Cooperation Science

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The rehabilition of cooperation

Hazel Henderson:

"Reappraisals of the work of Charles Darwin together with new evidence from historians, archeologists and anthropologist now clearly point to the evolution of human emotional capacity for bonding, cooperation and altruism ( Competition, territoriality and tribalism, rooted in the fears of our past, served humans well in our early trials and vulnerability. So did cooperation and the ability to trust and bond with each other - influenced in all humans by the hormone oxytocin. Higher levels of this hormone during pregnancy and lactation bonds women to their children, over the extended developmental period to maturity.[i] Today, research by scientists from many fields, neurosciences, endocrinology, psychology, physics, thermodynamics, mathematics and anthropology have invalidated the core assumptions underlying economic models - which dominate public and private decision-making in most countries, multi-lateral agencies, including the World Bank, the IMF and the World Trade Organization. This new research reveals economics as a profession, not a science. Yet today, as privatization and technological evolution speeds change and globalization, economists and their general equilibrium models still drive these processes. While competition remains a key driver in evolution and all human affairs, cooperation and co-evolutionary processes are equally important. Social sciences study the full range of human behavior - with the exception of economics, which assumes competition and self-interest are rooted in human nature.


Charles Darwin also saw the human capacity for bonding, cooperation and altruism as an essential factor in our successful evolution. (Loye, 2000) In retrospect, how otherwise could we have gone from the experience of over 95% of our history lived in roving bands of 25 people or less (Tainter,1988) - to today's mega cities: Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Mexico City or Jakarta? These improbable metropolises, along with global corporations and governance institutions such as the United Nations and all its agencies, the European Union, now expanded to embrace 25 formerly warring countries - could never have emerged without humanity's capacities for bonding, cooperation and altruism.

So as we have evolved into our complex societies, organizations and technologies of today - we need to re-examine our belief systems and the extent to which they still may be trapped in earlier primitive stages of our development. Why for example do we underestimate our genius for bonding, cooperation and altruism - seemingly stuck in our earlier fears and games of competition and territoriality? Why do we over-reward such behavior and still assume in our economic textbooks and business schools that maximizing one's individual self-interest in competition with all others is behavior fundamental to human nature? Why do the neoconservatives that drive most US policies today believe, as Margaret Thatcher proclaimed, that the individual has primacy over community? US society is already highly individualistic, whereas Mrs. Thatcher sought to rescue individualism from a more socialistic Britain. Scientific research is now revealing excessive individualism as dogma, while systems views, including those of Ken Wilber, Richard Slaughter, Fritjof Capra, Elisabet Sahtouris, Riane Eisler, Jane Jacobs, myself and many others seek a balance in acknowledging society, culture and the planet's ecosystems.

Why is our equal genius for bonding and cooperative behavior - even altruism not taught in business schools as the true foundation of all human organizations and our greatest scientific and technological achievements? In reality, as every business executive knows, competition and territoriality are channeled within structures of cooperation and networks of agreements, contracts, laws and international regulatory regimes that allow airlines, shipping, communications, and other infrastructure to undergird global commerce and finance."