Competition and Cooperation in a World of Scarce Resources

Although cooperation and competition are two opposing concepts, Cooperation and Competition in Social Anthropology by J.L. Molina, M.J. Lubbers, H. Valenzuela-Garcia and S. Gomez-Mestres claims that cooperation and competition are connected in that “cooperation has not only emerged as an answer to competition but that the two coexist in every known society.” I would like to take this claim in a different direction by arguing that competition and cooperation are connected in that individuals cooperate to form groups, to be able to compete with other groups. Group competition is justified because resources are scarce. Group competition is therefore in one’s self-interest because one can have a better chance at obtaining resources when competing in groups.

Once one group has formed, this group has more influence than individuals who are not in groups. These individuals will feel compelled to band together, and this cycle will continue until individual competition becomes irrelevant, because every individual is a part of a group, in order to have a fair shot at competing for scarce resources.

For example, my senior class celebrated graduation by hosting a party where we played Blackjack that lasted all night. The top 10 winners won cash prizes. As soon as my classmates were handed their chips, they began to form groups to pool their efforts and better their chances of winning a cash prize (a scarce resource in this example). Any individuals left out of a group frantically joined one, as they realized they had no chance of winning otherwise. The game, intended to be an individual competition, turned into a group competition as soon as people decided to cooperate for a prize.

There are three important points made in Cooperation and Competition in Social Anthropology that pertain to my argument and make evident the connection between cooperation and competition:

  1. Cooperation makes for more effective competition
  2. Cooperation and competition coexist
  3. Cooperation is a response to competition

Firstly, the idea that cooperation makes for more effective competition supports my claim that individuals form groups to be better able to compete with other groups. Cooperation makes the individual a more effective competitor, and thus will have a better chance at success than that person would have if they were on their own against opposing groups. The reason for this being that groups pool more skills and resources than an individual can ever have access to on their own.

Secondly, this article proves that cooperation and competition coexist. Their connection to one another is a necessary basis for the formation of groups. Groups would not exist if not for collaboration, and large-scale competition would not exist if not for this collaboration between individuals with similar needs for scarce resources.

Thirdly, cooperation is a response to competition in my argument because individuals cooperate to form groups as a response to competition. Competition is inevitable when in the presence of scarcity, making cooperation necessary for success.

While Molina et al argue that competition and cooperation go hand in hand, Mary Catherine Bateson, in The Myths of Independence and Competition focuses on the importance of cooperation while treating competition as a separate phenomenon. I will discuss two of Bateson’s main points in relation to my argument:

  1. In order to survive, humans must collaborate
  2. Everything is interdependent–independence does not exist

Firstly, I agree that collaboration is crucial to survival, however I do not think it is possible to dismiss the concept of the competition when discussing collaboration: collaboration manifests itself as we collaborate to form groups to compete with other groups.

Secondly, independence must exist because a sense of independence is what propels us to be interdependent and to cooperate to form groups. We must begin as individuals to understand the advantage of such groups.

In Cooperation and Competition in modern society, chuadominic explains that “Competition … [is] beneficial to societies to a certain extent. However, it must be regulated properly as it could be hazardous to the ones in the lower spectrum of society.” I would like to argue that competition is not so much beneficial as unavoidable in societies, since individuals will always form groups. And secondly, that these hazardous effects on lower spectrums of society are inevitable, despite attempts at regulation, because the natural formation of groups results in increased competition, where one group will always dominate. Groups collaborate to better their chances at obtaining scarce resources, and to protect the interest of their group. For example, working-class individuals grouped together in the form of labor unions for social reform, an attempt to better the situation of that particular group as a whole. To address the idea of regulating competition, as Molina et al discussed, collaboration itself will regulate competition because “Generalized reciprocity is regarded by hierarchical societies as the language for regulating actual competition.” Reciprocity, defined as the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit, is a form of cooperation, and will regulate competition in hierarchical societies like our own.

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