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?