Posts Tagged ‘self-interest’

America Needs Term Limits IV

February 26, 2010

America Needs Term Limits IV

I have wondered how the poor starving people around the world who fight with each other over a limited supply of food or water dropped in their midst after some disaster or holocaust differ from us, as we fight for limited federal monies through our political representatives.

 I have also wondered how any of this is different from the hordes of hungry squawking sea gulls that fight with each over the limited supply of stale bread that I have thrown to them on the shores of my beloved Lake Michigan.

The principles are the same, desperate creatures fighting to get at a limited supply of sustenance (rewards or, more technically,  reinforcers). What do you expect?!

What do you think the old phrase, “All politics are local means”?

It means that, normally, people are primarily concerned with their own best interests. Put in pejorative terms, people are selfish and self-centered. So, what’s the big news about that? Our founding fathers designed our government, best they knew how, to take this basic fact of human (animal) nature into account. They really did an amazingly great  job of it!

However, they could never have imagined a technological, communication/ information, or economic-based America and world as it now exists.

One of the reasons that incumbents in congress virtually always win elections is because if they throw enough “bread” to their constituents (the sea gulls), their constituents naturally will “peck the keys” needed to keep the bread flowing. Why should they ever vote for someone who has not demonstrated the ability to keep the bread flowing into their pockets or projects?

A principle of behavioral psychology is the Matching Law. Simplified, it would predict that people will pull the voting  levers, at higher rates, for those individuals who provide them the highest rates of rewards, I.e., money and power to them and their locals. That is exactly what long-term incumbents are able to do best. Think of them as the keys that we pigeons peck maximize our rewards. This is truly a mutually addictive parasitic relationship, masquerading as a beneficial symbiotic relationship. The way to tell that it is an addictive parasitic relationship is that neither party can ever be satiated and  the relationship is killing the host, America.

In all of this, it would be better if our representatives (the money/power dispensers) were less effective.  It would seem good if they were just effective enough to make decisions that would be only moderately beneficial to their home regions and more beneficial to America as a whole.

This will require more than curtailing great contributions to politicians from special interest groups and implementing term limits. But, these appear to me to be very important steps in the right direction.

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D.

Disastrous Decisions

August 11, 2009

Jared Diamond wrote Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Chapter 14 is a summary of why “Some Societies Make Disastrous Decisions?” The following are only some of the reasons that Diamond has identified.

1. “they failed to anticipate a problem before it arrived” (p.421)

2. They failed “to perceive a problem that has actually arrived” (p.424)

3. The use of “distant managers” (p. 424). This is a problem for large societies or businesses. Please think of centralized governmental control as in the defunct USSR. Also think of increasingly socialized, centralized governmental control in the U.S.. These designs will fail and they have in large organizations or States back to antiquity.

4. “perhaps the commonest circumstance under which societies fail to perceive a problem is when it takes the form of a slow trend concealed by wide up and down fluctuations” (p.425). Diamond suggests climate change as an example. Similar changes minus the wide fluctuations can be concealed by somewhat slow, but steady, changes.  Examples in the U.S. have been crime rates, drug addiction, divorce, pregnancy out of wed-lock, child molestation, and other indicators strongly suggesting a decline in the quality of our populations behavior patterns.

5. “societies often fail even to attempt to solve a problem once it has been percieved” (p. 427).

Smaller, but powerful, segments of a society can pursue their own self-interests to the extent that they harm the viability of the culture. Those who are harmed often do not engage in the expensive, difficult, and long-term struggle necessary to fight the trend.

6. “Throughout recorded history, actions or inaction’s by self-absorbed kings, chiefs, and politicians have been a regular cause of societal collapse” (p431).

7. “Religious values tend to be especially deeply held and hence frequent causes of disastrous behavior” (432).  This is not an anti-religion statement. In fact, I cannot think of a better code to live by than Judeo-Christian values. But, as much as I hate to say it, for those who wish to survive on earth, there are exceptions to nearly every rule. Should we feed the world? Should we fight defensive wars, if there is no other option?, etc.. The need to alter value systems to alter deeply held values, or perish,  is at times simply a fact of life.  Diamond provides several examples , one in which the  Norse Christian settlers of Greenland perished, when they may have survived by adopting native Inuit technology. He makes similar arguments regarding secular values that became maladaptive with changing environments, which also lead to disaster.

This is a major part of Americas’ currently threatening problems. Two more quotes on this topic will be helpful.

“It is painfully difficult to decide whether to abandon some of ones core values when they seem to be becoming incompatible with survival. At  what  point do we as individuals prefer to die than to compromise and live” (p. 433).

Perhaps the crux of success or failure as a society is to know which core values to hold on to, and which ones to discard and replace with new values, when times change.” (p. 433).

In America’s case, I will argue that the crux of success or failure will be to know which values to go back to and inculcate into our selves and our young once again.

7. “failures to try to solve perceived problems often arise from clashes between short-term and long-term motives” (p. 434).

Such problems are in evidence whenever individuals accept entitlements for themselves, knowing that such entitlements are saddling their grandchildren with debts that may make quality lives unsustainable for them. Our own politicians knowingly allow illegal aliens to flood our streets because of short-term political power opportunities, they allow the counting of illegal aliens in the U.S. census because it will augment their political power. Federal, state, and local governments have legalized pornography and gambling for immediate increases in tax revenue gains. We are now poised to legalize marijuana, prostitution, and euthanasia for short-term financial gains involved. All of this will clear delayed costs to our society that will shake our foundations until current leaders are out of power and residing within gated communities and elite enclaves.

8. “The final speculative reason that I shall mention for irrational failure to try to solve a perceived problem is psychological denial” (p. 435).

As I practicing and academic psychologist, I do not think that the anxiety defense mechanism of denial is speculative…it is real. Some intelligent individuals use the denial of threatening events to the extend that they are repeatedly harmed by their own arrogant and stupidly self-defeating  behaviors. Individuals who repeatedly pair with addicted and abusive mates will serve as one of many examples. At the population level, recognize and forcefully react against self-governed cultural evolutions that are now harming their children and grandchildren is another (sexualized ads during family time, sexualized and seductive protrayles in kid shows appealing to children from 4 yrs. to young adolescence), as another of many examples. Or perhaps our American Federal Government that goes deeper and profoundly deeper into debt to fund social programs, borrowing astonishing sums of money from foreign enemy governments to do so. These are just a few examples of psychological denial in the face of obvious looming harm.

9. “even after a society has anticipated, perceived, or tried to solve a problem, it may still fail for obvious reasons: the problem may be beyond our present capacities to solve (world-wide advancement of Islamic Terrorism?), a solution may exist but be prohibitively expensive (Single Payer Universal Health Care ?), or our efforts may be too little and too late (the reconstruction of adaptive moral values in our population?). Some attempted solutions backfire and make the problem worse (Cap and Trade energy controls on industrial productivity?),

This last flurry of reasons why cultures may fail covers a whole lot of territory. Perhaps  you could think of how each has, or is now, impactting our own prospects for America’s survival as a great world power.


%d bloggers like this: