The Logical Limits of Liberty & 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.
Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."
- Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
- Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
- Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
The Bajau people's nomadic lifestyle has given them remarkable adaptions, enabling them to stay underwater for unbelievable periods of time. Their lifestyle, however, is quickly disappearing.
- The Bajau people travel in small flotillas throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, hunting fish underwater for food.
- Over the years, practicing this lifestyle has given the Bajau unique adaptations to swimming underwater. Many find it straightforward to dive up to 13 minutes 200 feet below the surface of the ocean.
- Unfortunately, many disparate factors are erasing the traditional Bajau way of life.
We explore the history of blood types and how they are classified to find out what makes the Rh-null type important to science and dangerous for those who live with it.
- Fewer than 50 people worldwide have 'golden blood' — or Rh-null.
- Blood is considered Rh-null if it lacks all of the 61 possible antigens in the Rh system.
- It's also very dangerous to live with this blood type, as so few people have it.
An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.
- Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
- The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
- The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
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