Cooperating in everyday stag hunts
There’s a certain type of multi-agent interaction in society where you’re presented with two choices: a default option that’s easy and beneficial for you, and a hard option that results in pain for you but is more “moral”/”ethical”/”prosocial.” If everyone picks the hard option, then society as a whole can move out of a bad equilibrium and improve things globally. For example:
- Using Linux / Android vs. Apple in California
- Being vegetarian when all your friends eat meat
- Using a bike or public transit instead of driving when you don’t live in a major US city
It’s a stag hunt, in other words (hunt the stag = the hard option; hunt the rabbit = the easy). One with millions to billions of participants, depending on size.
Should you take the hard path?
Points against: So many people take the default. Your choice to bike instead of drive will only increase your travel time. It’s best to concentrate your efforts in places that are amenable to fixing inadequate equilibria. Have some epistemic modesty and defer to the crowd. Go with the flow.
Points for: If you just accept things as they are, you’re an undifferentiated human being. It feels like to be interesting, there’s something that you need to take a stand on.
Also, individual action as a notion is a bad abstraction. Actual change is systemic, not individual. It’s orders of magnitude more effective to donate $1,000 to a climate charity than to have a low-carbon lifestyle. And even beyond donating, the biggest changes occur through groups motivated to create change, not lone wolves. Think Reboot-style community and techno-optimism.
So yes. If all your other friends have cars, buy your car. Don’t sacrifice when it’s really inconvenient to do so, because that’s just masochistic. But if you can find a group of likeminded people for a cause you care about? Don’t back down.
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