September 19, 2004

Co-evolution - Cooperation Not Competition

I thought it might be important to address the issue of cooperation vs. competition in a new post, rather than continue it in the limited consciousness post. There I brought up the importance of realizing that evolution and all the "living systems" (micro to macro) with which we are intricatly connected and participate with has been dependent on processes of cooperation as opposed to competition.

Ideasware responded with general agreement but also pointed out that: "Against violence one MAY be forced to compete, or be overcome (i.e. die)... it depends on how the competitor responds. But surely, this is exemplified in all the same cooperative contexts you would cite. Viruses, bullies, companies, nations, terrorists..."

Well, here is my response to what Ideasware said. Yes, in the context of the present moment, we are sometimes forced to react protectively in a way that is competitive. Even the Dalai Lama said (and I am paraphrasing from a limited memory) that when confronted with a crazed dog, we have to use common sense ... we DO have to respond in a self-protective way that will preserve ourselves or damage to life will result. Indeed, in an operating room, if someone has just gone through surgery for a life threatening health condition and a post-operative infection sets in - it is essential to use antibiotics to try to save this person's life. The same goes for dealing with bullies - although ideally it is best if we think of a quick way to outwit the bully, as opposed to going on their level and defending ourselves by way of violent retaliation. (Another way of dealing with a bully is to have preventative training in Tai Chi, a non-violent form of martial arts which makes the person being attacked "slippery" like soap so that the attacker's force has no impact and where the momentum of the attack ends up affecting the attacker not the attackee - in that the attacker end up moving past the target and experiencing the impact themselves by way of smashing against a wall or on the ground. The attacker expends their energy futilely - becomes out of balance and exhausted - while the Tai Chi "artist" walks away unhurt and with no major energy expenditure.)

Anyhow, when it is an issue of having to deal with an emergency situation in the present moment, quick "competitive" responses can be essential to survival. This involves perception of the situation from the particle perspective - a focus on the now where at issue is danger to the particle formation as it exists in that moment.

Yet in planning for improvement in the long run - how to deal with viruses, bullies, companies, nations, terrorists - a different perspective is required that involves foresight and understanding of developmental/evolutionary processes. For example scientists studying the evolutionary processes of bacteria point out the fact that "harmful" bacteria cannot be overcome indefinitely with antibiotics. The bacteria mutate and become resistant to these drugs. The same scenario is experienced in relation to agricultural pests and the use of pesticides. Drug and agrichemical industry are finding it increasingly more difficult to come up with antidotes to these "pest" problems without harming the life that they are supposed to protect.

A few of the above mentioned scientists (studying evolutionary processes of single- celled organisms), are exploring the "new" possibility of finding ways to live with these pests as opposed to being in a continuous process of waging war. One way is by way of examining genetic adaptation. For example many people of african descent are prone to a condition called sickle cell anemia - interestingly people with this disorder are immune to diseases such as malaria. The people with sickle cell anemia are examples of genetic adaption (by way of the survival of people with certain genetic traits) which enables them to coexist safely with malaria. Also studies have been done on what I believe was people with the HIV virus - the question was why some people continue to live healthy lives while others get full blown AIDS. Turns out that (if I remember correctly) the ones who are not affected by the virus are decendants of those people who survived the black plague. So the ability to coexist can be attributed to certain genetic traits and/or genetic mutations that have resulted from contact with organisms that were previously perceived as a threat.

The point here is that while there have been tremendous costs to humans who have lost their lives while "hardier" genetic pools have survived, we are now learning that the ability to coexist with a traditionally harmful "pest" depends on the establishment of a certain kind of genetic compatibility and, in some cases, also the ability for the immune system to recognize a traditionally perceived "foe" as a "friend". In finding solutions to these types of pest-related problems it seems that both experience and foresight are necessary to come to new and innovative ways to solve the problem. Societal tendencies to view things from the point of view of fighting - which is very apparent in our use of language (combatting this disease, fighting cancer, etc.) - tends to create a bias against other forms of problem solving.

It is important to recognize that our lives are sustained by a complex web of life functioning by way of symbiotic interconnectedness. Seeking to fight and/or exterminate certain elements of it can throw things off balance in unforeseeable ways, especially when we act without caution and foresight. From this context of life, it is important to help bullies to reintegrate with society and discover there a sense of belonging - they are part of our society. If we do not deal with them appropriately, we end up facilitating the evolution of mutated and resistant versions of bullies who, like it or not, are still part of our society.

In order to establish networks of support, companies need to discover win-win relationships with their environment, their clients, their employees, their shareholders, with their "competitors" (yes it is better to find your own niche and having "might-have-been-competitors" to refer their clients to you in order to strengthen their own ties with them - than to compete against another). Otherwise businesses find themselves fighting tooth and nail so as not to be "eaten by the bigger fish" - which leads to an unfortunate amount of expenditure of energy and finances (entropy) and a precarious existance in the market place. Applying this "pattern" of "co-evolutionary problemsolving to the difficulties experienced between nations and in respect to terrorism (mutated bullies?) can help us overcome traditionally unsolvable problems. It might take time, but it is better than actions that take place without thought for the future.

I have to stop here, as a dog is begging to go for a walk and children are shouting for breakfast. I think I have said enough here to invite participation by other in this group. What are your thoughts and ideas in this regard?

3 Comments: (go down to newest )

  • Blogger kasimir-k ::

  • The approach of Tai Chi or Judo can be applied wider than just physical attack situations. What that approach is about is recognising the forces that affect you, and directing your own forces in such manner that the situation remains in balance. If a person is attacking, you recognise the potentially damaging force, but also balancing forces like the gravity - then you position your forces in this network so, that the attacker's force is absorbed without harm to anyone.

    But it doesn't only work with physical forces. If somebody is verbally assaulting you, it is possible to see behind the words: why this person is saying this, what are the motives, what is the need. Often people act aggressively if they feel insecure, frustrated or threatened - then you can respond by trying to satisfy these needs, assure the person that they are secure and accepted, and you understand their frustration.

    I wonder how widely this could be used. Between companies maybe - understanding other companies motives and adjusting you actions accordingly, letting their strength assist you instead of using your energy to resist it. Medicine even? Instead of trying to suppress a bacteria, redirect its actions so that it's absorbed without harm?

    Then again, when thinking where and how this approach could be used one should bare in mind that the balance of a situation depends on the point of view: eating is leading the eater to better balance, but the one that is eaten is facing absolute and final imbalance...

    And a mad dog's motives won't be satisfied in any case, as it's mad... but still, it's possible to direct its forces so that they are absorbed without harm - it's not necessary to club the dog to death. This requires of course that you know how to do it - so this kind of martial arts (Tai Chi, Judo, Aikido, ...) should be taught at schools, not only on physical level, but also on verbal and conceptual.

    11:00 AM  


  • Blogger Rezlaj ::

  • Although I wish everything you said could be applied, I believe that cooperation is an utopical concept that is not designed for this universe.

    This universe exists in a state of extreme equilibrium. No new matter can be created, think about that. That tells you a lot right there. You cannot have everything. From the get go there's competition for matter.

    Competition and conflict make us grow, they make us better. You said that there's a sense of cooperation in the fact that people whose ancestors survived the black plague now have a certain resistance to aids. But how did this happen? There was a fierce competition between our organism and the plague. It turns out that biologically, evolution comes out of conflict. The humans that lived through the black plague are now stronger because of that. That happened because black plague killed everybody else. And the fact that the descendents are more resitant to aids is a byproduct of their triumph over the black plague in a very tough competition.

    Only recently have we started defying this with medicine. Until recently, only the stronger survived. Now we let the weak survive. I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm just saying how it is. Not even a century back, a baby born a couple of months ahead of schedule would just die. Now that baby can be saved and it can live a full life.

    And in business you have the same problems, if not even more complicated. What you are criticizing is capitalism which encourages you to sell as much as you can to as much people as you can. Capitalism also feeds the fire of competition to the extreme.

    Take big publicly traded companies. Take Google. It's a great company which is creating new tools to help people use the internet better. What happens when they start trading publicly? The ideals disappear. Public companies have only one purpose: to satisfy the stock holder. So google will have thousands of stock holders expecting stocks to go up, no matter what. And the higher and faster the better. To do that google will have to start eating other people's territories, if not their stock will stagnate and go down. It's sad, but that's how it works. Microsoft understands this and it's very obvious with them.

    I understand what you are saying perfectly. I would like the world to be like that. But, I don't see how it is possible. I've owned a small company and worked as CTO for pretty big companies. Competition is fierce and the momentum is so huge that you cannot let yourself take a breath. You have to move, change and keep doing it until you or your company dies. You can define your niche and stay there obviously. But you will not grow past a certain point. Some people are more ambitious and will want to pass that precise point, and then you have a competition problem.

    With this topic I have a clear problem. I never know if I should discuss it as an utopic paradise or as an impossible reality. I've had too much experience with competition and I see the glass half empty, sadly.

    Where do you see cooperation working for example? In which environment? In which situations?

    6:30 PM  


  • Blogger epp ::

  • Thank you for your comments, thoughts and feedback in general.

    Kasimir, I was interested in the idea of being able to ward off verbal attacks as well as physical attacks. This is something that would be useful indeed for people to learn at school. I know that my son would greatly benefit from this.

    Also, this thing about the eater and the eaten... It use to be that people would thank the food being eaten for entering into union with their own (often higher level) lives. Certainly in the finno-ugric tradition which we are both part of, hunters used to ask animals for permission for taking their lives and the animals gave their lives willingly. This compliance has even been documented on film and was always followed by a ceremony of thanksgiving to the animal. I also learned from friends of my mother's that if you ask a plant's permission to pick it, it will release its hold on the earth and will be uprooted easily. I tried that in my garden, feeling like a fool, but it works. Strange world, eh?

    As for your thoughts, R..laez (I'm sorry I do not remember your full name and I am unable to refer back to your comments as I am writing this here)... Yes, sadly the experiences that you describe in a competitive marketplace are commonly experienced around the world. Yet,in my experiences working as a team member in a leadership consulting firm (meaning a firm dealing directly with presidents and CEOs of a variety of small and large corporations as well as the boards of directors of non-profit organizations - none of which I can name here due to client confidentiality), the type of cooperative approach that I wrote of in the original post was very successful. Both within these organizations among employees and managers-supervisors, but also in their relations with their clients-users, shareholders-funders and other organizations in the traditionally "competitive" environment. I cannot divulge their particular methods but it is somewhat similar to the sharing of the same DNA code but having having different parts of it activated in the different constituents in relation to their roles within the organization. Essentially it involves sharing a vision in common which takes into account individual personal/professional visions of the different constituent groups in relation to the organization.

    By the way, it would be useful to define "competitive" and "ambition" in the same context. When people identify what they really want, it rarely has anything to do with money itself but what they think this money can purchase. So money is secondary. Interestingly, it is possible to get primary needs met in ways that do not involve the conventional struggle of earning enough wages. When people take the time to evaluate what they are really looking for and are open to receiving it in more than one way, opportunities arise that they otherwise would never have noticed.

    In response to the issue of plague and immunity... Yes these were unfortunate events in human history. In the history of my people (Estonians) a majority of the population of the land was lost by the plague and there is nothing positive about that. My point was that today scientists have learned from these historical events as they relate to life now, and are actually focusing on figuring out ways to prevent such occurances by forming symbiotic relationships with traditionally parasitic creatures. (By the way, human fetuses and embryos are often considered to be parasitic, living off their mothers quite literally - fortunately biology has enabled this relationship to be symbiotic.) So it is not just idealism and utopia. Its a question of a new perspective (of an old and time proven thing) that is being adopted by science.

    Cooperation is everywhere. What, after all, is a family? A community? A society? And indeed the entire surface environment of planet earth? To me it is obvious - if you need more examples, let me know.

    11:33 PM  


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