Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Desert Island Scenarios – A Great Tool In My Bag.

In my experience, I have generally found that people take a point much better when put in the context of a desert island – and I think with good reason. It is hard for anybody in my generation not to think of the hardships Tom Hanks went through in the movie Cast Away to light a fire upon the mention of a desert island. A desert island example asserts the primacy of existence view and keeps the listener anchored to reality. The listener understands that the cars and supermarkets he takes for granted in a division of labor of society will not pop out of the sky on a desert island. The islander has to take the necessary goal-directed action for him to survive. As Ayn Rand once said, "Reality confronts man with a great many "musts," but all of them are conditional; the formula of realistic necessity is: "You must, if " and the "if" stands for man's choice."

For instance, say ten people were deserted instead of just Tom Hanks, the rules established amongst men will that of a laissez faire system that does not hinder progress in any fashion. It would most likely be a government established by well intentioned men demarcating freedom whenever disputes arise trying to charter out a better course for survival.A good government. Is that an oxymoron? It's what Glenn Woiceshyn wrote in his excellent post, "What is a good government?" He takes the example of a desert island and logically gets to the fact that capitalism is the only moral and practical system on earth. Here's an excerpt:

"Imagine escaping alone from a tyrannical country and becoming shipwrecked on a desert island. All you have are some fruit and vegetable seeds in your pocket. You are young and intelligent, but without special skills.

To stay alive, you must obtain food and fresh water, and maintain a fire for warmth and cooking, which initially consumes all your time. You soon figure out how to produce your basic survival needs more efficiently -- by constructing fish traps, farming tools, an irrigation system -- thus allowing you to accumulate "savings," which buys you time and affords you insurance against unforseen setbacks, such as storms, injuries, illness.
With the time saved, you discover how to produce other goods, such as clothes, tools, a shelter, furniture, etc., for enhancing your life. You enjoy inventing new technology to increase your production, but find yourself quite limited, not to mention lonely, on your own.
Hurray! Others become shipwrecked. Each person, rather than produce all his own needs himself, focuses on producing one item efficiently, then trades his surplus production at the market for the produced goods of others.
You marvel at the production efficiency of the "division of labour," and the corresponding enhancement of everyone's life, especially when you now have tools, engines, machines, electricity, etc., to enhance production. Consequently, life is more safe, secure, comfortable and enjoyable.

You had specialized in petroleum production but some clever upstart competes with you and produces oil much more efficiently; so you switch to farming. You tell yourself that your desire to produce oil isn't a rational reason to despise or block someone's superior ability. Such reactions would not be in your rational self-interest, let alone anyone else's.

Many more become shipwrecked and specialize in various productive endeavors, thus yielding a greater quantity, variety and quality of goods and services on the market. "Immigration is good," you conclude.""

Arguments ranging from immigration to the gold standard could be made in this fashion. The reason, I think, why such examples work well is because it scales down the issues of the world to a personal level. It cancels out all the hype, popular myth and idiocy and asks the listener to think for himself. I mean the fact that movements like antitrust and environmentalism are incompatible with human life doesn't take very long to understand when there is nobody's blood to suck in the form of taxes or grants. One could then proceed to tell the listener that in fundamental terms, the relationship of a man with reality does not change – in a desert island or in a division of labor society.

I also suspect that crow epistemology is at work here. A desert island example greatly reduces the amount of perceptual data one requires in making a rational decision by scaling it down to the personal level. One has to deal with a relatively few number of concretes and is thus, easier to see through things clearly. Instead of bearing in mind a lot of details, if one wishes to communicate in essentials, I think desert island examples do an excellent job.


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