Cultural evolution is all about cooperation. Then what is cooperation? Let’s look at a couple definitions.
While I agree with much of your thesis, your definition of co-operation doesn’t work, and is not the standard Oxford English Dictionary definition. You have tried to combine two necessary ideas into one, and damaged both in the process.
Co-operation is simple. It comes from the Latin. Co mean together – or more formally the general sense is ‘together’, ‘in company’, ‘in common’, ‘joint, -ly’, ‘equal, -ly’, ‘reciprocally’, ‘mutually’.
Operari simply means to work.
So in the simplest of modes, cooperation simply means working together – in practice.
Human beings are not simple. Human beings have about 20 levels of complex systems present. Each of those levels contains many sets of cooperative systems, that work within and between levels.
Trying to introduce a high level construct like voluntary into a fundamental construct like cooperation prevents understanding rather than aiding it.
It seems entirely accurate to me to characterise the emergence of all new levels of living complexity as the emergence of new levels of cooperative systems. And Axelrod clearly demonstrated that to be stable cooperative systems require sets of attendant strategies to prevent invasion by cheating strategies.
Holding that principle is fundamental to understanding the evolution of higher level systems.
I am all for freedom in the realm of human choice, and that is a fundamental part of the term “voluntary”, and that is also an extremely complex and slippery notion, that I have spent over 40 years investigating.
So in the realm of human affairs, I fully support the use of voluntary and cooperative together, but not as one term. For the sake of clarity, they must remain separate terms. Without that separation, it is not possible to understand the evolutionary pathway that has led to our existence, and this conversation.
And for me, any exploration of the idea of choice has to come with the notion of responsibility. Humans live in complex social and physical systems, and our actions in both sets of systems have consequences on the experience and freedoms of others. So freedom is not license to follow whim, it is something much more complex, constrained by responsibility in many different dimensions.
The second aspect is that there is a major flaw in the rest of your argument, coming from an unexamined cultural assumption.
This has to do with the nature of markets and their derivative value of money.
In times of genuine scarcity there are two major classes of benefit derived by the use of markets.
1/ In times of genuine scarcity the sharing of goods and service through trade reduces both the frequency and degree of scarcity experienced across the range of goods and services so traded, and in doing so tends to reduce the incentive sets to violence.
2/ The actual social contacts made over time in markets tend to form socially cohesive bonds over wider networks than would otherwise be the case, and such social cohesion tends to weaken the power of propaganda to demonize an “enemy” and create feelings that sustain war.
I full acknowledge both of these aspects of markets in history, and “the times they are a changing”.
Now we have automation taking an ever greater role in our lives.
Automation changes things in several profound ways.
In terms of goods and services, any process that can be fully automated can be supplied in abundance to all, but markets cannot deliver universal abundance. Anything universally abundant, no matter how important it is, has zero value in a market. Oxygen in the air is the prime example – without doubt the single most important thing for any human being, yet of zero value in most markets, due to its universal abundance.
This becomes a major issue of justice, when the only reason that most people do not experience the sort of abundance that some of us do, is the market mechanism itself. The search for profit prevents the benefits of full automation being universally distributed.
Automation changes everything.
Full automation turns markets from a power for peace, to the greatest source of existential risk present (when viewed from this perspective of the sets of strategic influences present in human interactions).
Some people are reacting to that by trying to prevent automation (we see an explosion of such legal edifices – in the realm of intellectual property laws in their many guises).
That is a very sub-optimal outcome, that still imposes a great deal of unnecessary risk and tragedy on human existence for the majority.
I am clear, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that in this strategic sense, of the fundamental drivers that create the playing field of this game we call life, that markets have gone past the point at which they delivered benefit, and are rapidly diving into the realm of delivering severe (and exponentially growing) existential risk.
Another thing automation is doing is taking the human relationships out of markets. EBay and Alibaba supply goods and services without the human relationship.
So while the internet does allow you and I to meet, and to communicate, which might be a very positive thing, it is also progressively taking that daily trading relationship away for many. Multi player virtual environments allow some individuals to shrink the size of their real world networks.
And I trained in biochemistry and ecology over 40 years ago, and for the last 30 years have run a software company specialising in the fishing industry, which is an industry with many levels of complexity present. On the legislative side there is fisheries legislation, health and safety, food safety, tax law, accounting law. Then there are the many levels of needs of business, from board reports, down through the many levels of operation within large companies to operational requirements of people using complex computer hardware in a shop floor situation containing knives and salt water, truck drivers needing to record bins of fish being unloaded from a vessel in driving rain, fishers needing to record catches at sea, in storm conditions. So making such systems work in practice means bringing together experience in many levels of hardware and software operation in practice to meet multiple levels of requirements simultaneously – a fairly good definition of evolution in action.
30 years of designing, writing, testing and supporting systems in this context (while retaining my interests in both evolutionary theory and artificial intelligence) has given me an intuitive view of systems that is not common, and it works, in practice.