Social Health

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Brian Whitworth and Alex P. Whitworth:

"If “social capital” is the “… norms and networks facilitating collective action for mutual benefits” (Woolcock, 1998), then social health is how successful those norms and networks are. Unlike ants, people have to learn to socialize. With young soccer players a “cloud” of players trails the ball, as each individual tries to score a goal. Inevitably, they obstruct each other and the results are poor. Only with training can players learn roles like forward or defender, and engage in social acts like passing the ball. While teams need competent members, a star team is not just a team of stars. The evolution of cooperation arises naturally because soccer is a competition between groups, as well as a player–vs–player competition.

Just as one can test how competent an individual is by what they do, so can one test how much social health a community has by its behavior. If a group offers cheap coffee on an “honesty” system, where each person leaves 25¢ per cup, what percentage cheat, and take the coffee but leave no money? If everyone defects and takes the coffee for free, the synergy (and coffee) fails. Conversely if everyone contributes, people continue to get cheap coffee, i.e., practical gains require social health. Another example is the invention of supermarkets. Traditional shopkeepers kept goods behind the counter to prevent theft. Only when most customers learned not to steal could products be put out on shelves for customer self–selection, improving efficiency enormously. Social health — the percentage who defect on social synergy — affects social performance." (

More Information

  1. Social Capital
  2. Social Synergy