All true and obvious in a sense, and there are many more dimensions to the story.
I discovered Axlerod’s work in 1978, and was fascinated by all the implications you have outlined here (and a bunch more) that were clear then. I have been exploring many variations on strategic themes and levels in many social, business, political and intellectual contexts since then.
Yesterday was something of a personal milestone, being five years since the last tumour following a diagnosis of terminal cancer. It’s almost 6 years since I was seated across the desk from a respected oncologist and heard him tell me that I had the most aggressive form of melanoma known, it responded to no known chemotherapy, there was nothing known to medical science that could alter the probability of my survival, and I could be dead in 6 weeks, had 50% chance of making 5 months, and a 2% chance of making 2 years. I watched him write the file note “palliative care only”.
Having been through 2 years and several operations involving very fast growing and very painful cancer, there was something quite profound about accepting that I was very likely to die quite soon and very painfully.
I decided to check the evidence for myself.
What I discovered was profoundly disturbing at many different levels.
At one level it rapidly became clear that the medical profession had sacrificed the most powerful tool available (the placebo effect) in the cause of making profit from sickness. There is a huge body of evidence that the placebo effect (which seems to be a complex set of effects in three major classes – as per Benedetti et al) is at least as effective as most drugs on the market, yet it is illegal to use alone. If that is not a triumph of profit over human health, then I don’t know what is.
Once I dived deeply into the world of experiential evidence, there is a vast literature about the effects of diet on health, and a vast pressure from industry lobby groups to distort or subvert that evidence.
I am clear, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that our society is much more about the needs of money and capital than it is about people, and that is a very short term and high risk strategy that itself has many of the attributes of cancer.
Cancer is nothing more that an element of a cooperative (the cooperative cells of a human body) taking resources from the whole for the exclusive use of themselves without regard to the impact on the whole (or the long term impact on themselves – cancer is a very short term and dead end strategy).
If that is not an accurate description of the incentive structures present in a market based economy, then I don’t know what is.
Things that are genuinely abundant in a market have no value, however important they are.
That is not how our bodies work.
The cooperative that is the vast collection of human cells that makes up each and every one of us works at many different levels to ensure that every cell has all the air, water and food it needs.
That is basic – it is breathing, drinking and eating.
That is survival 101 for bodies, and all the cells within – every cell.
As a society, we don’t do that.
We pretend that making each cell compete for survival is natural.
It isn’t! Not if one is using the term cooperative.
It is a distortion of the systemic context of both biology and evolution.
Cooperative life forms work together to ensure all have what is essential, and all have the freedom to do whatever they choose within the context of the needs of the group as a whole. As you have so clearly noted above, Axlerod showed that secondary strategies are required to maintain cooperation. What you have failed to note is that biology and logic both clearly demonstrate that meeting the survival needs of every unit is a fundamental precondition to sustained cooperation. One cannot maintain cooperation by forcing the units into competition for survival (which is what “free markets” do).
Freedom involves responsibility, at many levels!
Freedom is not some childish following of whim.
Freedom is about acknowledging the context of the needs of all others in the group.
Freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin in this sense.
Our society needs to be like our body, and ensure the life and liberty of every cell (every person), no exceptions.
I managed to survive the “terminal cancer” that was present in my body by choosing to over-ride all the wants and desires that my body had learned.
I did that because I had (and have) evidence, beyond reasonable doubt, that it was required for survival.
Money and markets certainly provided a means of signaling that had many useful attributes, as von Hayek and many others have noted, and our modern means of communication are so much more powerful than any market signals. Variations on Snowden’s SenseMaker toolset could provided many orders of magnitude greater signal strength than markets.
Many others have falsely concluded that the historical association of freedom with markets is a causal one. It clearly is not.
So here we are at a time of necessary transition.
We have all the conceptual tools in our toolboxes.
We just need to refine the memes.