tragedy of the commons

The Embassy Network is about building a commons (common resources to be used by all). With this, we have to be mindful not to fall prey to the tragedy of the commons*. *This is when people act according to their own interests in a way that is sub-optimal for the group, by depleting or degrading some common resource. (Of course, that usually ends up being bad for the individual in the long run!) E.g. leaving your cup in the sink means that you don’t have to wash it (yay!) but it degrades the common resource of a common space. The tragedy is that if we all act like this, we end up losing our lovely kitchen space to the detriment of the group.

**"Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest”

  • Hardin, Science, 1986

The comedy of the commons

There was much backlash from Hardin’s original suggestion that the tragedy of the commons was inevitable, as many commons have been successful throughout history. Before he died, Hardin admitted he should have called his article “The Tragedy of the Unmanaged Commons.” At the Embassy we don’t wish to manage each other or impose rules, so we implore our community to familiarise themselves with these ideas and to take these lessons on voluntarily 😃 There are many examples of the counter to the tragedy of the commons, whereby the value of a common resource is increased by the number of people using it. This is known as the 'comedy of the commons' (Carol Rose, University of Chicago Law Review, 1987).

Examples of comedy of the commons are things like Wikipedia - individuals contribute knowledge and content for the good of the community rather than extracting resources for their own personal gain. In doing so together, we generate an incredible, rich informational commons.

What does this mean for us as people attempting to build a flourishing residential commons? We must be aware of our tendency to deplete when we act for ourselves, and actively seek to contribute to the commons. This can take place in many ways, but to take the analogy of the cups in the kitchen, this means that we leave the kitchen not just in the same state that we found it, but in a better state than which we found it. We don’t simply wash our cup, we also wash the other cups that may be about, or wipe a surface down while we are there.

We’ve found that once we switch our mentality around these issues, it’s easy to make this part of your daily routine. While you wait for the kettle to boil, take a second to put the tea boxes back in the drawer, or wipe a surface down. Leave the space better than you found it, or how you wish you had found it!

If we can manifest these values in our minute to minute interactions, perhaps it will feed into other parts of our lives.

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