Evonomics – Turchin – Capitalism kills cooperation

Evonomics – Peter Turchin – Does Capitalism Kill Cooperation?

The thesis:
“Competition between groups (up to whole societies) fosters within-group cooperation.
Competition within groups (between their members) destroys cooperation.”
while true, actually hides more than it clarifies.

What is actually required for cooperation within groups to emerge, is the presence of some external and mediatable threat which is greater than the sum of the threats from other members of the group.

That statement is much more general.

One can then see that competition is only one of the infinite classes of possible threats.

That removes any vestige of an idea that competition can be necessary.

One needs to further understand that complexity is predicated on cooperation.

It is a close enough approximation to say that complex systems always require levels of cooperation for their emergence.

At our level of complexity, competition is the single greatest threat to liberty that exists.

Competition will always tend to drive systems to some set of minima on the complexity landscape, and in such minima the degrees of freedom present are usually highly restricted.

Opening the degrees of freedom available demands cooperative systems.

It really isn’t that difficult of an idea – though it can be difficult when one has been subjected to definitions of markets and evolution that are essentially so distorted as to be false.

[followed by]

Hi coralannie,

I really question the statement “society is built to encourage selfishness and atomism”.

I certainly agree that there is a prevalent mythos that such is the case.
The idea seems common.
That doesn’t make it true, or even probable.

What actually seems most probably to be the case, is that society is a very complex mix of cooperative and competitive strategies, and that to a good first order approximation, it is the cooperative strategies that are most important to our survival as individuals and cultures and as a species.

I agree with you, that the notions you describe are nonsense.
The idea that a set of numbers (which is all that money is in reality) defines welfare or survival probability is nonsense.

What exists in reality is people and stuff.
One way of looking at people and stuff is to classify the goods and services represented as potential in their existence.
Any person or process who has service potential that is not actually used in any instant is a waste of that potential.
The idea that such potential should be lost simply because of a lack of numbers is bordering on the insane (if not already well past that boundary).

Sure, some things are currently scarce.
Markets are a reasonably useful mechanism for the allocation of genuinely scarce resources in many contexts.
Certainly, markets currently perform many very important distributed functions, some of which are quite abstract.

And none of that removes the fact that fully automated systems are able to produce better goods and services than people at lower energy input for a large and exponentially expanding set of goods and services. So the classical idea that a person’s labor has a value in a market is rapidly disappearing for an ever larger class of people.

So where once a reasonable case could be made that market value and human value had some reasonable overlap – that case can no longer be made.
It is already the case that automated systems can replace most people at far lower cost in terms of both energy and money.

There is no longer much overlap between market value and human value.

Universal Basic Income could be used as part of a transition strategy to move us from scarcity based values to abundance based values, as we develop effective and resilient non-market mechanisms for all the many levels of process and risk mitigation that markets were once reasonably good at.

On current trends, by about 2032, there will be no classes of jobs that automated systems cannot do cheaper than people.

This is not a trivial issue.

It could be the greatest thing for individual life and individual liberty, or it could lead to our extinction as a species. Those are the two major peaks I see in the probability “landscape”.

We need more people to be active working on the former, and actively working against the probabilities of the latter.

Complex adaptive systems cannot be predicted even in theory. One interacts with them by probing the system, seeing how the system responds, amplifying things going in the general direction you want, and dampening down things going in other directions in an eternal iterative process.
Anyone who thinks anything more certain than that is possible simply does not understand the levels of complexity and uncertainty present.

This is most certainly a case where over-simplification poses existential levels of risk in and of itself. A minimal level of awareness of complexity that acknowledges at least this much is required.

So yes – we need to acknowledge the reality of the cooperation present and required.
Yes – we need to acknowledge that our existence as sapient entities is predicated on multiple levels of cooperation, and that such complexity makes demands upon us as individuals in terms of acknowledging our social and ecological responsibilities.

And it is also useful in that to acknowledge that all freedom comes with responsibilities, and that any freedom comes with necessary boundaries.

Certainly there is a sense in which one is free to walk off the curb in front of a fast moving bus, but the duration of such freedom is small.
Reality has ways of dealing to things that break fundamental survival constraints.
It does so without any bias, any concern, any knowledge.
It just does it.
If we wish to survive, then we must acknowledge that the sorts of freedom that survive in reality have boundaries that must be respected.
That applies to every level of complexity.
At every level such boundaries are complex and context sensitive.
Even the simplest human being has about 15 levels of such boundaries (not 15 boundaries, but 15 levels of collections of such boundaries).

At higher levels, we tend to call such things morality, and give them a separate existence, but from a systems perspective they are simply a class of boundary condition required for the maintenance of existence at that level; in a very real sense.

“Wrong” is not a term I like to use, as it tends to over simplify complex realities, and yes – I feel your pain in this context.

And if the excuse that empowering people would increase carbon use is bought out, then it needs to be squashed. The only reason we haven’t replaced fossil fuels with solar is the profit that can be made from localised carbon vs the distributed solar. It is always more profitable to control what is essentially a monopoly than to supply something in universal abundance (like air – no profit in it, but imagine trying to live without it for half an hour – don’t actually try it – it will be permanently fatal).

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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