retrieving the cooperative imperative

The biggest challenges facing us today are climate change and environmental degradation. The current pandemic is a symptom of these situations. These are complex issues without simple answers or explanations, because with complex problems the relationship between cause and effect is only seen after the fact. As H.L Mencken stated, “Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.” Thinking in terms of neat and plausible answers only feeds the post-truth machines.

The best way forward is through cooperation and the engagement of a diverse set of human abilities. Cooperation is freely sharing among equals in order to benefit the greater whole. Hierarchies, such as those found in most institutions and organizations are useless in the face of complexity. As Yaneer Bar-Yam explains in Complexity Rising, hierarchies have diminishing usefulness as complexity increases.

Climate change is a direct result of pursuing profit with no regard for what are known as ‘externalities’ — polluting our oceans, destroying forests, or decimating other species. The competition we see in markets is a game that does not live in reality but is based on the dreams of economists. But new thoughts for a cooperative, networked world are emerging from economists like Mariana Mazzucato.

“What we need is for this call to action to fundamentally change how we think about the governance of all organizations that produce value: how to organize dynamic government agencies outside static silos; how to rethink corporate governance structures so that they are more focused on the long term and they reward all the actors that help create profits; and how to listen to the movements in civil society — whether the green movement or those calling for better healthcare — to formulate the missions of the future that can drive innovation for the decades to come. The populist wave around the world is evidence that this will not succeed if it is not truly participatory, allowing different voices to come to the table, and to negotiate healthier deals, creating an economy that is more innovative, sustainable, and inclusive. I believe it is very difficult, but truly possible.” —Mission critical

Mazzucato goes on to show how markets and business must change.

“The climate crisis is also a public-health crisis. Global warming will cause drinking water to degrade and enable pollution-linked respiratory diseases to thrive. According to some projections, 3.5 billion people globally will live in unbearable heat by 2070. Addressing this triple crisis requires reorienting corporate governance, finance, policy, and energy systems toward a green economic transformation. To achieve this, three obstacles must be removed: business that is shareholder-driven instead of stakeholder-driven, finance that is used in inadequate and inappropriate ways, and government that is based on outdated economic thinking and faulty assumptions.” —Avoiding a Climate Lockdown

There is an emerging — often feminine — voice leading us to a cooperative future. Our patriarchal systems for the past centuries ignored 50% of the population. We need all of our best minds to cooperate and work on facing our challenges of adapting to climate change and cleaning up our messes. The market form can no longer dominate our societies. Neither can the institutional form of dictatorships and totalitarian states address these complex challenges.

If you are in government — increase diversity.

If you run a business — pay a living wage so people more willingly cooperate.

If you want to save the environment — engage young people.

It’s time to cast off the vestiges of male-dominated, control-oriented systems of domination. We are all on this planet together and it’s now our prisoner’s dilemma.

Evolutionary Game Theory, as put forth by Professor Christoph Adami, backs up our need to cooperate.

“We found evolution will punish you if you’re selfish and mean. For a short time and against a specific set of opponents, some selfish organisms may come out ahead. But selfishness isn’t evolutionarily sustainable.” —Prof. Christoph Adami

retrieving the cooperative imperative

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