On 27 March 2003, Jared Diamond asked Why Do Some Societies Make Disastrous Decisions?. He said
Diamond refers to four somewhat fuzzily delineated categories:
The failure to anticipate a problem may come from lack of experience. For example, in north western Europe and the eastern part of the United States, trees that fall down into the understory rot away. In the US west, however, they can accumulate into a huge load of fuel and lead to a much larger fire than any in the east.
A society may fail to anticipate a problem because it cannot preserve the memories of events that happened generations before. For example, the Classic Lowland Maya had writing, but did not use it to record drought. When drought came they could not draw on any earlier experience.
Finally, a society may fail to anticipate a problem because the people within it reason by way of a false analogy or misleading metaphor. Diamond uses Iceland as an example: its soil is readily blown away by the wind; but the early Viking settlers thought its soil was like the heavy clay soils of Norway. Consequently,
The failure to perceive a problem that exists may arise because the problem is imperceptible. Diamond speaks of nutrient-poor soils with lush vegetation; the nutrients are in the vegetation not the soil. When plants are removed, the nutrients are removed .
A society may fail to perceive a problem that exists because of a slow trend concealed by wide up-and-down fluctuations. For example, the medieval Greenlanders had ... difficulties in recognizing that the climate was gradually becoming colder.....
Finally, distant managers, more common now than in the past, may simply not perceive a problem that is not reported to them. Diamond points out that the largest timber company in the state of Montana is based in another state and wonders whether the company executives know they have a big weed problem on their forest property.
Even after perceiving a problem, a society may fail to try to solve it.
One reason is because of clashes of interest. Some may reason accurately that they can advance their own interests by behavior that is harmful to others. Many economists refer to this as a `rational behavior' since it is rational for individuals, but not the society.
As Diamond says
A conflict between short and long term outcomes may well come from a clash between individuals or it may come from a clash within each individual.
Societies may also demonstrate `irrational behavior' that is harmful to everyone because the behavior supports individuals' deeply held values. Diamond says that much of Easter Island's deforestation resulted from such deeply held values.
Individually felt terror, anxiety, or sadness may lead to psychological denial, and if enough people share the same terror, anxiety, or sadness may lead to social denial.
Finally, a society may try to solve a problem and fail. As Diamond says
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