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The Whippet #83: Latch and Leap

McKinley Valentine — 8 min read

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I want to talk about the Tragedy of the Commons, which is more or less an urban myth.The majority of believe in it (even if they haven't heard the term), but the evidence is and was never there to support it. Believing in the Lithgow Panther is harmless, whereas believing in the Tragedy of the Commons is super damaging (and less fun).

The Tragedy of the Commons is the theory that if there is a resource shared by a whole community, each person will self-interestedly take more than their fair share, and the resource will get completely ruined so no one can enjoy it (a 'Commons' was a piece of Crown Land where anyone was allowed to let their livestock graze - if it got overgrazed then the soil would be damaged and the plants wouldn't grow back.)

"This is why we can't have nice things."

If this myth were true, then that would be sad, but fair enough. But since it's not true, it's just the thing powerful people quote when they say, sorry, you can't have anything nice, you'd only ruin it anyway, tragedy of the commons. I should have a nice castle because I will take care of it, but you lot can't be trusted with one.

Since I like nice things, I hate this myth.

The rest of this intro is me explaining why the Tragedy of the Commons isn't true - skim on down to the next heading if you don't care.

The 'Tragedy of the Commons' is a myth

So a) when it was written, by William Forster Lloyd in 1883, he wasn't describing the actual state of British grazing commons. It was a hypothetical.

So saying we can't have some nice thing (a shared public good) because Tragedy of the Commons, is like refusing to ride on trolleys because you read about the Trolley Problem and think people are just constantly tied to the tracks at all times.

b) the state of actual grazing commons was good. Not just in Britain - there are a tonne of examples. "It was found that a commons in the Swiss Alps has been run by a collective of farmers there to their mutual and individual benefit since 1517." Irrigitation systems in Nepal, where it's important that no one takes too much water. Lobster fishermen who need to avoid overfishing. Also, Wikipedia - it's not perfect but it's not full of misinformation and bad spelling, as the Tragedy of the Commons would predict. It's an incredible resource.

Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize for Economic Science for her work on this, where she found that the tragedy of the commons is not as common or difficult to solve as originally believed, "since locals have often come up with solutions to the commons problem themselves. In general, it is in the interest of the users of a commons to keep them functioning and so complex social schemes are often invented by the users for maintaining them at optimum efficiency."

Obviously overexploitation of resources is a thing. But generally it happens when the resource is not a commons - it's not a community resource. There are outsiders to the system who can take too much and destroy the resource without having to then live there. Most people will eventually clean their own house, just so they can live in a clean house. Fishermen who are fishing in their own shared fishing spot will try to keep it sustainable, not out of the goodness of their hearts, but so there will always be more fish tomorrow. A fishing company that lives on the other side of the world but sends ships to that community will overfish horrendously then move on.

There's a huge correlation between petty crime and housing affordability, because rising rents break up communities - people have to move further and further out, especially if they want to start a family. So, the sense of shared community is gone, and people feel less motivated to care for their local environment.

I'm not saying there's no such thing as a selfish jerk, of course there is. But the myth of the Tragedy of the Commons says we're ALL selfish jerks - that we can't help but act self-centredly, it is inevitable, if we are given nice things, it will always end in tragedy.

It's one thing to regulate against the jerks, and another to completely set up society based around the idea that humans never cooperate, when we so clearly and constantly do. (If that still doesn't ring true to you it's probably because the times someone was a jerk stand out in your mind, but you take for granted the many times someone helped you out in some small way, automatically, just because they could see you needed it, like holding the door open for you when your hands are full.)

How these tiny insect larvae leap without legs


These midge larvae have microscopic fuzz on their top and tail ends, so they bend over and latch their ends together like velcro. Then, they swell up their tail end until the latch breaks and sends them somersaulting away.

It works like a spring - storing up force and then releasing - which lets them jump much higher and further than they would be if they just relied on their feeble larval muscles. My favourite part is, the scientist wasn't trying to discover this - he was just trying to study midges. But when he tried, they all weant leaping out of his petri dishes. "Blobby little larvae were flipping themselves around with power equal to, or greater than, the oomph of high-power vertebrate flight muscles." Source.

San Francisco Animal Care & Control

via Officer Edith on twitter.

Also, if you play footage of coati (a kind of meerkat-badger) in reverse, they look like dinosaurs.

Books: Horror recommendations for all tolerance levels

As an absolute coward, I love this.

It's horror recommendations for levels of horror all the way from the incredibly mild Practical Magic & Hocus Pocus, through Get Out, to It Follows and then a movie I've never heard of presumably because everyone knows I'm far too delicate to hear about it.

I also love it as a general template for recommendations. When most people recommend something, they're not really thinking about whether you'll like it. They're thinking "I love it and I want everyone else to share this experience". Anyone who doesn't like horror movies will know this, because people are always saying to you - "i know you don't like horror but this film is REALLY good". Anytime you start a recommendation with "I know you don't like x, but..." that's a clear sign it's about you, not the other person.

So, yes: nice to see a list of recommendations that does seem to genuinely be about helping the recommendee.

Protect your library the medieval way, with horrifying book curses

In the Middle Ages, books were very rare (they ahd to be copied by hand) and very expensive.

To protect them from theft, or maybe just to vent while taking a break from their exhausting work, scribes wrote horrible curses in the front cover. Since people believed in curses, especially ones written by monks, it might have worked.

“For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand & rend him. Let him be struck with palsy & all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain crying aloud for mercy, & let there be no surcease to his agony till he sing in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, & when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him for ever.”

More background and curses here

Entrance to Carlsbad caverns, New Mexico

via 41 Strange on Twitter

Unsolicited Advice

Old happy couples, running out of things to talk about vs being able to be silent together

I remember once being in a restuarant with a then-boyfriend, looking at a bunch of older couples at other tables who were not saying anything to each other. I felt profoundly depressed by it, and scared, the idea that these people had just run out of things to say to each other. Why even go out together if they didb't have anything to say? I didn't want that to be my future.

And then my boyfriend said fondly, "look at those couples. They're so comfortable together that they don't feel the need to fill up the silence. I want that some day."

I was completely thrown, I had no idea that could look positive to anyone - but since then I've heard it a LOT - that their idea of a happy long-term relationship is one where they don't have to talk anymore.

(For the record let's just get out of the way that neither of us have any clue what was going on with the couples and if they were happy or not).

I'm no longer arrogant enough to think that my idea of what happiness looks like would suit everyone, but I haven't changed my mind on what it looks like for me. I don't want to run out of things to say to my partner. I don't find conversation to be a burden that I want to lay aside, I LIKE conversation.

So I'm putting this in the "there's two kinds of people" bucket. And since the "love = comfortable silence" people get a lot of the media coverage, I just wanted to say that I think it's normal and fine to be the other kind.

This excerpt below was one of the readings at my wedding. Instead of comfortable silence, it means I trust that I can gabble on about whatever to my partner, without worrying that I'm boring him, without feeling like I shouldn't bother him unless it's interesting enough or important enough, that it's okay to say whatever's on my mind, that I don't necessarily have to have a point, and if (when) sometimes I say something boring or tedious or tangled up and hard to follow, it will be okay, it doesn't mean he'll get tired of listening to me, and vice versa.

by Dinah Craik

What a blessing it is to have a friend
to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject;
with whom one’s deepest as well as one’s most foolish thoughts come out
simply and safely.
Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort
of feeling safe with a person —
having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words,
but pouring them all right out,
just as they are,
chaff and grain together;
certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them,
keep what is worth keeping,
and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.

(* chaff is the worthless husk part of the wheat, this line means worthless and valuable together)

I have had partners where I had to weigh my thoughts and measure my words, where I felt like I had to really have something worth saying to justify speaking up. I cannot recommend it to you.

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