Obeying traffic rules, throwing garbage in the garbage can, recycling stuff, not making too much noise in a residential area and switching off electrical appliances when not using them are all examples of things that will significantly improve human condition if everyone in the world starts following them. However, not many people do, even the ones who are convinced that following them will improve human condition in the long run. The reason is that we are all programmed by evolution to not care about the long run. We are all victims of hyperbolic discount. We take most of our decisions based on what will give us immediate rewards and what won’t. Next time you find yourself swearing at a person who’s driving like an idiot, think about all the hours of your life you have wasted procrastinating. You are very similar to that person in the sense that both of you are doing something that you shouldn’t be doing just because your brain isn’t capable enough to consider the big picture every time it’s making a decision.
So what’s the solution? You might think that the solution is simple. All that’s needed is that people should become intelligent enough to understand what they should do and then do that and that it’s a pity that they are not that intelligent. Unfortunately, this is not as much a solution as it is stating the problem in a different way, in the sense that solving this is as difficult as solving the original problem. If this is all you have had to say, then you have made no contribution. A real solution is to accept the fact that people’s (including your own) brains are limited and then design a system where people somehow get immediate rewards on doing good things. It’s not necessary to make the rewards monetory. It can be anything, even a simple pleasure. This is exactly what’s being done at http://www.thefuntheory.com/ and it’s totally awesome. I found out about them just now and I suddenly have too much respect for them.