Article Index

Cooperation in Nature and Evolution

As individuals we have a heritage of co-operation that comes from our evolution. Several sections within Hands back this up most strikingly;

“collaboration plays a more significant role than competition in the survival and propagation of life…” and later “The view that collaboration is one of the greatest problems for the biological and social sciences to explain is a self-imposed problem caused by the adoption of the NeoDarwinian model that is rooted in competition. This problem is solved by recognising that collaboration is extensive at every level of life and is the prime cause of organisms developing and surviving” (Hands).

It would seem that some altruism is innate, and some of it is learned (having environmental triggers) but it is part of our make up. Now as well as the naturally driven aspects of our behaviour we also know that behaviour is also driven by culture, ethics and beliefs.

In business the Change Management literature is full of advice that when we take people on the journey and do it with them not to them their commitment increases. What this amounts to is that when we tell ourselves a different story it will, to some extent, alter the way we behave.

Non of this is to say that there is no conflict and competitiveness; there is a lot. We know that gorillas may fight to the death and kill a rival’s offspring when there is a transition from one silverback to another. We know that chimpanzees organise raiding parties, fight and even kill. Clearly we have a propensity to behave in certain ways. However looking at other primates is not definitive of us. Bonobos are notably less violent than chimpanzees (Sapolsky, p315-327) and both they and us have continued to evolve separately from humans since the lineages split millions of years ago. 

What this means for holistic political economy is discussed in Our Natural Selves - Implications