A Social Dilemma In Practice Philosophy Essay

A social dilemma (SD) is characterized by the conflict of two possible behavioral properties. In the first one a person is acting in self interest and gains the best outcome for themselves in the short run even though in a long run it will affect them and everyone else. This is referred to as non co-operation. In the second possibility, everyone co-operates to benefit in a long run even though they are tempted to think about just the present moment and that it can give them more as individuals (Vugt, Lsnge et.al 1996).In other words, an individual is tempted to perform a certain behavior, which would profit them in that very moment or give them more in comparison to others, despite the fact that in the long run it would be probably damaging to them and others. Examples of social dilemmas that are quite often mentioned in the media are global warming, water shortage, food shortage and overpopulation. In this essay the main concentration is on overpopulation with factors such as food shortage and water shortage having a great influence on development of this social dilemma. Concentration is on trying to understand how different factors such as cooperation/no-cooperation, group formation, motivation and different theories/games can be of use to understand or to try to solve social dilemmas such as overpopulation.

Overpopulation is one of the most serious social dilemmas which is growing every day. The word overpopulation sounds as if there is not enough space on this planet, in fact there is plenty of space, however space that is not sufficient for living or for producing food or water. The issue is in that overpopulation is responsible for a number of problems in the world today. Problems such as food shortage, air pollution, water pollution, water shortage and other (….). All these problems influence our quality of life. How can the scarce resources be used to provide satisfactory lifestyle or the lifestyle that is deemed to be at least average for everyone on this planet, if the resources are limited and the population increasing all the time? How can we prevent running out of drinking water due to overpopulation? At present there are around 7 billion people on this planet. The number of people being born is higher than the number of people dying (….). In order to solve the problems that overpopulation is causing, it is needed to look at how to solve this social dilemma of overpopulation.

There are numbers of ways which nobody is wishing to happen, that give the possibility of the population being reduced. These are catastrophes such as a natural disaster, war or disease. One less drastic or controlled way to reduce population is to introduce certain rules which would maintain the population. It would mean that the number of people being born and the number of people dying is around the same, without going to extreme one way or the other.

The very important and at the same time very difficult if not impossible task that is facing societies today, is to manage the social dilemma of overpopulation in a way where both collectivists and individuals understand the importance of co-operation. There are few possible outcomes of trying to co-operate or not cooperate. First one is when everyone co-operates and the expected outcomes are accomplished. So in our situation it would mean that every person on the planet would co-operate. The second outcome is where most people co-operate and small number does not. This would mean that depending on the number of people co-operating there is still a chance of getting closer to wanted outcome. In this case, the people who do not co-operate are better off because in our example of overpopulation they would have more children and still have the lifestyle that is acceptable and resources are not depleted. Whereas the people who do co-operate are worse because they are sacrificing the number of children they have, to save the depleting resources and the lifestyle people should on average have. The last possible outcome is where no one co-operates and the resources are completely used and humanity suffers (…).

The way social dilemmas are presented to people has a strong influence on their view and approach to it. Literature and research related to SD quite often uses tree mythical stories: The Prisoners Dilemma, The Public Goods Dilemma and The Commons Dilemma to gain and to provide understanding of how people behave. These three stories explain SD in simple but still striking way (Kollock 1998).

The Prisoner Dilemma is the simplest but very effective example of social dilemma. It involves two prisoners that have the option of co-operating with each other by not being aware of the other prisoners’ decision or defecting without talking to one another. Their sentence depends on their level of cooperation. First option is of both of them having the highest sentence due to defecting (not cooperating with each other), second splitting it between both of them by cooperating or the last possible outcome is one of them is cooperating and the other defecting therefore the one who was cooperating ends up with longer sentence than the one who was defecting (Dowes 2000). As mentioned above, in overpopulation dilemma there are four possible outcomes when it comes to cooperation. As in the Prisoner dilemma the best possible outcome is to cooperate, however the fact that other people do not know what others would do tempts them to defect and come out with the best possible outcome for themselves.

The Public Goods Game, in which everyone can use public goods regardless of whether they contribute or not towards it. People who do not contribute but still use public goods are called free riders. As long as there are only few free riders it is manageable, but if most people turn into free riders there is no contribution towards maintaining the public goods and the system collapses and everyone is worse off (Dowes 2000). In overpopulation dilemma the goods would represent for example the limited water or the limited food on this planet to be used by everyone. Rational thinking would say that everyone should be careful with limited resources and use it wisely. This means that everyone has a certain responsibility to produce or provide certain amount of food and use only equivalent to what they reproduce. Therefore if someone uses more public goods then they produce they would be seen as free riders. If there are too many free riders then that would lead to either other people producing even more then they should to produce for the free riders or eventually there would be no enough food left to keep the acceptable lifestyle.

The Commons Dilemma Game is where group of herdsmen are using common land for their cows. Every herdsmen benefits from using that land even though by all of them using it the same way the land gets destroyed and they won’t be able to use it again (or at least not for a long time), therefore all of them will suffer (Dowes 2000). In overpopulation for example it can be compared to people using water without any restrictions and wasting it even when not needed. If all seven million people on this planet have the same approach and use water even if not needed then the water becomes scarce and the acceptable lifestyle of people on this planet gets affected, or the water just gets all used and people would not be able to live without it.

Game theory argues that individuals are selfish actors that are motivated to utilize as much as possible for themselves. Therefore game theory predicts no-cooperation of an individual in social dilemmas and supports the Prisoners dilemma (….). Psychological theories question game theory by suggesting interventions that influence people’s attitudes and believes that would guide ones co-operative or non cooperative behavior (Vught et.al. 1996). This could be done by increasing awareness of the problem and educating people on possible outcomes of that problem.

Attribution models argue that peoples’ selfish or co-operative approach to social dilemma depends on how they in general view other people. Their approach depends on whether they believe that people are naturally greedy or cooperative (…..), whereas appropriates model questions the fact that people analyze the outcome before deciding on their action. It argues that people tend to make their decisions depending on what other people around them and people imported to them do (….). Therefore the influence would be on motivating people trough suggesting that people are naturally caring, cooperative and that the individual decision can have either negative or positive influence on people important to them.

Another powerful predictor is group formation and situation. The way certain groups are run can influence how people behave in a social dilemma. When people feel like they are part of a group and that they are appreciated or have a certain function in within the group, they tend to contribute more towards positive outcomes of their group and consume less from common resources that are scarce (De-Cremer & Van vugt, 1999, Kramer & Brewer, 1984). The problem is that when social dilemmas involve two or more groups, the likelihood of cooperation is weak (Kerr, 1999). In situations where there are too many groups, electing a leader for each group is of benefit. These leaders would form a group on its own where co-operation and communication is important. These leaders are assigned to control the goods and to effectively communicate in within the groups they are leaders of as well as communicate in within the group of leader that they are part of. While there are plenty of goods, the leaders tend to be voted democratically, however when the resources are scarce, leaders with taught rules tent to be voted for (…). Therefore in the overpopulation dilemma the problem is in how to manage the groups. The importance in managing a high number of groups is in communication and building trust (….). Constant communication within the group and in between the groups reinforces group identity. People are more likely to cooperate if they don’t feel excluded from decision making.

Another possible explanation of why communications seems to be of benefit to co-operation is that it provides moral support and reminds the reasons why cooperation is important and what are the benefits of cooperation (…). However there is a negative side to communication as well. It is possible that certain groups use communications to find out what the other groups are doing and to promise what they won’t deliver or to mislead the other groups (…). This can lead to selfish behavior of certain individuals or groups.

Reciprocity is a possible strategic solution to social dilemmas. Axelrod in 1984 in his The Evolution of Co-operation supported the benefits of reciprocity by providing support for the Tit-For-Tat strategy. Axelrod argued that enhancing the cooperation and positive long term outcome of people involved by eliciting patterns of co-operation (…). It is argued that it is wise and that it pays off to co-operate. Research shows that co-operation pays off by creating better opportunities for one self; people who cooperate are more likely to be preferred as leaders (…). Individuals tend to differ in whether they prefer to gain by being a part of a group (pro-socials) or they prefer to be themselves and all gain goes to them (pro-selfers). Pro-socials tend to be more co-operative and less self concerned. They tend to help others and are less likely to cheat (…). Therefore pro-social people are more favorable in being the leaders.

Approaching social dilemma from structural understanding would mean attempting to solve the dilemma by interventions that change the incentives one gets when co-operating or not co-operating (Vught et.al. 1996). Interventions would involve rules, which would be expected to be followed by everyone (e.g. strict about food waste). By adjusting the environment (trying to come up with solutions for food, water etc.) and by providing reward for those who follow the rules and strict punishment for those who do not.

The dilemma is in making sure that everyone is following these rules. Taking into consideration that it would be impossible to solve the dilemma if we only ask seven billion people to control the population, the more likely way to achieve it as mentioned above is tough group formation. Groups such as continents and countries that would be broken down into smaller groups with assign leaders to be in charge of controlling the population.

Furthermore, if the members of a group have the ability to punish detectors, it is more likely that people cooperate (…..). Members would not want to be seen as defectors and have everyone against them therefore they are more aware of what they should do to follow the rules of their group. However, the costs of having someone in place to monitor members’ behavior and to reward or punish them can be quite costly (….). Research (…) shows, that people who tend not to trust others are willing more to invest into regulatory systems and that a considerable number of people do not mind to punish person who defect even if it does not affect their profit (…). Some researchers even suggest that the need to punish is an evolved mechanism in humans (…). Studies show that when there are plenty of goods, groups tend to appoint a leader since they want someone to have a control over the distribution of the goods. As mentioned before when there is plenty of goods for everyone democratic leaders tends to be appointed, whereas when the resources are limited, stronger leader is appointed (…). It is important to have a leader that people trust and who is fair in order for the members of the group to accept the leader (….). Camerer and Fehr (2006) in their research on games related to social dilemmas found that when the games are at the end the co-operate decreases. For example people would co-operate all the way through with food and water waste, so they are seen as good members or not defectors. However the closer to the end of the resources they would become selfish and want to accumulate as much for themselves as possible.

Another effective way of co-operation is to keep the groups small. In larger groups members can feel less responsible and can get away with defecting (…). As noted overpopulation involves around seven billion people from which most of them have to co-operate and as mentioned before a number of groups have to be formed. However, if major groups for example are continents and these groups have their own groups of countries, cities etc. than with all the rules followed solving overpopulation should be possible. Another possibility is look at the impacts overpopulation has on water, food etc and divide these into groups of concentration but that would be a completely different approach.

In conclusion social dilemmas provide deeper understanding of human nature and behavior. Through social dilemmas and through the problems that arise with it, humanity learns how to deal with difficult situations and what to expect from people in certain situations, such as when the goods are scarce. In order to solve social dilemmas it is important to consider all the above mentioned factors. The emphasis is on moving from laboratory testing to real life, to look at psychological, structural and strategic solutions all together. And realize that in dilemmas such as overpopulation, rules, groups and understanding how people think plays a crucial role without which positive outcome would not be possible.

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