I read this article and found it very interesting, thought it might be something for you. His parable of villagers adding too many cows to their an american tragedy thesis pasture captured the essence of the problem that my thesis research was designed to solve. The farmer who added an extra cow gained an advantage over other farmers in his village but it also led to an overgrazed pasture. Is the so-called tragedy of the commons ever averted in the biological world and might this possibility provide solutions for our own species?
One plausible scenario is natural selection at the level of groups. A selfish farmer might have an advantage over other farmers in his village, but a village that somehow solved the tragedy of the commons would have a decisive advantage over other villages. At the time that Hardin published his article and I was working on my thesis, this possibility had been considered and largely rejected. A book titled Adaptation and Natural Selection, written by evolutionary biologist George C. Evolutionary theory’s individualistic turn coincided with individualistic turns in other areas of thought. Economics in the postwar decades was dominated by rational choice theory, which used individual self-interest as a grand explanatory principle.
Unbeknownst to me, another heretic named Elinor Ostrom was also challenging the received wisdom in her field of political science. I quickly realized that Lin’s core design principle approach dovetailed with multilevel selection theory, which my fellow-heretics and I had worked so hard to revive. Her approach is especially pertinent to the concept of major evolutionary transitions, whereby members of groups become so cooperative that the group becomes a higher-level organism in its own right. With disruptive competition within groups held largely in check, succeeding as a group became the main selective force in human evolution. The concordance between Lin’s core design principle approach and multilevel selection theory had three major implications. First, it placed the core design principle approach on a more general theoretical foundation. Almost any group whose members must work together to achieve a common goal is vulnerable to self-serving behaviors and should benefit from the same principles.