Cooperation and Competition in Social Anthropology

J.L. Molina, M.J.
Lubbers, H.
Valenzuela-García &
S. Gómez-Mestres
Angelo Aguilar Maurer
#astu101 #astunishing #p03 (image is mine)

Why do humans cooperate so extensively? We might ask ourselves. That may or may not be the beginning of the paper on cooperation and competition in social anthropology, but I’d very much like to begin with that question. I know that I’ve only done a summary about Hutcheon’s essay for this class, but I’ll try to make this essay a little bit less summarizing and more analyzing.  The fact that cooperation and competition have made society what it is today is irrefutable, but this made me think about the role of competition and cooperation in society. If possible, what would the world look like with none of it? Are there any ethical implications when trying to cooperate but seek and prioritize self-benefit? Does the benefit of a group come with the detriment of another? Is it a life or death (as in extinction) situation? Can they coexist positively? Can our cooperation mechanisms lead to deception?

I will begin by (yes, this is the road map of my reading response) reinstating some of the points that were outlined at the beginning of the paper. They start off by breaking the essay into three main arguments, which are the following:

  1. Kin selection
  2. Reciprocity
  3. Group Selection

Before diving into the deep stuff, let’s go through one of the first aspects we’d normally notice about this essay. First of all, in contrast with Hutcheon’s, it doesn’t go to the point immediately.  This essay begins with very clear intentions to refresh our memories and go back to ‘competition and cooperation in ASTU class mode’. It’s quite a smooth introduction to the different points that will be touched throughout the text, but without making it sound completely unamusing. “Why do humans cooperate so extensively? This intriguing question has been advanced from a variety of disciplines including biology, economics, archaeology and evolutionary and social anthropology, and each one has contributed different pieces to the puzzle.”  This piece of evidence shows how the topic of this essay is extremely relevant in more than one discipline because it depicts cooperation as a critical means to an end in any human creation. Without cooperation, whether related to genetics or tribal traditions, human knowledge wouldn’t have reached this point. Comparing it to a puzzle makes me think that even if there are conflicting facts and evidence from all across those disciplines, it really exists. It’s present everywhere; even in the most random and superficial situations. As you can see, this introduction really lets you enjoy the ride without going too fast, whereas Hutcheon instantly gets to it. I also feel like the level of difficulty increases very gradually, unlike Hutcheon’s, where Greek terms are thrown into the playing field right after two personal anecdotes. Furthermore, this text contains visual material (picture of  two girls), which might make it easier to relate to humans and mundanity. This essay has a lot of evidence and references to other academic works, which makes it definitely less interpretative and more of a combination of several works.

The first argument is about the coexistence of competition and cooperation and natural ways in which cooperation could be a direct consequence of competition. To me, the most interesting point is that of the ‘inclusive fitness’. It states that human beings are more inclined to do something altruistic if we’re genetically related to the person that would be benefitted, and that’s one way in which we cooperate extensively. This automatically indicates some sort of exclusion because it’s a manifestation of group segmentation. I think this mechanism can go well as much as it can go wrong. This genetic predisposition to combine efforts can have several obstacles. One of them is clouded judgement, and it can happen between two or more individuals within a social group. One of the members of the group might not be contributing as much as the rest, and could even deceive others to benefit themselves or another group. If the gene (not the individual) is selfish to survive, this could happen in pretty much any scenario. The rest of the group might not be able to detect this behavior (clouded judgement) and be negatively affected by this individual’s intentions.

Secondly, the essay presents the second mechanism in which reciprocity is an essential tool. Direct reciprocity happens when A helps B and B returns the favour. According to this essay, the higher the probability of a new encounter, the higher the relative costs of cooperation between both parties. Indirect reciprocity is when the actions of one party benefit others indirectly but perhaps intentionally and this is considered as the main cause of the evolution of morality and social norms. I agree with this hypothesis, but I do think that it might be detrimental for younger generations in the sense that some of the measures or actions that are taken at a particular moment are mostly only applicable in that same context. As of right now, a lot of what we have and know is a product of a group’s cooperation, such as laws, public institutions, general knowledge and pretty much anything you can think of.



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