The Power of Cooperation

“Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition ends.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Cooperation is working together towards the same outcome. On the other hand, competition is when people (individually or in groups) strive to increase their outcome, by defeating the other party. Having said that, do they co-exist?

J.L. Molina’s article on Cooperation and Competition in Social Anthropology explores the mechanism for the evolution of cooperation and tweaks the statement, cooperation is a response to competition. One of the examples pointed out in the article is the prestige economy in tribal societies. In this society, hierarchy and competition for prestige are crucial. In spite of that, the extent of competition within the society does not compromise trust, and in a way includes cooperation. For instance, tribes have competitive ceremonies where the winners distribute gifts, to their enemies as well. Although the gifts are of no use to the giver, they are valuable to the receiver; it improves another’s social prestige.

Rewinding to our first reading task by M.J. Bateson on The Myths of Independence and Competition, which supports the practice of cooperation instead of competition. The key word here is ‘instead’. From the statement itself, both Molina and Bateson are supporting the concept of cooperation and its benefits. However, Bateson does not comment on the relationship between cooperation and competition; she distinguishes them separately. She believes that cooperation is essential for our survival and that from the day we were born, we have been dependent on something or the other. Similar to Molina’s article, she points out the shift from cooperation to competition due to evolution. One of Bateson’s example that I found most intriguing is the concept of endosymbiosis, a mutually beneficial process that initiated the evolution of the nucleus. In a way, this is an analogy that life is formed through cooperation and due to evolution and survival traits, competition is initiated.

Similar to Jaren, I also like the fact that Molina’s article flowed on a historical order and goes about how cooperation and competition in the past evolved to the understanding of it today. Jaren also brings up the concept of “participatory constraint” and how individuals will participate if it benefits their status.

In terms of the structure of the written works, Molina’s article was written chronologically and is well organised- with subheadings. She speaks from an anthropological point of view in an informative manner- providing studies and examples after every main statement. On the other hand, Bateson’s commentary (which was a speech) is more subjective. As discussed in class, her writing mannerism is like she is talking to her audiences, who are presumed to be people who specialise in Behavioural Science.

To an extent, I do agree that cooperation and competition can co-exist. I believe that competition is inevitable and cooperation is not. In order to survive, we do need to cooperate and work together, or there will never be peace. But, competition is what drives us.

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4 Comments

  1. I really liked the clear distinction that you made between the two articles arguement in respect to the way competition and cooperation interact. Bateson uses her platform well to make an arguement against competition, while Molina’s article views cooperation stemming from the foundation of competition. Do you think that the difference in genres of each piece proves one arguement more effective than the other? Being that Molina’s is a meta-analysis and Bateson’s is a speech, are the arguements helped or hindered by the form in which they were written?

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  2. In response to your statement about the Molina’s article, I strongly agree with your point that competition is inevitable and cooperation is not. In that sense, the example you referenced from the text concerning prestige economies in tribal societies demonstrates the ideal dynamic between competition and cooperation. Such a dynamic allows human beings to indulge their innately competitive nature while also optimizing the socially constructive benefits of cooperation. We see a similar dynamic in group sports, where an exquisite balance is achieved between interpersonal cooperation and personal achievement. Nevertheless, my instinct compels me to believe that cooperation and competition cannot co-exist with one another. I have come face to face with a striking example of this lack of compatibility in the case of some doctors in Taiwan. Driven by financial and professional competition among their colleagues, these doctors very often go out of their way to persuade their patients to undergo unnecessary surgery. Thus, instead of working collaboratively as part of health providing community, doctors will choose the opposite route, deciding to let competition be the motivating force and defining factor in their professional conduct. While this is an unfortunate situation, it is also the reality in many fields of human endeavor across the globe. Thus we’d be wiser to confront this reality, accept and properly understand, if we hope to change it in any real and lasting way.

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  3. @zschaab Thank you!! And I do think that their style of writing did send their message across successfully. Since Bateson’s commentary (or speech) is subjective, it is very interactive. Although it was difficult for me to grasp at first (due to the terms), it was appropriate for her audiences. The analogies and examples embedded in her writing made it interesting. So I would say that she portrayed her opinions well and probably got a lot of people thinking. On the other hand, Molina’s article is informative and well structured. It has sub-headings and went on a flow. Since it is a meta-analysis, I would also say that it is successful. Her piece is probably written for further studies or research hence, the structure is organized (especially because it goes in chronological order) so it makes it easier to understand.

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  4. @slanish117 Thank you for your comment!! I took a course that briefly focused on how doctors opt to conduct surgery as it is ‘safer’. However, I had never thought about it as competitiveness. I see your point and I agree on how unfortunate this is. It is surprising to think about the extent people go to for the sake of competition and the satisfaction that follows.

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