Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Expanding our sensitivity

I had a GREAT discussion the other night at a dinner party that ultimately led to a question:  how do we expand our sensitivity to outside our immediate self interests?

The strong position the other person took was that we will never get people to do things that cause them to 'suffer'; people act in their own self-interest.  Very valid point.  When I asked how we will solve our problems like increasing global pollution and increasing greenhouse gas emission that effect us all but will likely require us to change our immediate behavior, he said that people would have to think about how it impacts them and their kids.

But people already do care about their children and invest a lot to help them succeed.  Indeed, my work with marmots shows that parental care explains risky alarm calling behavior in females...as it should.  Parental care is easy to evolve.  Broader-scale cooperation is much harder to evolve.

And, if this cooperation has to take a long view, consider the Seven Generation Sustainability that the Iroquois followed, how do we create a culture that follows this maxim?  If we did, it would be second nature to think about and pay for externalities and once we properly price exernalities, I think we're making good progress towards encouraging people to make more sustainable economic choices.

Yet, we also know that quantitatively, acquiring a benefit now (whether it's money that you can spend now or invest now, or offspring), rather than delaying benefit acquisition often makes stark economic sense and if we're 'wired' to typically behave this way, then we have a real challenge.

So the questions are:  How do we expand our sensitivity beyond our immediate self interests and the interests of our children?  How do we work towards Seven Generation Sustainability?  As always, please feel free to post comments!

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