How Cooperation Shaped the World

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* Books: The Social Instinct – How Cooperation Shaped the World. By Nichola Raihani.



Micha Narberhaus:

"In her book, Raihani shows that humans are the most cooperative species on Earth and that cooperation is an important principle for resolving conflicts at all levels of complex biological systems, including cells and organs. But she leaves no doubt that the drive to compete with others for mates, food and other resources is a general feature of most animal brains, and all of the great apes. And that we are no different.

Cooperation can resolve conflicts but can also create victims. Cancer cells cooperate very well between them, as does the Mafia or do corrupt elites. Raihani sees the distribution of power in human societies as a giant tug of war between the individual urge to dominate and the collective interests of everyone.

If we focus our energy on putting forward a new narrative that downplays our competitive side, we might lose sight of the fact that the heart of the problem is a game-theoretical problem, the social dilemma where individuals can benefit from free-riding on the investments of others, while still enjoying any benefits that collective action brings.

Over the course of the many thousands of years when our ancestors lived in small bands and tribes, they developed effective systems of cooperation. The problem we have today is that our life doesn’t resemble much that of our ancestors.

Raihani says: “To have a hope of tackling the global problems we face, we need to use our abilities to create effective institutions – rules, agreements and incentives – that favour cooperation and a long-term view over self-interest and short-termism.“ (