Sunday, February 9, 2020

Competition versus Cooperation

Charles Darwin said in 1859 that nature is built upon a model of what he called “survival of the strongest”, which was later interpreted and promoted as “survival of the fittest”. He theorized that evolution explains life in general, and human life specifically. Darwin's ideas continue to be taught exclusively in schools today, despite the fact that the data that has accumulated since his time absolutely refutes his contention. The ideas published in his Origin of Species stemmed from research he did in the 1830's on his extensive voyage on the HMS Beagle. Darwin applied scientific principles of logic and method to arrive at his generalized conclusions based upon specific isolated observations. His proposals are credited historically as being the first scientific explanations for the overriding human questions of “Who are we?” and “Where did we come from?” Prior to the publication of his theories, the answers to the big questions of life had always been framed within the context of our spiritual and religious communities. This is significant.

After Darwin, science essentially supplanted religion as the source of answers to the major questions of life, and it has been that way ever since. The scientific approach to gaining an understanding of the universe is certainly a reasonable and thoughtful way at arriving at answers, but science has not been able to answer all our questions. Putting it into perspective, science is still a young language, only a three-hundred-year-old way of looking at our world.

The idea that we live in a dog-eat-dog world is entrenched in our society and ingrained in most all of us. There is this prevailing idea that there is just one pie and each of us needs to fight for the biggest slice of that pie that we can get. If we don't go out there and fight for every inch, the world may just roll right over us. But the idea that “the strongest live and the weakest die” may be a very dangerous way of looking at the world, especially today.

Corporations are based upon this idea of “survival of the strongest”. Corporations are not based on what is good for the people, but what is good for the bottom line. The global economy that is collapsing right now is based upon this same idea. Our business model, our economic model is based upon “survival of the strongest”. If we want to know what the consequences of this false assumption are, we need look no further than the crises facing us today.

Historians tell us that the 20th Century was the bloodiest time in all of recorded history and it may be because during this entire time we looked at the world through a Darwinian lens. The problem is that since the time of Darwin, science has consistently found that while competition does happen in certain circumstances, it is not the rule that nature is based upon. Science has discovered, on the other hand, that competition is ALWAYS destructive and generally detrimental to the needs of the community. Cooperation and mutual aid is the rule that nature is based upon. What we see in nature is not every animal out for itself. It is cooperation within and among species that has been most successful. When cooperation breaks down, that is when we have problems.

Imagine what would happen if we applied Darwinian thought at the cellular level. Our bodies are a definition of cooperation. Our bodies are a community of trillions of cells whose viability depends upon all systems and organs working together cooperatively. At the most fundamental personal level then, each one of us has a first-hand experience with the success of cooperative relationships.

The kind of competition that Darwin was talking about was exploitative in nature. Looking at modern competition in the classroom, what happens more often than not is that young people are taught to get the right answer on tests any way they can, by any means. In sport, young athletes are taught to score the point on the playing field any way they can. Winning is all that matters, not how you play the game.

What it boils down to is that this approach to life is less about our own individual personal excellence and more about exploiting the weakness of others. This is subtle, but a powerful difference. When competition is about exploiting and capitalizing on the weakness of others, it is different than competition based upon us being the best that we can be or creating the best product that we can.

So what impact does all of this have on the world? We are likely living in a time of the greatest crises in all of recorded history. Have we reached a limiting point in this way of thinking? The best minds out there are now telling us that we need to think differently and do it quickly or nothing else is going to matter.

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