In the context of my writing about public goods, John Burnheim sent me the email below. (Note his use of the word ‘comedy is intended as Dante meant it – as a story where things turn out in the end).
The park in question is the wonderful park in which I walk every day, stretching for about three kilometres from the complex of apartments in which we live on the corner so Pyrmont Bridge Road and Booth Street down to Rozelle Bay and on to the Fish Market, It is full of glorious trees and lawns and a variety of facilities. It is bordered by High-density residential buildings and well used by a variety of people and pets.
In my walks I hardly ever see a dog turd, a food or drink container, not even a sweet wrapper. People take hose things away or put them in the bins because they cherish that particular public good as part of their lives. They recognise a moral obligation to refrain from spoiling it and have sufficient self-respect to feel shame if they harm it. The situation is fragile, but is, it seems to me, part of a profound change in our vies of ourselves and of the place of morality in our lives. We no longer see morality as imposed on us. But as the framework of what we want
Morality used to be presented as some set off injunctions imposed on us to curb our natural tendencies as vitiated by original sin. Morality could have little effect on our conduct except through supernatural rewards and punishments. We have now reconstructed morality to favour all that is best in human nature.
Parks, not so long ago, invariably had prominent notices forbidding various activities and threatening to punish offenders. Now the only notices are designed to assist people, it is assumed that people know very well what to do or refrain from doing, not only because that is how they want it, but also because they enjoy being among others who are enjoying themselves.
However, calling the change in the content and status of morality profound is dangerous. It is better understood as a lot of specific changes that need to be
kept under review from different points of view. Various models like the Tragedy of the commons apply to certain activities in certain circumstances, while the Comedy of the Parks and other models apply to different situations. It is extremely dangerous to strive to give any one model such as Prisoners Dilemma the status of THE correct analysis in terms of which certain types of behaviour, say to public goods, must be explained.