Human nature - Cooperative or Competitive?

Discuss morality and ethics in this message board.
Featured Article: Philosophical Analysis of Abortion, The Right to Life, and Murder
User avatar
Elder
Contributor
Posts: 702
Joined: June 4th, 2015, 12:06 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Sandor Szathmari
Location: Canada

Human nature - Cooperative or Competitive?

Post by Elder » July 23rd, 2015, 9:10 am

I posted the following on the "Is it moral to make unemployment benefits conditional?" thread but, on reflection, I decided that it deserved its own thread because there are so many unexamined assumptions about human nature that the topic needs clarification and discussion.

"Human nature" is usually cited as an obstacle to sane social organization anyone cares to propose.

Everything revolves around the assumed character of “human nature”.

This assumption is like a mantra, repeated ad nauseum, that we can’t have any progress along cooperative lines, because human nature is fundamentally competitive.

It is a self-serving mantra, perpetuated by those who have the most to gain from a competitive society: the robber barons of various ages.

However, this theory has never been tested in practice.

For historical and evolutionary reasons, humans have had to compete for limited resources, but now that technology could provide unlimited resources for every conceivable human need (other than the pathological), we are facing a new situation that has never been faced before.

We have no data regarding the situation in which all the reasonable survival needs could be satisfied without competition. First time in human history, now we have that option.

However, the powers-that-be violently oppose this probability because they feel they would lose control of the system geared up to satisfy their insatiable appetite for more and more and more.

Only a handful of thinkers, like Jared Diamond (The World until Yesterday) and Jeremy Rifkin (The Empathic Civilization) challenge this unproven assumption.

And, of course, modern neuroscience finds the undeniable evidence of human empathy built into the neocortex that is responsible for moral emotions like guilt, pity, empathy, shame, pride, contempt and gratitude (We are Our Brains by D. F. Swaab -- Chapter "Moral Networks)"

I know that there is competitive part of our human nature, but I claim that, given the opportunity (survival and welfare not threatened), we are fundamentally cooperative.

So, what do you think?
I don't debate with the evaders, the hopelessly 'confused' or the too lazy to think -- life is too short!

Wilson
Posts: 1499
Joined: December 22nd, 2013, 4:57 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Eric Hoffer
Location: California, US

Re: Human nature - Cooperative or Competitive?

Post by Wilson » July 24th, 2015, 1:46 am

Human nature is as it is because evolution fine-tuned our personalities as best it could to ensure the survival of our species. It is helpful to consider each of our qualities in terms of how it might have been useful in that regard when we were becoming human.

We are competitive because having a desire to have more than our fellows drove us to work hard and to create better ways of doing things - and this not only made it more likely that the competitive person would survive and prosper, but that his hunter-gatherer group would also benefit from his efforts and therefore would have a better chance at survival.

We are cooperative because we weren't as athletic as other animals but by working together and using our collective brainpower we would have better opportunities to obtain food and to fight off invaders both human and animal and thereby survive, both individually and as a group. Giving us the tendency to cooperate required evolution to instill in us empathy, sympathy, and the capacity for altruism.

We are not as competitive as we could be because killing our rivals next door would be bad for the group, and sharing some of our excess food next door would be good for the group. So evolution found a way to temper our competitiveness.

We are not as cooperative as we could be because it was not always in the best interest of the hunter-gatherer group to cooperate with competing groups, especially in times of scarcity. And evolution preferred that we favor our immediate families over other group members because they shared some of our DNA. So evolution found a way to temper our cooperativeness.

And of course setting the thermometer of each of our personality traits was difficult business, involving subtle connections in our brains, and so each of us has his own mix. Some of us are highly empathetic (good for community involvement), some of us tend toward hostility and cruelty (good for war). It may be that evolution favored a mix of personalities, or it may be that getting the exact same combination in everyone was beyond its capacity.

Bottom line, we are all competitive to some degree, and we are all cooperative to some degree. Some of us are hyper-competitive, some of us hate conflict. Some degree of competitiveness is good for the prospering of humankind, and of course cooperation is essential if we are all to live well. Both are in our DNA; we'll never be one or the other.

User avatar
Greta
Site Admin
Posts: 6591
Joined: December 16th, 2013, 9:05 pm

Re: Human nature - Cooperative or Competitive?

Post by Greta » July 24th, 2015, 2:39 am

Wilson, I agree re: natural selection. Also group selections. It starts with the usual dynamics of nature - relationships are formed with various entities filling the roles of predator, prey, rival, mate, ally and symbiotic partner. Those dynamics play out between humans and other species and, in a sense, they metaphorically play out within humanity in the competition between affiliates.

From each individual flows a circle of sympathy with family and close friends in the inner circle, other friends and colleagues a bit further out then and reaching out through your affiliations out to entities you would have no qualms about killing.

Now imagine the interaction and intersection of these spheres of sympathy. Some will interact and join forces to form clubs, associations, creeds, societies, councils, cooperatives, parties, businesses and so on, and each of these cooperative enterprises will have it own broadly agreed spheres of interest and they interact in ways that echo the predators, prey, mates etc in nature.

Trends over history suggest that we are trying to broaden our spheres of sympathy by expanding our spheres of understanding, both individually and collectively (taking into account the usual three steps forward, two steps back nature of progress).
This space left intentionally blank.

User avatar
Elder
Contributor
Posts: 702
Joined: June 4th, 2015, 12:06 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Sandor Szathmari
Location: Canada

Re: Human nature - Cooperative or Competitive?

Post by Elder » July 24th, 2015, 7:25 am

Jeremy Rifkin writes in the Empathic Civilization:
A radical new view of human nature is emerging in the biological and cognitive sciences and creating a controversy in intellectual circles, the business community, and government. Recent discoveries in brain science and child development are forcing us to rethink the long-held belief that human beings are, by nature, aggressive, materialistic, utilitarian and self interested.The dawning realization that we are a fundamentally empathic species, has profound and far-reaching consequences for society.

...........

The discovery of the mirror neuron system in human beings and primates is precipitating a fundamental shift in the way we think about the nature-nurture relationship. These neural circuits are giving us a window into a very complex way that biology connects with psychology. Vilayanur Ramachandran, a neuroscientist at the University of California at San Diego, says that the discovery of the biological mechanism that make emphatic consciousness possible and the cultural catalysts that activate them allow us to begin to understand how nature and nurture interact to create human nature.
My underline.
Elder wrote:We have no data regarding the situation in which all the reasonable survival needs could be satisfied without competition. First time in human history, now we have that option.

.............

I know that there is competitive part of our human nature, but I claim that, given the opportunity (survival and welfare not threatened), we are fundamentally cooperative.
I don't debate with the evaders, the hopelessly 'confused' or the too lazy to think -- life is too short!

Logic_ill
Posts: 1624
Joined: August 21st, 2012, 7:26 pm

Re: Human nature - Cooperative or Competitive?

Post by Logic_ill » July 24th, 2015, 8:21 am

I view it as human life trying itself out. We may have started out a bit more competitve or less because it took time to understand the world and our lives. We started off in groups by default and displayed our traits (inner workings, urges, emotions, knowledge, creativity, intelligence, etc.), as an adaptation to our surrounding environments.

I'm not sure that all groups were naturally bellicose with other groups. But those who lost to warring groups might have passed down that information to the surviving members, so that the next time around they wouldn't give the other groups a chance. Yet, "that information" cannot be truly drilled into the younger generations who might have decided to disregard former knowledge and introduce something new or learn something new like negotiating with rival groups. These younger generations may not have experienced the harsh lessons of war first hand, so the fear is lessened or enhanced and they might have come up with alternatives that the older generations overlooked.

The key here may be knowledge. If humans know or learn about one another, their natures, intentions, innovations, problem solving, experiences, cultures, technologies, interests, motivations, etc. they may slowly become more cooperative because they KNOW the others pose no real threat to them. On the other hand, if they know that historically the others can and do threaten their existences or their "happy" existences, they may be less cooperative.

This happens at the individual level (one individual to the next, as well). We know that there are sadistic individuals, megalomaniacs, psycopaths, male chauvanists, corrupt greedy people, the unfair the unjust, irrationally violent people, rapists, compulsive liars, racists, agists, pedophiles, serial killers, narcissists, power hungry, lazy, alcoholics, drug addicts, ignorant people, etc. In other words, we are not all level and may have had bad experiences. Because we know and some may have experienced it first hand, people may be resistant to cooperate. That uncertainty about others and the future, may hold us back.

Also, our current system may not allow us to be too cooperative. On the one hand, it may have allowed some people the comfort and ease to seek out others with an interest in community. But it may have also generated a group of individuals that are simply exploitative or are only concerned with themselves and the vain, superficial needs/desires that the system has created. Then there are the people who have no time at all or are simply exhausted from working too much within this system.

Given the framework in which human beings have evolved, I'd say that we have learned to be more cooperative as we went along. We have learned that being cooperative in our individual interactions and as groups may not kill us or even threaten us. It may actually save us or at least make life easier. There's evidence in the world that is coming together.

I do see "a problem", however, in the lack of historical, cultural or world/scientific knowledge that the newer generations may have, as well as the older. These areas in which we lack (including our inner natures), coupled with our possibly terrible and immediate circumstances may not allow us to have that understanding of the value of cooperation. And if you add that many people purposefully confuse or derail others into the "wrong path", for the sake of personal gain or benefit, then the willingness to cooperate may be obscured. There is always information that we lack, especially when we are younger, and many people may take advantage of it.

User avatar
Elder
Contributor
Posts: 702
Joined: June 4th, 2015, 12:06 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Sandor Szathmari
Location: Canada

Re: Human nature - Cooperative or Competitive?

Post by Elder » July 24th, 2015, 9:13 am

Logic_ill wrote:This happens at the individual level (one individual to the next, as well). We know that there are sadistic individuals, megalomaniacs, psycopaths, male chauvanists, corrupt greedy people, the unfair the unjust, irrationally violent people, rapists, compulsive liars, racists, agists, pedophiles, serial killers, narcissists, power hungry, lazy, alcoholics, drug addicts, ignorant people, etc.
D.F. Swaab, Professor of Neurobiology at he University of Amsterdam writes in: We are Our Brains
Damage to the PFC (pre-frontal Cortex) early in life impairs the ability to grasp moral concepts and can lead to psychopathic behavior. Men accused of murder often display malfunctions of the PFC.The first signs of frontotemporal dementia, a disorder that starts in the PFC,often take the form of antisocial, delinquent behavior, including sexual harassment, assault, robbery, burglary, hit-and-run crimes and pedophilia.....The PFC plays a central role when we face moral dilemmas, like whether to sacrifice the life of a single individual to save many lives.Most people find such decisions impossibly difficult, but individuals with damage to the PFC approach them very cold-bloodedly, being much more dispassionate and impersonal in their reasoning.
That proves what I have always said: immoral and antisocial behavior is a form of mental illness that neuroscience just started discovering.

Michael McCullough, professor of Psychology, University of Miami writes in: This Idea Must Die
Humans are exceptionally generous, particularly toward nonrelatives. We cooperate with strangers when we'd be better off in the short term by competing. We accomplish group projects even though all participants surely recognize that they'd be better off, at least in the short term, by loafing and letting others do the work. We share with needy strangers even when we know they'll never repay us. We praise generosity and denounce stinginess, even when the behavior in question haven't affected us directly. These cooperation-related phenomena were once on evolutionary scientists' lists of unsolved puzzles about human cooperation. The good news is that scientists have now succeeded in nudging many of them toward the solved-puzzle list.
I don't debate with the evaders, the hopelessly 'confused' or the too lazy to think -- life is too short!

User avatar
Khanya solvitt
Posts: 102
Joined: June 22nd, 2013, 11:58 am

Re: Human nature - Cooperative or Competitive?

Post by Khanya solvitt » July 24th, 2015, 10:28 am

There is “human nature” (aggressive/competitive) and “human nature” (empathetic/co-operative) and then there is “human nurture”! This is all interestingly explained by Robert Sapolsky (an American neurobiologist who studied the stress levels of both primates and humans according to their level in the hierarchy of their societies) over the last 30 years. See ‘No Time for Bullies – Baboons retool their Culture’ and ‘Emergence of a Peaceful Culture in Wild Baboons’ on the Internet. His studies, and videos, are incredibly interesting and well worth reading/watching.

I laughed at the last sentence in ‘No Time for Bullies’:

''And if baboons can do it,'' he said, ''why not us? The bad news is that you might have to first knock out all the most aggressive males to get there.''

This being impossible so we live on in our World full of Aggression!

Logic_ill
Posts: 1624
Joined: August 21st, 2012, 7:26 pm

Re: Human nature - Cooperative or Competitive?

Post by Logic_ill » July 24th, 2015, 10:30 am

Elder wrote:
Logic_ill wrote:This happens at the individual level (one individual to the next, as well). We know that there are sadistic individuals, megalomaniacs, psycopaths, male chauvanists, corrupt greedy people, the unfair the unjust, irrationally violent people, rapists, compulsive liars, racists, agists, pedophiles, serial killers, narcissists, power hungry, lazy, alcoholics, drug addicts, ignorant people, etc.
D.F. Swaab, Professor of Neurobiology at he University of Amsterdam writes in: We are Our Brains
.
[/quote]

The problem is when these individuals are born into powerful families or have important positions within the group, or go undetected. Some people do not even mind that such individuals exist, and basically follow their paths or support them. Why? Because we are not born knowing and we become accustomed to the world as it is presented to us or we accept it as it is. We adapt, even if that also means having the desire or will to change the things.

There's also the matter of understanding that our very own can have similar traits or we can even display these behaviours. What to do but try to prevent possible mishaps by becoming aware of them?

User avatar
Elder
Contributor
Posts: 702
Joined: June 4th, 2015, 12:06 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Sandor Szathmari
Location: Canada

Re: Human nature - Cooperative or Competitive?

Post by Elder » July 24th, 2015, 10:58 am

I started this thread because every time I propose a social organization (onlinephilosophyclub.com/forums/viewtop ... amp;t=7667) that is based on co-operation, the idea gets usually rejected by the mantra: "it won't work because it is against human nature".

What I am trying to suggest is: even though we have aggressive and competitive genes, but those become active when our survival and/or welfare is threatened.

I am suggesting that in a well organized social system (without waste and competition), at our level of scientific and technological civilization our survival/welfare wouldn't be threatened, because we can produce all our basic (and healthy) requirements in abundance for all.

Those examples of antisocial, uncooperative members of the society, who are incorrigible because of a mental illness (see previous post) would remain in a small and ineffectual minority.

So, the argument that we can't even think about a sane and cooperative social organization is short sighted and mistaken.

The problem, of course, is how to get from here to there, but without imagining a goal, we can not chart a road map at all, because we don't know where we want to arrive at the end.
I don't debate with the evaders, the hopelessly 'confused' or the too lazy to think -- life is too short!

Alias
Posts: 2178
Joined: November 26th, 2011, 8:10 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Terry Pratchett

Re: Human nature - Cooperative or Competitive?

Post by Alias » July 24th, 2015, 11:49 am

Khanya solvitt wrote: ''And if baboons can do it,'' he said, ''why not us? The bad news is that you might have to first knock out all the most aggressive males to get there.''

This being impossible so we live on in our World full of Aggression!
If there isn't a serendipitous selective epidemic, you're resigned to the status quo?

After flight, moon-landing, instant communication around the world, what's one more impossible feat? Let's try a step-wise approach. Rather than "knocking out" the most aggressive males, which, as a breeding project will take some time http://www.angelfire.com/or/sociologyshop/gate.html, let's begin by not celebrating them in all aspects of culture. Reduce every evening's prime time entertainment by just one gruesome murder each week; shut down one sadistic website each month - start with the one adoring young women vote for sexiest serial killer. Then try not rewarding them with the most prestigious jobs. In twelve years or so, elect a vegetarian president.
Those who can induce you to believe absurdities can induce you to commit atrocities. - Voltaire

User avatar
Elder
Contributor
Posts: 702
Joined: June 4th, 2015, 12:06 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Sandor Szathmari
Location: Canada

Re: Human nature - Cooperative or Competitive?

Post by Elder » July 24th, 2015, 11:59 am

Khanya solvitt wrote:This is all interestingly explained by Robert Sapolsky (an American neurobiologist who studied the stress levels of both primates and humans according to their level in the hierarchy of their societies) over the last 30 years. See ‘No Time for Bullies – Baboons retool their Culture’
I loved this -- thanks for the tip.

My favourite part is the following:
Remarkably, the Forest Troop has maintained its genial style over two decades, even though the male survivors of the epidemic have since died or disappeared and been replaced by males from the outside. (As is the case for most primates, baboon females spend their lives in their natal home, while the males leave at puberty to seek their fortunes elsewhere.) The persistence of communal comity suggests that the resident baboons must somehow be instructing the immigrants in the unusual customs of the tribe.

''We don't yet understand the mechanism of transmittal,'' said Dr. Robert M. Sapolsky, a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford, ''but the jerky new guys are obviously learning, 'We don't do things like that around here.''
from a NYT review at: nytimes.com/2004/04/13/science/no-time- ... lture.html

So, here we are -- we just have to find a road map from here to there (starting maybe along the lines Alias suggested) and, once we are there -- it could be sustainable.

And here is the reward:
Dr. Sapolsky, who is renowned for his study of the physiology of stress, said that the Forest Troop baboons probably felt as good as they acted. Hormone samples from the monkeys showed far less evidence of stress in even the lowest-ranking individuals, when contrasted with baboons living in more rancorous societies.
Cheer up guys, it is not hopeless, after all!

If the baboons can do it, so can we! :D
I don't debate with the evaders, the hopelessly 'confused' or the too lazy to think -- life is too short!

Wilson
Posts: 1499
Joined: December 22nd, 2013, 4:57 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Eric Hoffer
Location: California, US

Re: Human nature - Cooperative or Competitive?

Post by Wilson » July 24th, 2015, 2:02 pm

Elder, the mistake in your thinking is in believing that there is no value in having a competitive nature - that being competitive is always bad for society. And that's simply not the case. The great scientists and engineers and inventors were almost all extremely competitive, and that competitiveness drove them to develop many of the advances that make our lives safer and more pleasant.

Philosophers, scientists, and other thinkers compete with each other. Marx, Lenin, Isaac Newton, Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln were extremely competitive people. You can't be great at anything without having a fire within you to be at least better than average - to be important - to accomplish something big - to win the respect of our peers. That competitive drive has done wonders for our quality of life.

I love it that humans are competitive. I also love it that humans cooperate. I particularly love it that humans feel empathy and want the best for others. It's when that last personality trait is missing that it gets ugly.

User avatar
Elder
Contributor
Posts: 702
Joined: June 4th, 2015, 12:06 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Sandor Szathmari
Location: Canada

Re: Human nature - Cooperative or Competitive?

Post by Elder » July 24th, 2015, 2:16 pm

I read somewhere that there is no good novel without a plot in which people are antagonistic, where the good guys are competing with the bad guys.

I always disagreed.

I love stories where man is an intelligent problem solver and he is competing with himself to extend his abilities to solve an impossible problem or overcome a natural disaster.

The best scientists I am aware of are those who are obsessed with their discipline and not with one-upping each other.

Sane human beings work for and not against each other.

Only second-raters keep comparing themselves to others all the time.

Healthy egos have the confidence in themselves to ignore everybody else and keep pursuing their dream without the monetary or the adulatory rewards others crave.

Anyway, all this is beside the point.

The question of this thread is whether human beings are predominantly cooperative or competitive.

Which of these two we prefer individually is totally irrelevant to this question.
I don't debate with the evaders, the hopelessly 'confused' or the too lazy to think -- life is too short!

Wilson
Posts: 1499
Joined: December 22nd, 2013, 4:57 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Eric Hoffer
Location: California, US

Re: Human nature - Cooperative or Competitive?

Post by Wilson » July 24th, 2015, 5:21 pm

Was Newton a second-rater?

And the answer to your question is that humans are both competitive and cooperative - sometimes one or the other predominates. Ideally, we would all be cooperative in a spirit of friendly competition.

User avatar
Elder
Contributor
Posts: 702
Joined: June 4th, 2015, 12:06 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Sandor Szathmari
Location: Canada

Re: Human nature - Cooperative or Competitive?

Post by Elder » July 24th, 2015, 5:26 pm

Wilson wrote:Was Newton a second-rater?
A brilliant scientist is not necessarily a brilliant human being.

Society's well-being needs both.
Fritz Haber, German physical chemist and winner of the 1918 Nobel Prize for Chemistry .... Haber is also well known for his supervision of the German poison gas program during World War I.
http://www.britannica.com/biography/Fritz-Haber

World wars are as competitive as you get. :roll:
Wilson wrote:And the answer to your question is....
This was not the answer -- it was only one answer.
I don't debate with the evaders, the hopelessly 'confused' or the too lazy to think -- life is too short!

Post Reply