What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

The Logical Limits of Liberty & Needism

March 21, 2014, 11:45 AM
Bigthink_needism

Your needs can’t all be as easily fenced off as land. But that map-like model lurks behind unbalanced ideas about private and public interests. The “public good” is both bedrock and climate to all private interests. No logic of liberty should ignore their inalienable interdependence.

The “tragedy of the commons” shows why: Herders using a commons (public pasture) seemingly have rational incentives to add animals; grazing is free, and profits can be increased.  But if others do the same, the commons becomes overgrazed. So short-term asocial self-interest becomes self-defeating, causing collective tragedy. Two fixes are known; either fence off, assign property rights, and leave it to the new owners; or manage the commons for everyone’s benefit, which entails restricting freedom of use, but prevents tragedy (Elinor Olstrom’s Nobel Prized-work showed how). The moral: too much “freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.”

The “public good” and the nation itself both face “tragedy of the commons” logic. In politics, special interests that prioritize their gain above the public good resemble those overgrazing herders. But it’s always irrational to discount the health of what supplies your needs. And no “politics of parts” can work unless the health of the whole governs. A nation isn’t only the sum of its special interests, or even the private interests of its people. A workable nation must balance those with the health of the whole. America’s founders agreed, they defined duties “to promote the general Welfare” and to enact laws “necessary for public good.”

Tocqueville feared that Americans might forget “the close connection between the private fortune of each and the prosperity of all." But he said “Americans combat individualism by the principle of interest rightly understood,” which “inclines them willingly to sacrifice a portion of their time and property to the welfare of the state.”

Markets also face commons-like logic. Profit seeking that risks damaging markets is best restricted. Concern about large banks posing “systemic risks,” signals a nascent realization of this need.

In describing “the social contract” Hobbes used an image of “the body politic” illustrating that no part thrives alone, and ailing parts risk an unhealthy body. Some politics now borders on becoming a fenced-off “asocial contract,” dominated by asocial (or even anti-social) self-interest. But that map-like model of interests misguides. Even the value of what you do on your land depends utterly on what is happening beyond your fences. No workable logic of liberty can ignore that the common good is the soil in which all private interests grow.

Whatever your political beliefs, they need needism: Know your needs. Don’t damage them, or what supplies them. Don’t let others, either. Or you’re doomed (separately and jointly).

 

 

Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker Cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions.

 

The Logical Limits of Liber...

Newsletter: Share: