In THE MORAL ECONOMY, Samuel Bowles explains Why Good Incentives Are No Substitute for Good Citizens. Professor Bowles claims that incentives—particularly the material, pecuniary kind so beloved of economists—can undermine good citizenship. A society designed around the fictitious Homo Economicus, that calculating creature driven exclusively by self-interest narrowly understood as material gain, runs the risk of producing precisely such individuals. Professor Bowles believes that the first step to take in reforming capitalism is to replace Homo Economicus with a more holistic understanding of human beings as they are and as we would like them to be; whether laws and public policies can ever accomplish that remains to be seen.
Jordan Fisher Smith’s ENGINEERING EDEN uses the 1972 killing of a young man by a grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park as the lens through which to view the “fight over controlling nature” and the debate over what “nature” even means. That debate, as Harry Walker’s death showed, had (and has) far more than academic consequences; the history of human attempts to manage complicated ecosystems and the creatures within them highlights both the reach of our ambitions and the limits of our wisdom. The “observer principle” in science has been paraphrased by the poet George Grace as You cannot look without touching, you cannot touch without moving: every step we take in trying to “restore nature,” however carefully considered it might be, has unintended consequences. We always know less than we think we do; our ignorance is always greater than we suspect.
Speaking of which, TO SAVE EVERYTHING, CLICK HERE is Evgeny Morozov’s manifesto against The Folly of Technological Solutionism. Morozov insists “not everything that could be fixed should be fixed…sometimes, imperfect is good enough; sometimes it’s much better than perfect.” Morozov sets out “to uncover the attitudes, dispositions, and urges that comprise the solutionist mind-set, to show how they manifest themselves in specific projects to ameliorate the human condition, and to hint at how and why some of these attitudes, dispositions, and urges can and should be resisted, circumvented, and unlearned.”
Why, you might ask, would anyone want to resist ameliorating the human condition? Because, says Morozov:
Imperfection, ambiguity, opacity, disorder, and the opportunity to err, to sin, to do the wrong thing: all of these are constitutive of human freedom, and any concentrated effort to root them out will root out that freedom as well. If we don’t find the strength and the courage to escape the silicon mentality that fuels much of the current quest for technological perfection, we risk finding ourselves with a politics devoid of everything that makes politics desirable, with humans who have lost their basic capacity for moral reasoning, with lackluster (if not moribund) cultural institutions that don’t take risks and only care about their financial bottom lines, and, most terrifyingly, with a perfectly controlled social environment that would make dissent not just impossible but possibly even unthinkable.
Aside from all that, there’s not much at stake.