Saturday, January 10, 2009

Bias Against the Long-term

An increased emphasis on the long-term, in relation to the effects of current systems of production and consumption, implies sacrifice, or at least significant change, in the now. In James March's A Primer on Decision Making, he writes, "The immediacy and clarity of the present and nearby tend systematically to disadvantage the spatially and temporally distant." Also, "Correcting the bias is, however, complicated by the fact that favoring the clear and the close is sometimes necessary to survive. In that sense, at least, concerns about long-term and global intelligence must always be subordinated to valid concerns about short-term and local intelligence."

I think the key phrase is
valid concerns. How is that judgment made, where is the line drawn between need/concern and want/desire, and how can people be persuaded to deem long-term effects 'valid' that will very likely not personally affect them?

Along the same lines, according to Gilbert in Stumbling on Happiness,
when people think of distant past or future events they think abstractly about why; when thinking of events in the near past or future, people think concretely about how. For example, in a study, "when volunteers are asked to imagine themselves locking a door the next day, they describe their mental images with detailed phrases such as 'putting a key in the lock,' but when volunteers are asked to imagine themselves locking a door next year, they describe their mental images with vague phrases such as 'securing the house'." If so, even if people intend to change the way they behave for a long-term abstracted purpose, taking the concrete steps toward it each day could be a somewhat separate mental process requiring different motivation, feedback, or incentives.

"A coldly rationalist individualist can deny that he has any obligation to make sacrifices for the future."

-Ecologist Garrett Hardin

An appeal beyond the rational will very likely be necessary.

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