We Societies & Cooperation

This little video (by Sustainable Man) got me thinking about cooperation vs. competition.

We’re often told that competition is they key to survival – in nature, and in human society. Think Charles Darwin. And that is true, up to a point. But it’s not the whole story. Nature would be complete chaos if cooperation wasn’t also woven into the fabric of everything. In fact, scrap that, I think none of the natural world we recognize today would exist without it. Chemical reactions in the early days when Earth was a baby changed the atmosphere to make it hospitable for life. Photosynthetic bacteria emitted oxygen way before plants were on the scene, and this in turn allowed other types of early life to breath.

The scientific theory of symbiogenesis – which is fairly well accepted among scientists – shows that symbiotic relationships (cooperation between species) may well of lead to the evolution of complex life. The theory goes that early microbes developed symbiotic relationships with other increasingly diversified microbes, basically dividing up the tasks of living between them. Over a long time they formed ever more integrated networks and eventually evolved a kind of casing to protect the symbiotic system and keep it contained. According to scientists, this was the origin of the cell.

Fast forward millions of years and this early example of labour division reminds me of a gradual process that happened with human societies. Before the industrial revolution in Western countries, most families grew their own food and produced their own clothes and tools. Today in the UK few people have the skills or indeed the inclination to do this, but it’s normal to have a skill or profession that isn’t common to everyone. The very idea of working at a job and being paid in money, which you can exchange with other workers for food or other goods is a system of specialization.

I think one of the major differences between us and other animals is that we cooperate on a larger scale. None of the historic achievements of the  human race would be possible if we didn’t work together.

People should remember this when they’re getting carried away making sure they have all the money and all the best stuff. It’s not like you can live in a vaccum or without the help of other people and other forms of life, so it doesn’t make sense to be selfish.

I think we can safely say that although competition does have a useful role, it is competition that really drives evolution and progress.

Symbiotic pollination

Symbiotic pollination. Not my image.

We are all connected.


2 thoughts on “We Societies & Cooperation

  1. Great video. I was surprised by the children insisting that their game wasn’t over until both sides had the same score. I don’t think this is simply something that happens there. My children, before going to school, and now my grand children don’t like to win all the time, they like to have everyone win at the same time. Even when we go on walks, they will decide to race each other, one will get out ahead then stop to let the other one catch up and take the lead. To them that means they both get to win. Now we need to learn how to embrace those tendencies in this materialistic and competitive world so our children continue to play and work with empathy for others rather than lose that trait as they get older. It would be a wonderful world.

    • Yeah I found that part really touching as well. It’s a beautiful idea, and it’s even better that your children and grandchildren share this tendency… To me this gives weight to the idea that humans are naturally inclined to cooperation and sharing. I think its a myth that our species is naturally greedy and selfish.


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