November 18, 2006

Newcomb's problem and environmentalism and the war on terror

There is a fascinating post over at Stumbling and Mumbling about environmentalism and the argument often made that we shouldn't do anything because our contribution is irrelevant (an argument made for instance by Iain Dale. The post basically makes the point that there are three ways of thinking: the first is to act in our own best interest assuming that everyone else won't act on climate change, the second is to assume that everyone else will act in their own best interests and on the same logic as us to produce a global common good and the third is that we should take action for symbolic reasons.

On Stumbling and Mumbling, Chris advocates the simularity to the case of voting. But I think there is another interesting simularity the war on terror. Earlier this year Al Quaeda offered Europe a deal- if we pulled out of Iraq and stopped supporting the US then we would be free of terror. Facing that deal, we could say well beating Al Queada is a global responsibility, some countries won't join in and if they don't we'll lose- therefore its better not to take the risks with our own citizens and let others go down before us. The similar logic to Iain Dale's on global warming therefore- which would incline us to abandon the war on terror. The position that we have taken is that we ought to oppose Al Queada and other countries will see that we are right to do so and they will also oppose them- that in Dale's scenario is the same as proposing dealing with emmissions here in the presumption that they will be dealt with elsewhere. The differences in the use of logic are fascinating.

4 comments:

Hilary Burrage said...

I'm not sure that it's just logic as such which determines people's positions. Environmental and other issues are in part matters of the heart, not the mind.

It's where one positions feelings that often indicates where one will position one's logic.

The other thing that matters I suspect is how one sees incrementalism. An 'all or nothing' person is less likely to advocate that, in those fanous words, 'every little matters'. (Crash diet or stay plump; total zero tolerance of emissions or really heat up the globe...)

Many of us have real problems with matters of scale, let alone of actually measuring risk. Yet a basic understanding of these is very important.

Here is something which not only politicians but also other 'leaders' could do a lot to help out with, if they saw that it would be useful. In that respect at least global problems are 'more' than 'just' political.

Best,
Hilary www.hilaryburrage.com

Gracchi said...

Yes I agree with you- this is too cold and logical an analysis to explain the situation.

However I do think when faced with someone making an argument its worth even if their argument is being made out of emotional reasons to argue against it based on logic. If I can show you that something you perceive is dangerous is equivalent to something you know is dangerous but don't perceive to be so then I may shift your thinking. Its worht a try at least.

Cheers for the comment though

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