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The Rat's Ass Problem

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Mar. 12th, 2010 | 03:29 pm

Under the loose theory that rational people would not screw over their close friends and family but would be tempted to screw over a complete stranger if they could get away with it and gain great personal advantage, the Rat's Ass Ideology is one where someone or a group of someones has clearly chosen a course of action or ideology because they really don't give a rat's ass about the people who would be adversely affected by it. The Rat's Ass Ideology could be said to be in opposition to The Golden Rule that states to do unto others as you would have them do unto you or not to do unto others, blah blah blah.

The Rat's Ass Problem is one where the number of individuals, within a social network of people, engaging in Rat's Ass behaviors is such that the social equilibrium tilts from stable to collapsing. The Rat's Ass Problem is a significant one in tightly-coupled social and economic systems primarily due to the inability of most people to predict or estimate the second or third order effects of their individual actions on interwoven system components. It is related to The Tragedy of the Commons Problem but a little more insidious. In the Commons, rational behavior leads to the eventual breakdown of a system by degrees. In the Rat's Ass Problem, locally-selfish rational but systemically-irrational behavior actively forces a breakdown of a system. Steven D. Levitt has a nice essay on bagel economics that illustrates this quite nicely.

A common form of Rat's Ass thinking is to use "Us" and "Them" thinking to justify Rat's Ass behaviors. "It's okay to screw Them over because they're not Us." In more extreme forms, "They" also deserve what they got.

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