Sometimes you give to the commons, and sometimes you take from the commons
Sometimes you give to the commons, and sometimes you trade from the commons. And through this giving and taking, people are able to smooth consumption. This is good because getting more ressources from the commons when you temporarily have fewer of them is more positive than giving ressources away when you temporarily have more of them.
Anyways, a phenomenon I’ve noticed is that sometimes, you can only give to the commons, but you can’t take from the commons. This is dysfunctional, and defeats the whole purpose of the commons.
Some examples, vaguely based on real life:
- You generally have thoughtful opinions, but sometimes you make mistakes. Your aggregate effect is to make a group’s models of the world better. One day you have an opinion that is wrong, and people pile on against you, without remembering previous times that you added information to the shared pool.
- You generally give emotional support to people. But when you need emotional support, people don’t give it to you.
- You are glad to help people with your time, but when you need other people to lend you their time, they don’t.
- There is a shared pool of ressources that status-poor people are expected to fill, and high-status people are welcome to partake of.
- Taking from the commons is socially punished, such that people can’t even think of the idea of taking from the commons as an option that they have.
Overall, there might be reasons for these kinds of dynamics. For example:
- maybe there are types of people who would predictably take too much from the commons, and a group prevents those kinds of people from taking any part of the commons, as a preventative measure. Maybe people can smell the desesperation.
- Or maybe there was a veil-of-ignorance type of deal going on, where some people only give to the commons, but would have received if they had had worse luck.
- Or maybe there is a totally reasonable period between where one starts giving to the commons and when one can start taking from it, to disallow free-riders.
But in practice, I think that the reasonable explanations aren’t what’s going on. And instead there are really weird effects where “for he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath”. So now, when I see this kind of dynamic around a supposed commons, I tend to run. And after seeing this kind of dynamic happening a few times, I’ve become more sympathetic about a cluster of ideas around self-sufficiency and libertarianism.