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20140614 Penguin and Leviathan



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Main Idea:

The main idea is that current economic and political system built as combination of market economy based on self-interest (which is BAD) and government coercion (which is not very good, but at least not based on self-interest). This structure should be substituted by selfless cooperation because it is natural for humans – idea promoted originally by Rousseau and Kropotkin. The way to raise Penguin (selfless cooperative society) is to apply contemporary psychological research to modification of human behavior through number of “levers”:
• Communications;
• Framing, Fit, and Authenticity;
• Looking beyond ourselves:
• Empathy and Solidarity;
• Constructing Moral Systems: Fairness, Morality, and Social Norms;
• Reward and Punishment;
• Reputation, Transparency, and Reciprocity;
• Building for Diversity.


CHAPTER 1: The Penguin vs. the Leviathan
This is all about contest between Penguin that represent human empathy and cooperation and Leviathan, which contrary to it usual designator for government (per Hobbs), here represents selfish interest. Actually Leviathan here is paired with Invisible Hand of Adam Smith: both are promoters of selfishness, while Penguin is all about empathy and cooperation with roots in writing of Rousseau, Kropotkin, and Hume’s moral sentiments.

Cycles of Leviathan and Invisible hand
Here history is viewed as cyclical process when big government takes turns with Invincible Hand of market in domination of society with less then satisfactory results. Author sees an alternative in cooperation without compensation as it occurred in multiple Internet based development such as open software code, Wikipedia, and such. The motivation comes from common sense of purpose.

Why has myth of self-interest persisted?
Author’s answer:
1. It is Partially truth, but mostly idea of self-interest is wrong.
2. History – selfishness is just a very old idea.
3. Simplicity – simple people love simple explanations to complex world.
4. Habit – people are socialized into believe in selfishness and competition.
However author knows the way out – we just need to overcome incorrect assumption of self-interest and move to the better world of selfless cooperation that we all striving to achieve.

Why now?
Because we are in the middle of great disruption in all areas of live: business, ideology, technology, and everything else. Especially important is Internet that produces successful examples of “social production” when people do great things without being paid.

CHAPTER 2: Nature vs. Culture: The Evolution of Human Cooperation
Author presents “Nature” side of polemic as Social Darwinism with strong surviving at expense of the weak. This follows by presentation of E.Q. Wilson’s Sociobiology as neo social Darwinism in contest with “Culture” side presented by ideas of Franz Boas, Steven Gould, and Richard Lewontin.

What is the “Selfish Gene”?
This is reasonably correct presentation of ideas of Richard Dawkins with “Selfish gene” being not equated with selfish person. In short- cooperation makes evolutionary sense.

Drowning siblings: Reciprocity
This piece is about cooperation via reciprocity on many levels including even cooperation between different species. Example provided badger and coyote cooperation in hut on squirrels.

A Letter from Ben Franklin: Paying It Forward.
This is about Cooperation via reciprocity extended in time. It is also a bit about decline and contemporary revival of group selection ideas.

Soldiers and Voters: Cooperation and Coevolution.
Group selection related work of Rob Boyd and Pete Richerson describes two modes of group selection: cooperation as in group of soldiers with cultural adaptation to the group and coevolution as in a group of voters acting to elect group leaders even at high expense if compared to the level of influence on outcome of election. In both cases it is genes that have significant influence on behavior, but culture is as powerful, so it seems to be wash overall.

CHAPTER 3: Stubborn Children, New York City Doormen, and Why Obesity Is Contagious: Psychological and Social Influences on Cooperation
Here straw man of selfish economy raises his head. This time to be rejected by nuanced psychological and social models. The models reviewed here are related to motivational structure starting with Maslow’s ideas.

We see the World through the Frame
This piece is about situational framing. Nice example of framing with use of Wall Street vs. Community designation of group in the game.

Social Capital, Reputation, and Social Contagion
This one is about accumulation of information about person that allows getting better returns in encounters with other people. Nice example of doorman in New York –job obtainable only via social network of doormen. However social network could also be somewhat dangerous for individual if adaptation requires some risky and/or unhealthy moves. Example – obesity that seems to be having much higher probability if it is common in individual’s social network.

CHAPTER 4: I/You, Us/Them: Empathy and Group Identity in Human Cooperation
This discussion is about empathy and recent discovery of mirror neurons that provide necessary hardware in the brain. One interesting thing that not often mentioned is that it is quite different from “group solidarity”.

Stand by me: Solidarity and Social Identity in Cooperation.
This is description of experiments demonstrating that solidarity alone is enough to sustain cooperation in public goods game. On the dark side of solidarity is separation of people into in-group and out-group with out-group being outside of empathy. Some interesting dynamic of change between others and ours during American political election process when others during primary become ours after party candidate is defined.

Praying on Street Corners
This is discussion about community policing movement as example of solidarity.

CHAPTER 5: Why Don’t We Sit Down and Talk About It?
Typically people believe that talk is cheap, but this is discussion about value of talk as a way to set up rules for cooperation and resolve issues that prevent it. As example discussion about elections article in Wikipedia is provided. An interesting link provided for MEETUP.com where people cooperate in all conceivable areas.

Motorcycles and Mediators
Here is example of creative net based on Chine motorcycle industry. It includes a bit more details on mediation as a tool to support cooperation.

Cooperation and Framing
Parameters of successful cooperation: Empathy, Solidarity, Moral Norms, Fairness, and Trust and Leadership; all depend on communication. Examples of shared interest and reciprocated services based on Internet are provided.

CHAPTER 6: Equal Halves: Fairness in Cooperation
These issues are reviewed based on experiments with Ultimatum game. Conclusion: the equal share works best.

Fairness of Outcome and Intentions
This is discussion about fairness meaning different things to different people at different times. Examples are provided from California mining codes to anthropological research with different results for ultimatum game in different cultures. The interesting thing – Western democratic culture people prefer equal division and reject unequal breakdown even if they benefit more.

Lotteries, draft, and lines
Research seems to demonstrate that people care more about fairness of process then of outcome.

Defining Fair Play
Research reviewed of wages comparison as defined by market based versus flat structure. Surprising result was that performance dependent more on company consistency in applying announced method rather then method itself. Most important result of research: fairness is an independent motivational factor.

CHAPTER 7: What’s Right Is Right–or at Least Normal: Morals and Norms in Cooperation
This chapter is about cultural norm and standards. It starts with cultural rejection of a tip in Europe and then follow through discussion of “order without law” when individuals act according to group standards rather then according to formal law.

Music downloads: The power of combining fairness with conformity
This is example of music download site with voluntary payments.

Spanish Farmers and Lobster gangs: (un) Tragedy of Commons
This is a description of research of real commons that contrary to economic thought did not fail, but seems to be working just fine. Author seems to expect commons to prosper in XXI century and property rights kind of withering away.

Wikipedia’s Neutral Point of view
This is discussion about how to establish workable norm for community, based on author’s experience with Wikipedia. Here is an important result: the cooperation is highest when rules self-developed by community. Interestingly enough right after that author goes into discussion of successful internalization of norm imposed from above based on New York ban on smoking.

Moral Commitments and Principled Action
This is a discussion of role of Morality in human actions as usual for this author in contrast to action in self-interest.

CHAPTER 8: For Love or Money: Rewards, Punishments, and Motivation
The chapter starts with description of Carr-Benkler wager, which web site would attract more people: one where contributors pay or the voluntary contribution site. Author believes that he won, but so is Carr. This follows by discussion about intrinsic versus monetary compensation.

Putting a Price on Blood
Author compares British healthcare with American trying to prove that British system is better based on quality of blood supply. The point is made that voluntary donations provide better quality and quantity of blood. Eventually USA also stopped paying for blood with results being more blood donations. The main point here is that material compensation could crowd out voluntary donations.

Software developers, University professors, and Overpaid executives
The point here is made that we cannot go around without market so we need both intrinsic and extrinsic type of motivation working in tandem.

“Free as in “Speech”, not as in “Beer”
This is discussion of phenomenon of open source software development and its complex patterns of motivation and compensation. The second theme is executive compensation that despite exponential growth seems to be failed to deliver proportional growth in returns for shareholders.

The Punishment Puzzle
The other side of reward – punishment is discussed in the same vein of superiority of intrinsic punishment. Example with Israel kindergarten reviewed when fine resulted in increased violations.

At the end of chapter a very reasonable inference provided: both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation should be included for system to work in the best way. Another reasonable point is made that motivational system could and should be included within framework of market.

CHAPTER 9: The Business of Cooperation
The chapter starts with review of two business cases: failed due to incompatibility of cultures GM-Toyota plant in California, and success of unusual business practice with high level of employee autonomy of Southwest airlines.

What Toyota Got Right
The idea expressed that Toyota on its plants provided high levels of autonomy, while GM was highly controlling. Success comes from treating people as at least somewhat independent entities who are trustworthy and trusting at the same time.

Why Open Source Works
The short answer is because it combines free software with payable services built around it, providing necessary cash flow for both development and support.

The Sounds of Music
Similar story for music downloads and records industry attempts to cope with it.

Changing the Face of Politics
This is about political impact of social networks and advantage of left over right during Obama election in 2008. Review of 155 political blogs at the time demonstrated that left wing sites provided more freedom for authors while right wing were significantly more controlling.

CHAPTER 10: How to Raise a Penguin
This means society of individuals who cooperate selflessly and generously to common good. Somehow author sees cooperation as contradiction to both the Invisible hand of market and Government coercion of Leviathan.

Designing for Cooperation
Here author stated the “Design Levers” of cooperation that he suggests to implement in order to “raise a penguin” (build a better society). These suggestions would lead to better human systems that should somehow substitute existing systems build on self-interest, suppression of bad actors, and low levels of trust.

My Take on It:

Nice recount of some contemporary social and psychological research, but way too much of wishful thinking and unrealistic ideas about human nature. Especially touching is designation of self-interest as “myth”. I would love to see rejection of this myth by author if his professor’s salary would be decreased by order of magnitude to janitor’s salary in the name of empathy and self-less cooperation. Somehow I think that myth of self-interest would quickly turn into undeniable reality.

Jokes aside, I think that all voluntary cooperation is based on self-interest of participants, as well as all coercive activities of Leviathan are based on self-interest of individuals in control of this creature. Actually as soon as self-interest viewed broadly as whatever individual believe is his/her self-interest at the moment, it becomes just impossible to imagine any other way of action for human being other then in self-interest. Even a monk starving himself to death for his religious believes acts in self-interest, as he understands it at the moment: raise his spirit closer to god by suppressing his lowly body.

From my point of view all this countering of self-interest against cooperation is just meaningless, and so are attempts to build cooperative society in denial of self-interest. What is meaningful is attempt to modify society in such way that individual were able to pursue their self-interest not at the expense of other people, but by helping other people pursue their self-interest. Actually we know such system – voluntary market exchange. The only thing that we need to make it work for everybody is to make sure that everybody has something valuable for exchange. Then nobody will be left in the cold, even if human nature stays the same and everybody’s self-interest remains intact.

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