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Pandemic and Prosocial Strategies

The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley published an interview with Paul Atkins on principles of prosocial action that will help us to maintain community during the pandemic. The principles and prescriptions are sound. I had a few points to make regarding historical interpretation.


Adam Smith wrote on the tragedy of the commons in “The Wealth of Nations.” His prescription was that government must ensure the well-being of specialized workers made unnecessary by changes in technology. This is an aspect of his humane judgment omitted by the neo-conservative economists that coined the phrase “greed is good” in the ’80s. As Smith was the authority they cited, I think that it is important to honor his opinions.

What is cited as Asian “collectivism” is typical of all agricultural societies. It is evaporating under the opportunities for rapacity allowed by rapid industrialization and centralized political control.

Both phenomena are supported by the original form of “social distancing”: the creation of gated communes for the wealthy that enable them to avoid confrontation with those suffering the consequences of their narcissism. The COVID-19 pandemic is a great leveler of those privileges, as will be the consequences of global climate change. Their preserves, often sited in the most desirable of environments, will suffer the greatest disruption.

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