capital on which sound policy making ultimately rests (Gambetta, 1993).
Many groups in developed nations are organized to advocate relatively narrow interests, or at least interests that seem narrow to those with other convictions. For example, wilderness advocates are accused of locking up vast tracts of land for their own pleasure, at the cost of excluding less hardy recreators and harming the interests of extractive resource users (usually claimed to be sustainable or otherwise harmless). The nature of passionate ingroups being what it is, such mud often sticks. Some of the opposition to dealing sensibly with global climate deterioration issues in the United States comes from Christians with apocalyptical beliefs. If the Second Coming is near, global climate change is either irrelevant or perhaps part of God’s plan for the End Days. By some accounts, a growing appeal of ideologies with little patience with science (and likely, scientific management of natural resources) is a world-wide problem (Marty and Appleby, 1991). Developing wise large-scale policy to manage, but not over-manage or mismanage, cultural change is perhaps the most difficult and sensitive problem of statecraft. We are not convinced that much science can yet be brought to bear on the question of what cultural trends are threats and what are not by any criterion of judgment.
A few systems for collectively managed cultural evolution do stand out as possible examples of the application of sensible collective decision making to cultural change. In contemporary open societies, the harnessing of science to the public policy-making process via government-sponsored science at research institutions and research universities works splendidly when the science is tractable and social consensus as to directions to take are strong. Some other models are worth exploring. For example, Dupuy (1977) analyzed the history and operations of the Prussian and then German General Staff from the early 19th century to mid-20th century and argues that this institution typically outperformed its competitors in learning lessons from past successes and failures and applying them to