Published August 30, 2014
This is the third and final post, in a three post series. The series questions some assumptions underlying libertarianism, from an NLRBE-informed perspective. It expands upon a written dialogue I recently had with a libertarian friend of mine. I thought the topic might interest other NLRBE-advocates.
More specifically, the series covers the following three issues that my friend and I discussed:
- Sustainability and decentralization, covered in the first blog post;
- Property rights, morality, and government enforcement, covered in the second blog post; and
- Competition, cooperation, evolution, and morality, covered in this final blog post of the series.
So, on to competition, cooperation, evolution, and morality:
- Studies show cooperation helps species survive evolution better than competition
- How could it could be that cooperation yields greater evolutionary fitness than competition?
- How could cooperation could ever be rational, for an individual actor, facing limited resources, in a given moment?
- How the supposed “benefits” to the evolutionary fitness of our species, claimed to be realizable by running a fully competitive economic system, which accepts the possibility of “the weak” simply being allowed to”die off,” are illusory.
- How the “negatives” of running a fully competitive economic system, which accepts the possibility of “the weak” simply being allowed to “die off,” are numerous and disastrous, both for individuals and the species as a whole, and why we can’t rely upon morality to escape those negatives.
- Why the common misperception that evolution favors the most competitive.
My libertarian friend’s perspective:
“Understand that competition is good. Survival of the fittest is good. Dog eat dog is good. It shouldn’t be too hard. It’s what got us here in the first place. Without competitive evolution, we’d be a lump of slime. Competition in markets and ideas is one of the most powerful tools humanity wields. It’s the most feared notion by the ruling class. Competition tends toward producing the best outcome…”
This is a commonly held view, to be sure.
But what if the opposite is in fact the case? That is, what if the evolutionarily “fittest” individuals and species are actually those who cooperate best, rather than those who compete best.
After a great deal of thought, study, and review of relevant research, I have concluded that the opposite is in fact the case.
That is, I have concluded that the individuals and species most likely to survive evolution are those who cooperate best, not those who compete best.
Darwin himself concluded that those species most likely to survive natural selection (“survival of the fittest” was not his term, but Herbert Spencer’s) are not the physically strongest, nor the most cunning, but those who learn to mutually support one another, strong and weak alike, for the welfare of the community as a whole.
Based on studies of numerous species, Darwin found that “those communities which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.” The Descent of Man, 2nd ed., p 163.
And the documentation of such findings, about the most cooperative animals being the ones that survive best, continued from Darwin’s time on. It is covered well in books like “Mutual aid: A Factor of Evolution,” by Peter Kropotkin and “Cooperation Among Animals,” by W.C. Alley, and “Darwin,” by Ashley Montague.
As summarized in the book “No Contest: The Case Against Competition,” by Alfie Kohn, “[Researchers have concluded] not only that animals [who have survived natural selection] tend to avoid competition, but that their behaviors [are] overwhelmingly characterized by its opposite – cooperation.”
As also noted in the book “No Contest,” by Alfie Kohn, “It is in the interest of both individuals (or species) if they do not compete over, say, a watering hole; migration is one of many strategies that will allow both parties to survive.”
The example of the cooperative, win-win strategy of migration reminds me of ways in which some humans have learned to communicate cooperatively.
Pockets of humanity have experimented successfully with various cooperative communication methods. These methods permit fluid discovery of win-win “third ways.” These “third ways” are essentially mutually beneficial strategies. They permit all parties to survive, and even thrive, without the stress, death, and destruction so often accompanying competition.
Examples of such communication methods include interest-based negotiation, various consensus processes, and Nonviolent Communication™.
All of these methods essentially try to look underneath people’s incompatible strategies, of trying to acquire and exert exclusive dominance over the exact same item, for example. They look for underlying “interests,” or “needs,” and brainstorm creative strategies for meeting all the needs, in peaceful, nonviolent, cooperation.
I think of these communication methods when I read the migration example above. It’s as though each species discovered that their underlying need was water, not the identical strategy of drinking from the exact same watering hole, at the exact same time. It’s as though they used interest-based thinking, negotiating, and brainstorming, and thereby discovered the mutually beneficial strategy of simply traveling as necessary to access more watering holes. A doable way for all to drink and survive in peace.
And so, although it’s unlikely that many other species use anything like the human version of “interest-based thinking, negotiating, brainstorming,” they clearly do discover mutually beneficial strategies, thereby avoiding the death and destruction that so often comes along with competition.
So, you might say then that one way in which cooperation could yield greater evolutionary fitness than competition, is by allowing for the peaceful discovery and implementation of creative strategies, which permit more needs to get met, with less violence, death, and destruction in the process.
IV. How could cooperation could ever be rational, for an individual actor, facing limited resources, in a given moment?
I love the way Alfie Kohn put this question, in his book “No Contest,” “The fact that we do not generally do our best in a competitive situation will strike some people as being beside the point. Here are two hungry individuals; there is one dinner. Here are 10 unemployed laborers; there is one job. How can the individuals involved be expected to do anything but compete? Isn’t competition the most productive response – indeed, the only rational one?”
I equally love his answer to this apparent quandary:
“The answer, I will argue, is that it depends on the perspective we take and even on our definition of rationality itself. Calling our basic assumptions into question tends to make habitual solutions seem much less obvious. . . . We can offer definite opinion – or any opinion, for that matter – only if we have accepted at face value a hypothetical situation (condensed into one sentence) that freezes the action. . . . Competing for a job or plate of food is a reasonable choice only if we restrict our vision to the situation as it exists in a given instant – if we disregard causes, consequences, and context. Really, we should want to know why the desired object is in short supply, what might’ve prevented the situation from having developed in the first place, how a competitive response will affect the two individuals tomorrow (as well as what other consequences it will have), and so forth.”
We can see from contemplating the foregoing, how it could be that individuals and species who consider broader causes, consequences, and context, who proactively look for mutually beneficial ways to get all needs met cooperatively, might be the most “rational” of all.
In other words, while it may be relatively rational to compete in a given moment, when our short-term survival is at stake, when we have not taken preventative measures, and when we’re not aware of any immediately available, cooperative, win-win alternatives, wouldn’t it be most rational to prevent such dilemmas from occurring in the first instance?
That is, we might say that it would be most rational of all 1) to proactively and cooperatively prevent such tragic dilemmas from arising in the first place; and 2) when such dilemmas do nonetheless arise, habitually seek out and adopt cooperative alternatives whenever possible.
Likewise, perhaps we could see how those individuals and species who are most rational, in the foregoing sense, might also be those best equipped to survive natural selection; and how those individuals and species best able to establish such rational, forward thinking cooperation as their societal norm (in the observational sense, as in what’s usually or typically displayed, not in the moral sense), might be the best equipped of all.
Why might forward-thinking cooperation being the norm be so advantageous?
In a society in which cooperation is the norm, it seems safe to assume that all parties would regularly choose to cooperate, having been habituated and enculturated to make this choice, and having developed deep, justifiable trust that others would therefore make the cooperative choice as well. We can predict a “virtuous” cycle would ensue, in which cooperative outcomes and all concomitant benefits would become increasingly ensured.
Let’s examine all the aforementioned conclusions in the context of the classic Prisoners’ Dilemma game, so popular among psychologists.
The game presents a “frozen moment” in time, the type Alfie Kohn described in the portion of “No Contest” as excerpted above.
That is, in the game, cooperation is not the norm, immediate short-term well-being is on the line, preventative steps have apparently not been taken, and broadest consequences and context have not been considered.
Therefore, not surprisingly, it’s a situation in which players always “rationally,” i.e., in the lesser sense, described earlier, choose sub-optimal outcomes. The outcomes are sub-optimal for both each player as an individual, and for the two of them together, considered as a unit or small group.
The game goes like this, as explained here:
“Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of speaking to or exchanging messages with the other. The police admit they don’t have enough evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge. They plan to sentence both to a year in prison on a lesser charge. Simultaneously, the police offer each prisoner a Faustian bargain. Each prisoner is given the opportunity either to betray the other [to ‘defect’], by testifying that the other committed the crime, or to cooperate with the other by remaining silent [to ‘cooperate’].”
Each of two players – under the above fact-pattern – simultaneously chooses to “cooperate” or “defect,” and their decisions, taken together, determine the rewards:
- Both cooperate (i.e., both remain silent, and each can be and is only convicted on the lesser charge):
- You: 1 year
- Other: 1 year
- One defects; the other cooperates (i.e., the defector testifies that the cooperator committed the principal charge, punishable by 2 years in prison, in exchange for being set free, while the cooperator remains silent):
- Defector: 0 years
- Cooperator: 3 years (convicted on both the primary and lesser charge)
- Both defect (i.e., both agree to testify that the other committed the principal charge in exchange for only being prosecuted for that principal and not the lesser charge, presumably):
- You: 2
- Other: 2
In addition to parameters already discussed, the game assumes that the prisoners have no loyalty to one another and they will have no opportunity for retribution or reward outside the game, which will be played only once. The game also assumes and factors in no awareness or concern about broader consequences, or internal individual reward from acting altruistically or cooperatively, either for its own sake or in the name of the common good.
Given all the above, understandably, the prediction is that you will always get “rationally,” in the lesser sense, chosen double defections.
That is, the situation has not been proactively prevented, and, in the moment neither prisoner will have enough trust in the other, independently assured well-being, or other sufficient motivation, to “rationally” be able to take the risk of cooperating. Hence, both will defect.
So, with the game as originally structured at least, you will always get second best individual outcomes, and third best group total outcome (the latter because there are a hefty four years served total if both defect; three years total served if one defects and the other cooperates; and only two years total served if both cooperate).
Now, think of the Prisoners’ Dilemma in a different context. Imagine it in the realm of competition for resources to survive. And imagine players can communicate with one another. All other factors, such as cooperation not being the norm, etc., are the same.
In such a game, we might predict many would conclude it would be in their best interests to put their energy into trying to trick others into cooperating, while they defect. After all, in this version of the game, as in real life, players can communicate with one another. And, all appearances suggest that trying to trick others into cooperation while one defects would yield the best individual outcome, or at least the best narrow, short-term individual outcome, right?
And one might go further and argue that many of the wealthy in our world do just that. Consider the psychological manipulation, via advertising and propaganda, that the wealthy can afford to, and do in fact, research and apply. It is used to convince the masses to cooperate with, to literally “buy into,” a system that increasingly leaves them worse off relative to the wealthy (see page 20 of this thorough Unicef report).
But what if even the wealthy began to see that it was in their broader, long-term (and hence future short-term) best interests, to instead support all, including themselves, in regularly choosing mutual cooperation? What if they thereby became motivated to help create a society in which the most rational approach of all, proactive, mutual cooperation, was the norm and hence could routinely become the most rational choice for individuals in each moment as well?
Perhaps the wealthy might conclude and act on this, if there was more exposure to relatively recent research, demonstrating that the kind of inequality represented by 3-0 outcomes, is ultimately unhealthy and unsustainable for all, across the income spectrum. (For all the details and evidence supporting this conclusion, see section VI, below). And if there were greater understanding of the fact that mutual cooperation could help us survive as a species better than competition, as detailed throughout this post. And if there were more widely dispersed knowledge about how a cooperative economy, such as an NLRBE, could make cooperation the norm, and ultimately yield higher levels of short-term individual, as well as long-term and species-wide well-being, as detailed in this post?
Perhaps then, we might see more and more of the wealthy, and others who have independently secured well-being, doing whatever they could to help make cooperation the norm. This might, in turn, help proactively and preventatively minimize the number of Prisoners’ Dilemmas that occur in the first place.
But what’s the importance of “independently secured well-being”?
First, consider the following.
Some who have continued research into variations of the Prisoners’ Dilemma game have found that mutual cooperation is a more likely outcome when there will be an unknown number of repeated games played, and at least one party starts with cooperation by default, only responding with non-cooperation in response to a non-cooperative move by the other side, and periodically “forgiving,” i.e., cooperating despite a prior defection by the other side. Perhaps this works better because playing “nice” in this way helps build trust. For more on this research, click here.
Putting this research in the context of our real-life, competition-for-survival-resources version of the Prisoners’ Dilemma, we can hypothesize that players who are have independently secured well-being, e.g., who are independently wealthy or otherwise able to comfortably survive or “afford” a sacrifice of short-term gain, and who understand and care about the importance of establishing normalized, proactive, mutual cooperation, might be those most able to cooperate, even when the other side, predictably, defects.
And by making this choice regularly, and investing their wealth in creating contexts in which everyone can have independently secured well-being, or needs met by design, we could anticipate all “sides” becoming maximally able to “afford” mutual cooperation, and choosing it, regardless of any hypothetical risk of short-term loss from a defection of others.
And, most importantly, if contexts like these were plentiful enough, no one would have anything interfering with what would otherwise be their “intrinsic motivation,” to cooperatively contribute to the long-term, broadly conceived well-being of themselves and their species.
What do I mean by citing “intrinsic motivation,” and why might it involve such a desire to contribute?
For reasons explored more in section VI of this post, we know that when people’s needs are fully met, they have intrinsic interest in contributing to higher purposes, such as their and others’ broader, long-term well-being.
By contrast, when people’s survival is at stake, and they’re forced to choose between their narrow, short-term well-being and a higher purpose, they tend to choose the former, as suggested by the Prisoners’ Dilemma game. That is, they tend to move into flight-fight-freeze mode, becoming much less able and likely to make choices in line with broader, longer-term well-being.
Given this, if we can create a world in which needs are met abundantly, cooperatively, and by design, it seems we could expect that more people will be more likely to consistently cooperate and act in alignment with broader, long-term, species-wide well-being.
But how could this be done?
There are many possibilities.
One of these possibilities is something that I and many others are very intrigued with. That is, the creation of numerous, inclusive, fully-cooperative intentional communities, as a transition to cooperation as the new normal, hopefully someday the world-wide new normal.
That is, we’re intrigued with creating intentional housing communities, within which there is no competition for survival. We’re interested in communities which is there is free sharing, a use and access property system, income sharing, volunteerism, and egalitarianism.
In similar communities that already exist, like Twin Oaks, in Virginia, we see little to no crime or other destructive, unsustainable, uncooperative choices, let alone anything like Prisoners’ Dilemmas. Rather we see peaceful, sustainable, cooperative productivity.
That’s presumably because people are enmeshed in long-term, cooperative, trust-filled contexts,where their own short-term well-being is a relative given,and never pitted against another’s.
For more details and evidence regarding why we see, and can expect to see, such positive outcomes in such communities, or in a world-wide “community” of this type, see my description of the benefits of an NLRBE.
Speaking of the NLRBE model, many of us are particularly interested in creating high technology, low-labor versions of the aforementioned communities – closer to mini-NLRBEs in that way. See for example, One Community’s vision.
We believe higher technology and reduced labor communities can offer greater confidence in needs continually being unconditionally and uncompetitively met, and accordingly, lower fight-flight-freeze levels, and higher cooperation and innovation levels. We also believe such communities could better attract and hold mainstream interest and adoption, by offering maximally efficient, abundant, and comfortable styles of cooperative living.
Many of us are hopeful that, by creating such communities, which evidence less stressful lives and relationships, as well as significantly higher material and social abundance, we might gradually make cooperation the norm worldwide, and perhaps someday even advance to a full NLRBE.
I hope, from the foregoing, that it’s not too hard to see how it can be rational to cooperate, and most rational of all for us to work together to make proactive cooperation the trusted norm. I hope also the ideas proposed towards the end have given some reason to hope that a transition to cooperation as the norm might be doable.
Social Darwinists, over time, have argued that we should simply let the “weak perish,” in order to improve the human gene pool, and accordingly, improving our chances of surviving natural selection.
I bring this up here, because the implications of much of my libertarian friend’s commentary were essentially this.
So let’s dig into the ever-growing mountain of evidence related to the negligible supposed “benefits” to the evolutionary fitness of our species by accepting the possibility of “the weak” dying off, with the disastrous consequences, species-wide, of doing so.
(Please note, I find it extremely challenging to even discuss this in the hypothetical, haunted, as I am, by the knowledge of the slippery slope down which so many have tumbled who began by seriously considering this, going from Social Darwinism, to eugenics, to Nazi-ism and like-minded ideologies and practices. I carry on with it nonetheless, but solely to make the point that it is a nonstarter.)
First, it’s important to acknowledge that “the weak” don’t “die off,” so much as they fester, commit crime, protest, disrupt, and drag the entire society down.
Second, even if the foregoing were not the case, studies have increasingly shown us that how “weak” the vast majority of people are, is hugely related to their environment, rather than being a pure product of their genetic composition.
So, even if “the weak” dying off was likely, and something we were okay with – neither of which I believe is the case – that would arguably do little or nothing to improve the human gene pool.
And even if genes were the undisputed predictor of how well people contribute in this world, with rapidly developing technologies in genetics, we have every reason to suspect that people will soon be able to seek and receive gene therapy to alter virtually any gene they believe will limit their lives or productive potential. (Note, I am not advocating gene therapy at the initiative of anyone other than individual recipients themselves, except perhaps caring parents, under extremely limited circumstances.)
But, in any event, for the most common factors that limit human productivity, this kind of therapy would arguably be unnecessary.
Because, again, of the massive role environment plays in who we become, and how much we can contribute.
More and more evidence, from the fields of genetics, psychology, developmental psychology, pediatrics, and social science, has documented the profound impact of environmental factors, from prenatal to societal, on virtually every facet of who we become, and what we’re capable of contributing.
We are discovering that even the expression of many of our genes is influenced massively by our environment (see the study of epigenetics).
And, when it comes to the effects of the environment, it’s garbage in, garbage out …
- Not lucky enough to have had adequate nutrition, between the ages of zero and two? That introduced you to significantly higher risk of developing a low IQ, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and anemia, on into adulthood, even if adequately nourished after the age of two. For more details as applied to the children of Guatemala, click here.
- Not lucky enough to have been breast-fed during the critical early years? That introduced you to a higher risk of developing a low IQ, behavioral and mental health problems, chronic obesity, almost every type of disease (from cancer to diabetes), etc.. For more details, click here.
- Not lucky enough to have been spared chronic stress as a child? That introduced you to a significantly higher risk of suffering developmental delays and later health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, and depression. For more details, click here.
- Not lucky enough to have grown up with a father in the home? That introduced you to a higher risk of poverty, educational deficits, being abused, becoming addicted, obesity, dying in infancy, emotional and behavioral problems, aggressive tendencies, criminal behavior, incarceration, sexual activity and pregnancy as a teen, etc. For more details click here.
- Not lucky enough to have been born into a family living above the poverty line? That introduced you to a host of risks, including most of those already named, such as poor nutrition and chronic stress, and all the attendant risks of both of these. Also, and to some extent overlapping, it introduced you to a higher risk of experiencing hunger; premature birth; low birth rate; smaller head size and lower brain weight at birth; chronic health conditions, such as asthma, anemia, and pneumonia; lower levels of concentration and memory; greater dropout rates; educational deficits; higher tendencies to participate in risky behaviors, such as smoking and early sexual activity; behavioral problems; emotional problems, including depression, anxiety, withdrawal, and poor self-esteem; debility of parents, itself leading itself leading to poorer social and emotion outcomes for children; greater exposure to environmental toxins, e.g., lead paint and toxic waste dumps; greater exposure to violence and unsafe neighborhoods, introducing a greater risk of injury, violent behavior, criminal behavior and incarceration; adult poverty; poverty continuing into future generations; and homelessness, with accompanying higher risks of all of the above. For more details, click here.
And on it goes . . .
So, if we think about letting “the weak” die off, aren’t we really thinking about letting mostly the merely unlucky die off?
And how does that benefit our species?
And could such “benefits,” of which I see none, outweigh the mountain of negatives we suffer, individually and societally, when we accept the possibility of the merely unlucky dying off; when we compete, rather than cooperate; when we run a competitive versus a cooperative economic system?i
The first negative, of running a fully (and arguably to any extent) competitive economic system, which accepts the possibility of “the weak” simply being allowed to “die off,” is the fact that in reality you get struggle and mistrust, leading to the kind of the kind of sub-optimal group and individual long-term outcomes, described above, in the Prisoners’ Dilemma discussion.
The second negative relates to both the first, and to points made earlier about the importance of cooperation to evolutionary fitness. That is, in fully competitive systems we can expect to see a lower chance of our species surviving natural selection.
The third negative relates to both the first and second negatives, and really is many negatives packed into one.
That is, it’s actually a long list of negative impacts, on individual and species-wide productivity and social stability, resulting from the insertion of “extrinsic” motivators.
What is an “extrinsic” motivator?
When you dangle out something, like survival, as a “prize,” for, let’s say, working, or doing something else to get money, when you could instead systematically provide it unconditionally as a society, you have thereby introduced an “extrinsic” motivator.
Similarly, when you threaten a punishment, like lack of survival, for failure to perform in a certain way, that is also an extrinsic motivator. These are contrasted with “intrinsic” motivators, which produce significantly higher quality outcomes.
As a simple example to illustrate the difference, if I am offered a gold star to read a book, that gold star is an extrinsic motivator. On the other hand, if I am drawn to read the book in order to satiate my own curiosity, fulfill a larger purpose or mission I have, or to meet my need for mastery, those draws are intrinsic motivators.
Competition, by definition, involves extrinsic motivators. This is because it involves striving against one or more others to be the “winner,” that is to be the one to receive a particular reward, and/or avoid a particular punishment.
And in every version of a libertarian system I’ve heard described, competition is king, and survival is effectively an extrinsic motivator. That is, for all relevant intents and purposes, it is effectively a reward for winning the opportunity to work, or otherwise secure money or goods. And lack of survival (and/or utter dependence upon unreliable charity) is effectively the punishment for failing to secure an opportunity to work, or otherwise secure money or goods.
In other words, in all competitive economic systems, extrinsic motivators are used to compel work. Reliance is not placed, by contrast, upon intrinsic motivation, as would be the case in an NLRBE.
Let me flesh this out a bit more, as it applies to economic systems specifically. Also, along the way I’ll explain why extrinsic motivators are so toxic to individuals and the species.
Many of those who have thoroughly analyzed what is possible believe that we have enough, resource-wise and technology-wise, on this planet, to meet everyone’s needs as a given. See, for example, the very recent and thorough analysis conducted by The Zeitgeist Movement, as well as the work of Jacque Fresco and Buckminster Fuller.
Yet some fear that simply meeting everyone’s needs by design, as would be the case in an NLRBE, would destroy motivation and innovation. Indeed, there is fear that we we wouldn’t even end up with the few number of volunteers necessary to maintain an NLRBE.
But this belief is based upon out-dated understandings of human behavior and motivation.
As evidenced by hundreds of relatively recent studies, well-documented in books like “The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” by Dan Pink, and “Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, As, Praise, and Other Bribes,” and “No Contest: The Case Against Competition,” by Alfie Kohn, referenced earlier, we are motivated to do the most innovative work when our needs are met as a given.
By contrast, even the mere offering of extrinsic motivators does the opposite, introducing a litany of problematic outcomes – ultimately problematic for both the individuals offered the motivators, and the species as a whole.
These problematic outcomes include:
- significant reduction in quality of output;
- lower rates of innovation;
- lower rates of accuracy;
- less creative problem-solving;
- less beneficial risk-taking;
- greater tendency to do the least necessary to attain the reward, or avoid the punishment;
- greater tendency to cheat;
- greater risk of developing chronic stress, anxiety, anger, or rebellion;
- relationship problems;
- less willingness to admit mistakes, and thereby seek and receive more learning;
- less and shorter retention of information learned;
- poorer understanding;
- poorer judgment;
- detrimental levels of focus on strategy over substance;
- and, perhaps most troubling, a long-lasting, pervasive, difficult to overcome reduction in intrinsic interest, which usually spreads beyond the rewarded activity to infect other activities the reward offeree finds similar. For example, if I am rewarded to read, I may no longer enjoy and seek out opportunities to voluntarily engage in reading . . . or math . . . or other academic subjects.
By contrast, when our needs are met, fully and unconditionally, not contingently, and we are allowed to simply contribute based on our intrinsic interests (e.g., broader purpose and mastery), we want to and eagerly do contribute, and do so in ways opposite of those listed above. The only documented exception to this may be in the case of extremely mundane and easily automatable tasks.
So, for all the endeavors that matter, when allowed to be motivated purely by intrinsic interests, we voluntarily and earnestly contribute in ways that generate higher quality output, greater levels of innovation, greater accuracy, higher levels of creative problem-solving, higher levels of beneficial risk-taking and “playing with the possibilities,” a tendency to go “the extra mile,” with more focus and fairness, better mental health prognosis, better relationship health and social adaptation potential, more willingness to admit mistakes and thereby invite more learning, more and longer retention of information learned, deeper understanding, better judgment, more focus on substance over strategy, and retention of intrinsic interest.
And this makes so much sense, given our ever-increasing understanding of neuroscience.
We now know that when our needs are not fully met, in that we perceive our very survival may be at stake, most of the brain’s energy can get diverted to fuel fight-flight-freeze reactions, bypassing the reasonable, insightful, creative, playful, empathic, constructive, socially adept neocortex. Click here for more details.
The result? We “can’t think straight,” or produce as well, as individuals, or as a group.
The fourth negative for individuals and our species as a whole, of running fully or highly competitive economic systems, at least, i.e. systems, like libertarianism and US-style capitalism, that do not at least largely offset inequality through redistributive policies, is the high level of endemic inequality that can become entrenched and endlessly grow, and its devastating effects on all aspects of public health, across the income spectrum.
These negatively impacted aspects of public health include: physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility, violence, teenage pregnancies, child well-being, and trust and community life. For a quick summary of the data, I invite you to check out the TEDTalk at http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson. For greater details, check out the website at http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/research/why-more-equality.
The fifth negative of running any competitive economic system, relates to the resulting material and time inefficiencies, compared with the efficiencies of cooperative systems.
Let’s list just a few of the efficiencies hopefully we can agree are realizable in a successful cooperative economic system, like an NLRBE, compared to competitive ones (for a more thorough analysis of these, I invite readers to check out my analysis in this blog post, as well as the astounding book, free online, recently published by The Zeitgeist Movement, “The Zeitgeist Movement Defined: Realizing a New Train of Thought”:
- fewer resources, both natural and human, necessary, when we all work together to create the best product;
- less duplication of time and effort;
- no resources spent on patent and copyright protection (in 2011 Google and Apple spent more on patent protection alone than they did on research and development);
- no time or resources spent to manipulate and addict people into buying products they don’t need and wouldn’t necessarily even want, if they were free from manipulation and addiction;
- no material resources wasted in products designed for the dump, to secure maximal profit, i.e., intrinsic and designed obsolescence, discussed more below;
- fewer resources by far required for a high standard of living, with cooperative use and access property systems, rather than exclusionary, competition-based, property ownership systems;
- no more time or resources spent on activities of monetary tracking, from accounting to banking; and
- no more time or resources spent on exclusion, punishment, or preventable disease treatment, from the prison system to the drug rehabilitation sector.
The sixth negative (and the last for now – although I’m currently reading about a lot more), of running any competitive economic system, is actually more of an elaboration of something I already mentioned above.
Remember the following two negatives of introducing extrinsic motivators; greater tendency to do the least necessary to attain a reward or avoid a punishment; and a greater tendency to cheat?
Consider those two, and all the other negative behavior responses to extrinsic rewards, and how extremely they might manifest themselves in a context where it’s not merely a gold star, or a gold medal at stake, but it’s your very survival at stake, it’s your ability to put food on the table for your child.
What are people more likely to do, when they’re back’s against the wall, survival-wise; when they’re not thinking clearly; when they’re not doing so well at the moment; when they’re in fight-flight-freeze mode generally; or when they’re simply petrified of falling from a high, comfortable place, into the unknown?
They are more likely to do whatever they can get away with to attain the reward of secured survival, and avoid the punishment of insecure survival. That is, they are more likely to engage in anti-social practices that we tend to consider “greedy,” “corrupt,” “cheating,” or even “criminal.”
Accordingly, amongst the poor, perhaps we needn’t be surprised to see a higher risk that they’ll commit common crimes.
And, amongst the wealthy, perhaps we needn’t be surprised to see a risk that they’ll]:
- commit white collar crime;
- study and manipulate others, encouraging them to fork over what little they have to them – studying their psychology and physiology, and using this to addict them and sell them things they don’t need (for more details, you can begin here);
- design in obsolescence to the goods they sell, aka engage in “planned obsolescence“;
- scrimp on input materials and thereby create intrinsic (or competitive) obsolescence (for details see pg 101 of the book “TZM Defined”);
- inadvertently cause all the unnecessary waste and resource depletion that comes with all three of the foregoing;
- underinvest in solving chronic problems, like cancer and water pollution, if/when you can instead profit from ongoing band-aid “treatments” for their symptoms (for more discussion of this topic, see the bottom of pg 133 of the book “TZM Defined”);
- squelch innovation that threatens their market share, of, for example, dirty fuels and technology, possibly squashing, or at least delaying the onset of clean fuels and technology (for more discussion of this topic, see the bottom of pg 122 of the book “TZM Defined”);
- and, most problematic for libertarianism … invent and manipulate large tools, like governments, legislators, monetary institutions (like the Federal Reserve System), and militaries, to acquire and hoard resources (this is why I fear libertarianism’s vision of a manipulation-free government and monetary system, co-existent with a fully competitive, survival’s-at-risk system, is likely inherently unstable) (for more discussion of this topic, see the bottom of pgs 125-132 of the book “TZM Defined”);
In short, when a person’s survival is not assured by the system, perhaps we needn’t be surprised to see levels of fight-flight-freeze insecurities that lead to anti-social action, even when it’s otherwise not in alignment with that person’s basic values, or with the sustainable viability of their children’s social or environmental habitat.
Some say morality is the answer.
But is morality either a reliable or realistic remedy to the aforementioned negative?
Have people’s efforts to promote and rely upon that been a remedy so far?
Has it or could it reliably ensure that enough people would give away enough in charity, in their massively insecure frames of mind, to make up for inequality, even if it even could?
Or, alternatively, has it or could it reliably ensure that enough people would just peacefully allow themselves and their children to wither away, rather than cheat, cut corners, manipulate tools at their disposal, or otherwise do whatever they have to do to secure survival, bringing down our environment, public health, and species as a whole, in the process?
And even if morality could be relied upon to do the forgoing, would we be okay with people en masse just dying off without struggle on their part or ours to prevent them from being excluded from equal access to the fruits of the earth?
Has it not, or might it not, instead just add to our problems, introducing irreconcilable arguments, unresolvable debates, and ideological wars, in the name of non-empirical versions of what is moral, disputes about who gets to say what is moral, and so on?
And, finally, in any event, to the extent some people believe in and value morality, would their values not be most fulfilled, by working to allow every human being to have equal access to the fruits of the earth, the way we so readily could, with an NLRBE. After all, we could thereby actualize the kind of love and care for all that most religions espouse, enabling people to remain calm enough to access their empathic neocortexes, so that they are most able to treat others the way they would like to be treated, also what most religions advocate?
Regardless, we have come to the end of the six negative of running a fully (and arguably to any extent) competitive system, in which we accept the possibility of the “weak” simply dying off.
I hope you agree with me that all six negatives detailed above, would be both likely, and undesirable results of running a fully (and arguably to any extent) competitive economic system.
I also hope you share my perspective that they are particularly undesirable given that they are not offset by any benefits, as described earlier.
And, finally, I hope we can agree that accepting the negatives of a competitive economy is unnecessary, when we could instead adopt something like the relatively promising, cooperative NLRBE model.
Why the common misperception that evolution favors the most competitive, if it’s in fact cooperation that evolution favors?
Kohn has three theories, explained in his book “No Contest.”
First, he explains, “cooperation is not always plain to the eye, whereas competition…can readily be observed,” as Allee put it.[fn omitted] Lapwings protect other birds from predators; baboons and gazelles work together to sense danger (the former watching, the latter listening and smelling); chimpanzees hunt cooperatively and share the spoils; pelicans fish cooperatively. . . . None of this, however, makes good television.”
Second, confusion in the use of language – and I think this is perhaps the biggest factor.
The theory of natural selection simply states that the better adapted a species is to its environment, and especially to changes in that environment, the greater the probability of its being able to continue to survive, to procreate and have its young survive to procreate in turn. The theory does not, by itself, opine on the issue of what strategies – cooperative or competitive – best equip a species to be selected for survival in that process.
Yet some use the term “competition,” in its metaphorical sense, to refer to nothing more than natural selection. That is, as Kohn explains, “If we find only one species remaining in a given area where there once were several, we might describe the winnowing process as ‘competition.’
The problem with such confusion in language is that listeners might assume “competition” is meant in its literal sense and, therefore, that competition, versus cooperation, is the best strategy for surviving the natural selection process, when the opposite appears to be the case.
The third possible explanation, for why we so readily assume competition is the key to surviving natural selection, “lies in the common tendency of the observer to project himself onto the observed…,” explains Kohn. We expect to see in nature what we see in our culture. And, in the western world at least, that’s competition. So we end up with a tendency to bias towards finding the same in other animals.
Then, compounding the problem, despite the fact that competition is nothing more than our learned cultural preference, we use our erroneous conclusion re other species to legitimate our cultural practices, in a circular fashion.
Yet, “should” we be surprised, that the more cooperative, and the less competitive, the more “fit” for survival through the process of natural selection?
I don’t think so.
Not given everything we have covered above.
So, I hope we can now agree that, despite our misperceptions, cooperation is better for us as a species, and ultimately as individuals, than competition.
Accordingly, I hope that we all work together to help make cooperation the trustworthy norm and, hence, as rational in each moment as it is in the broadest context.
Whether via creating fully cooperative communities, or through other peaceful efforts, I hope to see us work together to phase out competitive economic systems, avoid adopting fully competitive, libertarian systems, and voluntarily move towards a sustainable, decentralized but coordinated, fully inclusive and cooperative economic system, like an NLRBE.
I hope some of my thoughts were of value to you, whether you’re an NLRBE fan, or a libertarian. I value curious, open-minded, truly-truth-seeking exploration, in partnership with others. I only wish I had even more time for it. So, please, if you enjoy the same, feel free to comment. And I will strive to find time for a reply in turn.
By Tiffany Clark, an activist attorney, public speaker, and author, working to help us transition to a more sustainable and equitable world. Tiffany lives and works in Sacramento, CA, with her husband, two sons, cat and dog. You can find out more about Tiffany, her activities, and her offerings, as well as read more of her writing, at www.tiffanyclarklaw.com.
“NLRBE & Libertarianism (Post 3 of 3) – Competition, Cooperation, Evolution, More on Morality, and Conclusion” by Tiffany Clark is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.