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A Good That TranscendsHow US Culture Undermines Environmental Reform$
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Eric T. Freyfogle

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226326085

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226326252.001.0001

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Naming the Tragedy

Naming the Tragedy

(p.154) Seven Naming the Tragedy
A Good That Transcends

Eric T. Freyfogle

University of Chicago Press

Garrett Hardin’s classic work on the tragedy of the commons can stand as a kind of Rorschach test, given the widely varied ways people interpret it based on the values and presumptions they bring to bear. The differing reactions arise in part because Hardin’s tale of the uncontrolled grazing pasture is incomplete and readers fill-in the narrative gaps in differing ways. This chapter revisits Hardin’s narrative to highlight the missing pieces. At the root of the pasture degradation was the failure of the grazers to work in concert to limit their actions; it was their go-it-alone, limits-be-damned, market-driven competitive individualism. The tale thus illustrates starkly the citizen-consumer dichotomy and how rationality can produce contradictory decisions depending on whether people act alone or together. In fact, every landscape, however fragmented and privately owned, remains a commons subject to abuse in the absence of collective action. Given the gaps in Hardin’s story, readers are left to guess why the grazers failed to work together and the possible reasons are many. A now-widespread reason is the dominance of competitive, market-driven individualism. A better name for the tale is thus the tragedy of individual liberation taken too far.

Keywords:   citizen, collective action, competitive individualism, Garrett Hardin, market-driven individualism, tragedy of the commons, consumer

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