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What are the implications of optimising for “I” over “we” on the peak paradox framework?

There appear to be more opportunities to optimise for "I" than "we".

A question I have been mulling over is, “In a free market can we optimise for many things simultaneously, or is the free actually a ‘freedom’ to enable everyone to choose the one (or very few) things they want to optimise for?”

I have been reflecting on the structure of the Peak Paradox framework as I have finished reading some 2022 published books on behavioural economics, decision making and uncertainty. The Peak Paradox framework provides a lens for decision-making in uncertain times to ensure we consider and value many perspectives equally and fairly. This is needed as the previous generation’s actions had consequences that we are now responsible for solving, and as a good ancestor, I am keen not to create new or accelerate existing.

In the language of economics, the concept of a free market is a system in which the prices for goods and services are self-regulated by buyers and sellers negotiating in an open market without market coercion. In other words, there is an unregulated system of economic exchange in which taxes, quality controls, quotas, tariffs, and other forms of centralised economic interventions by the government either do not exist or are minimal. A truly free market does not exist.

In our versions of a free-market, there are two tribes of individuals, one bounded by economics and the other by law. An individual bound by economics believes in the entitlement of property rights derived from one own effort (possessive individualism). The market validates this belief (market fundamentalism) as the market tries to impose as fewer restrictions as possible. The second tribe is individuals who build on the ideas of claims of entitlement (my rights). The self in both tribes is above the obligations to others. Both individuals here have communities who think and act like they do and provide confirmational bias. When the two tribes of individuals mix, we end up with some very extreme views and behaviours that create incompatible ideals with a big society, such as:

Utilitarian individualism is a form of individualism that takes as given basic human appetites and fears and sees human life as an effort by individuals to maximise their self-interest relative to these given ends. Utilitarian individualism views society as arising from a contract that individuals enter only to advance their self-interest. Utilitarian individualism has an affinity to a basic economic understanding of existence.

Expressive individualism is a form of individualism that arose in opposition to utilitarian individualism (above). Expressive individualism holds that each person has a unique core of feeling and intuition that should unfold or be expressed if individuality is to be realised. Under certain conditions, the expressive individualist may find it possible through intuitive feeling to “merge” with other persons, with nature, or with the cosmos as a whole.

There is a massive body of academic work unpicking what the individual is optimised for, with wildly different hypotheses under any belief system; they agree that the outcome is - “the individual benefits more than society”. There is no Peak Paradox, as with the purity of other peaks, as there is clarity on what you are optimising for. This does not mean all those in this tribe will have the same purpose, mission, values, goals, ethics, or moral fabric; it is just that in whatever belief model you hold, the individual outcome is prioritised over the societal outcome.

However, when we try to optimise for us, we, society, citizens and not I, me, like me, same tribe, same thinking, like-minded, same beliefs: we embrace a wider area on the Peak Paradox framework. This widening of what we optimise for creates tensions and conflicts; we must discover compromise and live with stress. There appear to be more opportunities to optimise for “I” than “We” in the framework, and if you do, decision-making is easier. However, optimising for “I” does not translate into an easy life or better relationships. Optimising for “I” does create a simple linear narrative that is easy to understand and aim for.

Optimising for Peak Society/ Group Purpose is the reality of life for most humans - nothing is simple, and there is no magic solution, but together we can achieve more.

Those optimising for “I” and not “We” understand this and engage in social engineering and informational “saturation” attacks — a military tactic in which an opponent hopes to gain an advantage by mentally overwhelming an adversary by adding to the volatility uncertainty complexity and ambiguity of their situation. They take the already complicated decision-making processes “we” have when optimising for society and make them appear more complex. They find different data for an alternative outcome. They imply the compromise is too far or not enough. Their criticism is not for improvement but to increase tension and stress so that the backing fads and support evaporates.

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