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Remarkable planet, really - Elf M. Sternberg
Remarkable planet, really
There's a portion of First Avenue that twists and turns as it follows the topography of Puget Sound, descending from the town of Burien into the marina district. It's two-lane and many drivers take it far too fast. Yesterday, during a dark and rainy afternoon, I saw the consequences: in one of the most twisty parts, an SUV and a Honda Accord had had a brief one-third head-on encounter.

I must have arrived within minutes of the accident; traffic was not yet backed up appreciably. Nobody seemed injured; both cars had airbags and the damage wasn't that great, so my guess is that one car was waiting for a turn. It looked as if the Accord driver had gone over the line and hit the SUV.

Already, several cars had pulled over to render assistance or provide witnesses. Remarkably, several people had already broken open emergency kits from the backs of their cars and deployed flares. Even more remarkably, two men were already directing traffic, controlling access to the one remaining lane back and forth. Neither could see the other around the bend, so they were using cell phones.

As a fully realized rational instance of Homo Economicus, I wondered why. After all, there's nothing in it for these people. They don't get any rational benefit at all from participating. Their economic value isn't improved; nor, really, does their social value increase in any appreciable way. The others are strangers, unlikely to be encountered ever again. These strangers burn resources and decrease their long-term prospects by participating in these acts.

I almost wanted to shout out my window, "Go home! You're just wasting your precious time here!" But then, that would have not been a rational use of my resources. Also, given that those people were clearly not rational themselves, the reaction to my stimuli would also not have been rational or predictable. Best to play it safe, then. Just move along.

Tags: ,
Current Mood: satirical

11 comments or Leave a comment
atheorist From: atheorist Date: January 19th, 2011 07:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
If there are agents that can detect sincerity, and value altruism in their allies, it can be rational to self-modify to become altruistic in order to ally with them - the altruism's cost during emergencies does not necessarily outweigh the advantage of being sincerely altruistic during non-emergencies.

From: technoshaman Date: January 19th, 2011 09:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
And he puzzled and puzzed 'til his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. "Maybe being human," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe being human...perhaps...means a little bit more."

I know the satire bit is set on this post, but I just hadda. Too bad *my* altruism doesn't extend to Russian mafioski, or I'd still have my Grinch icon to go with it...
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 19th, 2011 11:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
HAh! I see wut u did thar.
lemur123 From: lemur123 Date: January 20th, 2011 12:45 am (UTC) (Link)

John Galt hasn't yet convinced them.
ionotter From: ionotter Date: January 20th, 2011 02:02 am (UTC) (Link)


From: (Anonymous) Date: January 21st, 2011 05:46 am (UTC) (Link)

Homo Economicusociobiologoevolutionaripsychologiculudicuuus

Subjectively, it's kind of fun to solve social problems successfully IMHO.

In some kind of evolutionary sociopsycholulology, doing it in public provides a signaling device. It shows prospective coalition partners that you are able to successfully handle crises and solve problems. (Works good on prospective mates, in both U.S. and Australian senses of the word!)

If you are a (real world version of) homo economicus, good signaling can help you obtain stuff that money alone can't buy.

If you're an animal that plays, playing helps you develop the ability to do things for real, or for realer. Surely solving real social problems that you are not required to solve can provide benefits similar to the benefits of 'pure play'.

If you're a rationalizer, directing traffic can surely be justified. :-)
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 21st, 2011 05:49 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Homo Economicusociobiologoevolutionaripsychologiculudicuuus

I wish to add:

I think those 2 people with the cell phones directing traffic successfully signaled *to each other* information about their abilities that can help them evaluate *each other* as future coalition partners in solving other problems, even in less altruistic projects. IMHO.
gromm From: gromm Date: January 22nd, 2011 12:53 am (UTC) (Link)
That sure beats the pants off of the last serious accident I witnessed, which could be better described as being chaotic and disorganized. But I suspect it might have something to do with the shock of the situation.

A sedan barged into an intersection at over 70km/h and plowed into the driver's side door of an SUV that was just starting a left-hand turn. Then the sedan caught fire in the engine compartment.

There was a lot of pedestrian traffic, in no small part because a couple of buses had just emptied themselves. Mostly, people stood around in shocked horror. A couple of guys hauled the driver of the sedan out of a window after they smashed it in. Noone directed traffic (which would have been sorely needed to get emergency services in) until the police eventually arrived to do so. Many witnesses gave statements, but I don't think many were particularly helpful.

So yeah. It all depends on how shocking and horrible the accident is.
rkda From: rkda Date: January 31st, 2011 11:14 am (UTC) (Link)

I'm disappointed by your position

You personally benefited from their efforts, in the form of easier navigation past the incident.

At the same time you fail to recognize the value of the skills in use. Ad-hock group problem solving is of enormous value to society as a whole.

If they receive no other compensation than that they get to post an "I did it" story on their own blog, something which you often do, and for which you gain a considerable amount of whuffie.

Their actions had value, to society, and they made the world net-better while they performed those actions.

I for one am delitghted to hear the story, not so much with your analysis.
elfs From: elfs Date: January 31st, 2011 04:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: I'm disappointed by your position

Someone can't read: "Current Mood: satirical"
rkda From: rkda Date: February 5th, 2011 12:41 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: I'm disappointed by your position

My apologies...missed that detail.
Some times it's the little things that matter most =))
11 comments or Leave a comment