Ming the Mechanic:
Why do societies make disastrous decisions?

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Why do societies make disastrous decisions?2003-05-06 23:59
6 comments
picture by Flemming Funch

University professor Jared Diamond talks about why societies sometimes make decisions that result in their collapse, or why they fail to make decisions that would have rectified things.
What I'm going to suggest is a road map of factors in failures of group decision making. I'll divide the answers into a sequence of four somewhat fuzzily delineated categories. First of all, a group may fail to anticipate a problem before the problem actually arrives. Secondly, when the problem arrives, the group may fail to perceive the problem. Then, after they perceive the problem, they may fail even to try to solve the problem. Finally, they may try to solve it but may fail in their attempts to do so. While all this talking about reasons for failure and collapses of society may seem pessimistic, the flip side is optimistic: namely, successful decision-making. Perhaps if we understand the reasons why groups make bad decisions, we can use that knowledge as a check list to help groups make good decisions.
There's an interesting little video on the site of him lecturing about it as well. Why is that kind of clarity and simplicity only found scattered among people who lecture and write books? I mean, why aren't people who ask such questions part of running our societies?

Some of what he talks about is environmental mis-management. For example, the people on Easter Island cut down all the forests on their rather small island, to build canoes, roll around statues, and whatever they were doing. Thus they killed the resources their lives depended on, and they started dying off, turning to canibalism, etc. until they had turned themselves into a faint shadown of their former glory. A question is: What did the Easter Islanders think as they were cutting down the last tree? That wasn't any subtle mistake. Did they really not notice? How can we avoid making that kind of mistakes? Or, since we probably already are - how can we truly comprehend that as a society?


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6 comments

7 May 2003 @ 06:58 by lugon @195.53.174.20 : it's all feedback
Or rather, feedback and mind-models.

Few trees - must be the gods or whatever.
But just LOOK: it is YOU who is cutting the trees!
Sure, but it must be the gods or whatever.

Yeah, it may be that *looking* is a difficult thing to do when we have so many concepts. Or maybe ...  



7 May 2003 @ 10:46 by quidnovi : ...and narrow-minded politics, too:
"we support market-oriented, property rights-based, locally controlled solutions" or whatever ;-)  


7 May 2003 @ 12:04 by quidnovi : The obfuscation of "unfacts":
This from Roger Hoppe (buzzflash.com):

"UNFACTS: Some statements sound like facts when they're really just opinions or at best half-facts. I call them unfacts. An unfact is a statement that sounds like a fact but isn't a fact. Most people can't recognize an unfact when they hear it. A few examples would be: "There is a growing threat of terrorism", "SUVs are safer than lighter vehicles", "family values are on the decline". If challenged on these points, you can easily defend them, because they're not real facts. Simply back up the unfact with another unfact! This can go on ad infinitum."

Thank you, Roger.  



7 May 2003 @ 13:15 by ming : Unfacts
That's a very important observation. Universally known techniques for better unfact detection would be even better.  


7 May 2003 @ 14:08 by frank4zen @64.12.96.230 : like your logs
you are so cool!  


10 May 2003 @ 13:19 by sharie : Disastrous Decisions?
Our values and beliefs determine our decisions, so we gotta know our values and our beliefs are going to lead us to healthy, happy living... or else we've gotta choose new values and create new beliefs.  


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