Wednesday, August 02, 2006

human nature

I went to New York when I was 16. I thought it was the greatest place on earth (and that includes Disney World, which is merely the happiest). It was noticeable how rude people were. Either I was incredibly unlucky or New Yorkers are generally rude. Conventional wisdom has it that people are nice in small towns, and get meaner the bigger the town gets. The (simple, two person) prisoners dilemma tells us that it can be in our interest to cooperate with people even if we would be immediately better off by screwing them because if you have repeat dealings with people then screwing them over means that they are less likely to cooperate next time. In a big city we don't normally it's unlikely that we will have repeat dealings with strangers so it makes sense to act like it; screw them over if you can get away with it! I think it explains why the more touristy a place is the less value for money it often is; they don't rely on repeat business.

But we rely on strangers all the time for our survival. Most of us don't make our own food and bakers aren't necessarily altruists. We even give our credit card details to businesses over the internet. The reason for this is that we have well established rules and laws that help us to get over our mistrust of strangers so that we can still benefit from cooperation. These rules are not natural, but they form the basis of a free, capitalist society. This means that it is natural for there to be a tension between our intuition and a free market system, but we try to live with both.

this is the article responsible for this post and here is Hayek who is quoted in the artice:
If we were to apply the unmodified, uncurbed, rules of the micro-cosmos (i.e., of the small band or troop, or of, say, our families) to the macro-cosmos (our wider civilization), as our instincts and sentimental yearnings often make us wish to do, we would destroy it. Yet if we were always to apply the rules of the extended order to our more intimate groupings, we would crush them. So we must learn to live in two sorts of worlds at once.


Tracy Leigh said...

I think it's so true and it's a big problem with cities. I suppose we come into contact with so many strangers every day that it's exhausting to maintain proper relationships with them. But I think there would be a real benefit to all if we treated everyone respectfully, politely and just did our job properly. it would cause so much less frustration and anger, which is spread like wild fire to those that don't deserve it, often those closest to us.

Swart Donkey said...

It does allow for social experimentation though. I have often enjoyed the concept that in a big, and normally it is safer when it is foreign, you are no longer constrained by the fear of repeat dealings, and so can do things you always wanted to do and never did.

The true self comes out. A similar concept to, would an `altruist' still do their good deeds if no one knew, would you do bad deeds if no one knew...

If you were on a desert island and there was an unbelievably attractive woman who couldn't speak or write(so the tale would never be told)and wanted to do bad things to you ;-) ... would you cheat on your partner?

If you were in a crowded foreign city, and the same situation occured?

But my interest is more innocent than that. I like the idea of interacting with people that I am unlikely to meet again.

Telling a beautiful woman in the street, that I think that... giving flowers to a stranger. Screaming wildly. Saying odd things to waitors... like can I have a big mac, but without any meat or breadroll, and with some extra spinach.

stuart said...

i dont seem to have given it as much thought as you black donkey. but after taking a day or two to get used to the rudeness in new york i found it quite fun. you're just rude back, guilt free. i'm sure i was rude in a very wussy way, but still.