Monday, January 30, 2012

Cooperation vs. Competition

One of the important questions of the future is the application of cooperation vs. competition in society. While competition has been widely praised, it is largely a myth that competition is good for the species as a whole. Competition, like fear, is only useful in an illogical and idle society that cannot reasonably identify way to advance society and evolve as individuals. Cooperation is better able to harness differing viewpoints and strategies to create scenarios where groups of individuals become greater than the sum of their parts and are able to accomplish things otherwise unattainable.

Competition is imbedded into our society because it is one of the principle tenants of capitalism. It is not necessarily a bad thing for it can act as a driving force for technological advancement and as a means to control overzealous profiteers. Unfortunately these benefits of competition are only benefits in the context of a fragmented society. For instance in a society where people are self-motivated and have the necessary foresight to reasonably prepare for potential problems competition loses its benefits vs. the application of cooperation. When cooperating with another individual and/or group the primary goal is to create a situation where all parties benefit in a greater capacity than either side would benefit if operating alone. This benefit typically embodies either an increase in capital acquisition (increasing profit or lowering costs) or the development of a new product or technique.

The act of cooperation eliminates the need to utilize competition to control profiteers because all sides are benefiting from the partnership and continuation of the partnership will create greater long-term gain than any potential short-term gain created from deviation. Most entities that engage in cooperation will typically have multiple dealings with one another, thus creating the avenue for greater mutual gain. Unfortunately human nature tends to avoid viewing future interactions in favor for present interaction, thus making cooperation a potentially dangerous investment if parties do not consider the long-term benefits. Therefore, to further neutralize short-term gain constructs, one side can punish those looking for only short-term gain by ending the relationship and collaborating with another party or in multiple groups networks simply remove the offending network. In such a strategy one isolates the offending party weakening them to the point where their ‘competitive’ mindset ceases to be useful.

For instance take the popular Prisoner's Dilemma scenario. Recalling the situation two suspects are in separate rooms being questioned regarding their involvement in a particular crime. Each suspect has one of two options: claim innocence or guilt. If both claim to be innocent then both receive 3 years in jail. If both claim to be guilty then both receive 1 year in jail. If one claims innocence and the other claims guilt then the one declaring innocence goes free and the one declaring guilt goes to jail for 10 years.

When viewing the Prisoner's Dilemma using Nash Equilibriums, a compellation component to capitalism frequently used in global trade where each participant strives for the best individual outcome assuming that all other participating individuals are doing the same, each prisoner should pled innocent because the best that can happen is gaining freedom and the worst that can happen is 3 years in jail. In a Nash Equilibrium example if a prisoner pleads guilty the best outcome is 1 year in jail and the worst outcome is 10 years in jail, initially pleading guilty clearly appears inferior to claiming innocence. Of course under Nash Equilibriums each prisoner will receive 3 years in jail because both will claim innocence. Unfortunately for the prisoners if each plead guilty they would only receive 1 year in jail, a 67% reduction in their Nashian sentence. So if the prisoners would adjust their strategy from taking an action that is solely in the best interest for themselves to taking an action that is in the best interest for the group both prisoners come out ahead.

The biggest problem with cooperation in the Prisoner's Dilemma is that both prisoners have to accept 1 year in jail because it would be easy for one prisoner to screw over the other prisoner and stick him with a 10-year sentence while obtaining freedom for himself. Of course this problem would not be a concern if both prisoners act in a logical fashion and abide by their previous cooperation agreement. Overall that is the key to cooperation, especially in situations where repeated interaction is improbable, is to have faith in the other individuals/groups remembering that everybody gains more when everybody looks out for one another rather than going at it alone.

Another example utilizing competition versus cooperation is an example that can be called the cash question. Consider the situation where two individuals are walking down the street (Person A and Person B) when another individual approaches them and offers Person A a choice; this individual would give Person A 5 dollars and Person B 3 dollars or he would give Person A 11 dollars and steal 4 dollars from Person B. What should Person A do? Competition indicates that the second selection should be made where cooperation indicates that the first selection should be made. If each of these situations were made in a vacuum it would be difficult to argue against the second option if one excluded any morality issues (taking money from another individual to increase your level of gain). However, when dealing with people in real life rarely is a situation like this conducted in a vacuum. Each decision one makes bolsters an aspect of your personality where other individuals will either respond positively or negatively to the new aspect and may change their overall opinion of an individual’s character.

From an interpersonal psychological issue when both participants gain, the non-active participant will have greater respect for the active participant and should be more likely to select a mutually beneficial option when he/she is the active participant. Remember it is likely that there will be multiple times when similar situations arise, not in the same context, but similar gain-gain vs. gain-lose outcomes. In this situations Person A will not always be making the selection. Therefore, because these situations do not occur in a vacuum the long-term gain is enhanced when considering less short-term gain. For instance if the situation arose 10 times with each participant selecting 5 times and each participant selecting the same choice as the last participant if parties compete with each other the overall gain for both participants would be + 35 dollars. If parties choose to cooperate the overall gain for both participants would be + 40 dollars. Of course one could try to sneak in a couple of short-term decisions in attempt to maximize their gain, but such a tactic would more than likely not go unpunished over multiple selections and result is greater loss for both parties.

Of course it is easy to cooperate with another party if gains are greater when working together than working apart. What is to be done if one side can gain more by shunning not only cooperation, but hurting another party? One could point out that if the net gain in the first option is greater than the net gain in the second option after one full turn in the above game, it would make financial sense to select the first option (assume the payoff was not 11 dollars, but instead 13 dollars). Unfortunately this is true, but somewhat dishonorable to punish the second individual solely because you want to acquire more even if you are not in competition with the second individual. The nature of human greed is the principle element that needs to be combated when striving for more cooperative relationships between humans over the present strategy of competition.

Initially it is difficult to comprehend why people are greedy for it appears to be in the best interest of individuals to support others around them in order to build a stronger community. The continuing relevance of greed can be rationalized in one of two ways. First, when human beings first evolved they were typically divided into a vast number of nomadic tribes with sparse populations. Although these individuals were in groups, the group existed primarily as a safety mechanism, protection from other nomadic tribes and wild animals in line with the old saying "Safety in Numbers". The irony of the situation was that looking at group dynamics, most tribe members acquired material and resources for themselves and their mates instead of distributing among the group in order to make the entire tribe stronger, a strategy that would go further in protecting all members. The reason behind such behavior was to improve their standing/power within the group. So the nature of greed could be thought of as evolutionary because even at an early age humans tended to hoard resources for purposes of increasing power instead of freely distributing them among their fellow members.

The second reason for developing greed through the accumulation and eventual hoarding of resources could be derived from mating dynamics for it is common behavior that in early human history females looked to mate with males who they believed could provide the most stable environment for raising young and provide the necessary support for survival. An important factor in providing this level of security comes from resource acquisition where in some way one could state that the number of resources one has is proportional to the ability provide these desired characteristics. Therefore, if one shared resources with the community, that particular individual would lose some level of attraction to the available females while enhancing the attractiveness of other males.

The above reasoning may help to explain the evolutionary rational behind male greed, but what about females? Females are a little more difficult to characterize because the roles assigned to them by society have only recently changed. For instance in the early years of nomadic tribes the principle role of females entailed raising children and once-in-a-while foraging for food. Back then there was little time to acquire resources for survival because other less able entities (children) were dependent on these females for survival, thus part of the reason females sought out males with large amounts of resources. In modern times, although females are still largely regarded as the primary caregiver in the family community, they now are not stereotypically tied to such a role. Therefore, now the acquisition of resources by one's own hand is a legitimate reality. So now females do not need to rely largely on the resources acquired by males in order to support a family and can now use resources to enhance social status and standing.

The nature of greed does have an evolutionary tinge, but the origins of these tendencies stem from a disjointed social structure. Now there is a more cohesive social structure and community where cooperation is easier and more beneficial. Although the evolutionary tendencies towards mating may remain, they should not be principally responsible for the level of greed that still seems to persist in society. The reason for greed can then be characterized by the first ‘evolutionary’ element, simple vanity and insecurity disguised as self-confidence and self-worth.

Unfortunately in modern society many people are not strong enough to stand on their own two feet when it comes to creating a level of positive and healthy self-worth and confidence. In essence certain people need to regard themselves as better than other people to feel good about themselves. Realistically as long as people hold this attitude a classless society can never exist because people will always be striving to prove to themselves that they are better than someone else and competition will continue to suppress genuine cooperation. One of the best ways in the current society to move up in social structure or class is to acquire more material possessions than most people and to acquire material possessions one needs money, thus greed and acquisition of money becomes a top priority.

What can be done about this psychological deficiency that catalyzes greed? In an ideal world one could recommend that the sense of emptiness and despair produced by feelings of inadequacy can be remedied by encouraging strong relationships between individuals and developing significant and realistic goals to accomplish. One could assume that this strategy would create a sense of meaning in life eliminating the drive to accumulate wealth as a means to establish meaning and worthiness. Unfortunately this does not appear to be the case else more people in this world would be happy and there would be fewer detrimental actions. So why does this strategy not work? Two options are available to explain this circumstance. First, individuals are not aware of the potential of this strategy to eliminate their emptiness. Second, the strategy is unsuccessful for a particular individual because he/she believes that amassing material objects is a faster and more thorough way to obtain self-worth. Neither reason is acceptable because the status quo is unacceptable, thus it must change.

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