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On the Tragedy of the Commons and the Evolution of Political Systems: A Biohistorical Approach

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Ruiz, Juan P.
Conference: Conference 99, "Nature, Society and History": Long Term Dynamics of Social Metabolism
Location: Vienna
Conf. Date: Sep. 30-Oct. 2, 1999
Date: 1999
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/5252
Sector: General & Multiple Resources
Global Commons
Subject(s): global commons
tragedy of the commons
climate change
Abstract: "How to manage the global commons in the risky next century? Garrett Hardin showed, very persuasively, that there are intrinsic difficulties in the managing of collective property systems. Unfortunately he, as most scientists from the North, did not have a direct experience on how these systems have worked in real rural communities across the world. It was easy to arrive to the well known conclusion that only private property and market trade of individual selfishness could guarantee the long term viability of human ecosystems. This is, of course, one of the basic tenets of the Northern, Western view of the world. Then came the fall of the Wall and the end of History, nothing less. Ironically there are, there always have been, fast growing gaps in this predominant outlook. Particularly there is relevant evidence showing the incompatibility between the omnipotent Market forces and the desirable advancement towards a sustainable society. The proclaimed freedom of the economic agents results in unsustainable lifestyles which are, literally, killing the Earth. At present is hard to imagine how these are going to be limited or controlled under the capitalist rules in liberal democracies. Globalization and ecological sustainability will have to be based on different types of societal arrangements. Historically there have been two ways of setting a limit in individual rights: external authority in dictatorships and absolute monarchies (which could be expressed in the future as a form of ecofascism) or self-imposed, collectively accepted, limits in the management of local commons or the proposals for anarchist Utopias and revolutions. The paper deals with these issues using the framework of Stephen Boyden's Biohistory. The main hypothesis are: 1) the importance of an explicit model of human ecoethology, a 'human nature' approach, in understanding the current global crisis and the previous ecological history; 2) the basic role of the 'technological arm' in shaping the biosphere and coevolving with political systems in the successive ecological phases, from hunter-gathering to agricultural to high energy to the hypothetical 'high information' societies. Internet and the advanced information technologies are providing us with a 'global brain' in the moment in which we need it most to deal with the growing uncertainties of the future. It is a question of risk, continuity and crisis. Will we be capable of making a successful, not too costly, transition? Will we be able to conciliate the needs of human nature, our nostalgia of a lost paradise, with the limits of the planet's life support systems? The future is, clearly, not anymore what it used to be."

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