Eden Redux, Or, The Endless Return Of The Tragedy Of The Commons

One of the more intriguing aspects of life is that there are many situations where we see the same old problems over and over again in new forms.  The contemporary fear of missing out and the environmental concern over the tragedy of the commons are different formulations in different contexts of a problem that goes all the way back to the garden of Eden [1].  Let us bring to mind the situation.  Mankind was placed in a beautiful garden and two trees were placed in the midst of it.  One of those trees, the tree of the knowledge (in this case, experiential knowledge) of good and evil was strictly forbidden on pain of death, and first Eve and then Adam took of that tree due to the deception and manipulation of Satan.  In many ways, we have never left that garden.  Over and over again we as human beings face the same kind of choice that was placed before Adam and Eve and despite the way that we lament the evil and death and corruption in this world, we make the same choice that they did over and over again.

How so?  Let us count the ways.  First, let us assume that scientists and contemporary elites around the world are right that in order for the world to survive that mankind must moderate its ways.  For the sake of argument, let us say that we must take better care of the water that we use and avoid using the wrong kinds of fuels that pump carbon dioxide into the air.  Yet this choice must not be made only by those nations which are well-off, but by the whole world.  We are faced here with a tragedy of the commons where we know there is a limited capacity of an environment to grow cattle or raise chickens or burn fossil fuels, but we also know that if we do not do these things that enough people will do these things to destroy the commons and we would rather gain some benefit than to suffer the entire externality without having received any benefit from it ourselves.  Let us note that those nations which are the best off in the world are those nations which industrialized first or which provide those fossil fuels to the rest of the world, making them poor moral guides.  Will the world step back from the brink and avoid acting self-destructively?  Probably not.

Let us look at another example, if the environment is not our cup of tea.  If we look at biblical morality, the standard for acceptable sexuality is between a husband and a wife and anything outside of this narrow boundary leads to unhappiness, misery, and the destruction of relationships as well as our own lives.  We live in a world where the miseries of divorce, the rampant curse of illegitimacy and attempts by government to act as a surrogate father in hopelessly broken families as well as the scourge of sexual transmitted diseases are all too common.  Yet mankind will not accept the boundaries that God has set around sexuality.  Nor is it clear what boundaries mankind will accept.  Will we accept a boundary of sexuality between a man and a woman, between two people who have reached the age of consent, or between human beings of any age, number, or gender?  Whatever line we place, there are going to be people who will push against it because their longings push them on and because they see no benefit in restraining themselves from their desires.  If it is intolerable that we should be alone and that our longings for intimacy and love, as we define it, should go unsatisfied, then any line that divides us from what we desire will be intolerable to us, come what may.

If we only had our own longings for well-being and well-feeling, it would be hard enough.  Our envy of those who were better off and our desire to live as they do and our lusts to find someone or something to satisfy our longing for intimacy are powerful enough on their own to bring a great deal of trouble to most of us.  Yet we do not deal with our longings alone.  Our longings are continually played upon and inflamed by others.  If we are single, we are bombarded by social media of photos of happy couples and messages in music, sermons, and movies that life is better with someone by our side and that we are somehow less than we could be on our own.  Everywhere we turn we are surrounded by advertisements appeal to our sexuality or our desire for respect and esteem with purchases that promise us these elusive qualities.  If we desire to restrain ourselves, it is not enough that we deal with our internal qualities which are frequently bent and which frequently lead us into trouble, but we must also deal with external qualities, entire systems of marketing and advertising as well as legal and cultural norms that simultaneously encourage and inflame longings while also punishing them, depending on the precise mix and the precise situation.  If anyone should feel surprised or upset about this mix, we ought not to be surprised because these problems have been with us since the beginning of humanity.  We always want something across some line, and so when we are presented with the same situation faced by Adam and Eve, even knowing that trouble lies on the other side, we make the same decisions as they do over and over again.

[1] See, for example:




About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Biblical History, Christianity, History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Eden Redux, Or, The Endless Return Of The Tragedy Of The Commons

  1. Pingback: Some Thoughts On The Fall Of Adam And Eve | Edge Induced Cohesion

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