Jonathon Haidt has written an interesting piece for this last weekend’s Wall Street Journal. Now that your weekend fun is over, I encourage you to read what I will call, “A Particularly American Idea of Karma.” (Haidt and the Journal’s editors gave it a different title that I am concerned will discourage you from accessing.)
Haidt’s take on Karma is directly related to several comments posted to this blog over the last couple of years (check out related comments made to my Friday post) and to what we understand may be at the foundation of resilient communities.
My lodestar for what works and does not work in resilience is Elinor Ostrom, who shared the 2010 Nobel Prize for Economics. She has a new book out that is worth reading (see link at close of this post). The book is a serious bit of science. She offers a breezy summary in a February interview with Fran Korten of Yes! magazine.
Fran: It’s interesting that your research is about people learning to cooperate. And your Workshop at the university is also organized on principles of cooperation.
Elinor: I have a new book coming out in May entitled Working Together, written with Amy Poteete and Marco Janssen. It is on collective actions in the commons. What we’re talking about is how people work together. We’ve used an immense array of different methods to look at this question—case studies, including my own dissertation and Amy’s work, modeling, experiments, large-scale statistical work. We show how people use multiple methods to work together.
Fran: But what about the “free-rider” problem where some people abide by the rules and some people don’t? Won’t the whole thing fall apart?
Elinor: Well if the people don’t communicate and get some shared norms and rules, that’s right, you’ll have that problem. But if they get together and say, “Hey folks, this is a project that we’re all going to have to contribute to. Now, let’s figure it out,” they can make it work. For example, if it’s a community garden, they might say, “Do we agree every Saturday morning we’re all going to go down to the community garden, and we’re going to take roll and we’re going to put the roll up on a bulletin board?” A lot of communities have figured out subtle ways of making everyone contribute, because if they don’t, those people are noticeable.
Fran: So public shaming and public honoring are one key to managing the commons?
Elinor: Shaming and honoring are very important. We don’t have as much of an understanding of that. There are scholars who understand that, but that’s not been part of our accepted way of thinking about collective action.
I have some personal concerns — spiritually and ethically — with what Haidt and Ostrom are saying. But I want to listen very carefully. Hope you will join me in listening and thinking through the implications for resilience and more broadly for homeland security.
For further consideration:
Working Together by Elinor Ostrom, Marco Janssen, and Amy Poteete
Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley (check out her blog post on the Chilean mine rescue)
Fundamentals of Resilience in Brief from a 2009 HLSWatch Post