Wednesday 3 June 2009

Rational Self Interest

The concept of rational self interest means pursuing what is best for us individually based on a reasoned argument. We pretty much all adopt this approach to life whether we know it or not and whether we use good arguments or not. But how does the tiger and the wildcats fit into this?

I think we have to look wide and ask whether we are generally able to exercise rational thought into pursuing self interest. I say this because we pursue things that are meant to benefit us on a short term basis. We suffer from acute short-termism. We are unable to wait for things or think of the long term benefits. Perhaps we are unable to think long term because it is much more difficult to calculate what is going to happen in the long term so we fall back on what we can see in the near future, which translates to grab it now.

This mentality or lack of rational thought (or is it just plain laziness) has had a severely detrimental impact on our lives or will have in the not to distant future. Here are some examples:

  • The big car manufacturers in the USA are bankrupt (insolvent is the better word) pursuing near goals only and failing to adjust to the bigger issues of global warming and decreasing oil stocks. They had their heads in the sand right up to the time they went bust and these companies are run by very well paid executives who, it seems work for themselves  while failing to employ rational self interest.
  • Over fishing which will result in there being  no, yes no fish in the oceans and seas by 2040, if we continue at the present rate. We just don’t get it. We just are not able to think rationally and collectively over the long term. It is too painful for us to do this. Much easier now to just carry on until we really feel the pain. We like to “mortgage the future”.
  • Global warming. Once again we have to almost hit the buffers before we actually do something. People and countries think short term. To think long term means things being harder now and we avoid that – too painful. In other words we tend to live beyond our means to make life more bearable now but doing that indefinitely results in all the hardship coming at the end, when things get really bad.

Wildcats. Yes, I got around to my area of interest. This I think is a bit different though. There is certainly a lot of short termism and irrational self interest here. What I mean is we destroy the wildcat’s habitat wantonly, so the wildcat’s demise is a by-product of wider problems of, for example, uncontrolled human population growth and the logging of whole forests that take away habitat (e.g. Clouded Leopard and Bornean Bay Cat but there are many other examples).

In respect of the wildcats our lack of rational self interest indirectly results in gradual extirpation of all wildcats on this planet (in the wild). The tiger is almost extinct in the world (the world’s favourite animal). The truth is we either don’t care enough for the wild cats in the wild or we are plain frightened of them. We cannot live in harmony with them. As a consequence we prefer to have them enclosed and controlled in zoos or reserves. We need to manage them, to get them out of the way while we use up the world’s natural reserves for our short term irrational self interest.

Rational self interest should surely include group interests and national interests and of course world interests but we tend to think of rational self-interest as doing things that benefit us directly and immediately rather than gaining benefit indirectly in the long term as everyone else gains as well. We have difficulty cooperating to produce global benefits.

Until we, as world people, are able to genuinely work in harmony on a global scale, we are never going to work towards true benefits individually and the wild creatures that we arrogantly push to one side or, worse, use as a commercial resource, will simply fade away just as all nature’s reserves are gradually being used up by a totally irrational human race.

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