65 The fragile balance
Anyone who has played a team sport, cut a business deal or raised a brood of children knows that mutual cooperation and competition can combine.
The undertow of competition is aggression and anger, sentiments which are hardwired into human beings. Rehearsals, conversations, coalitions, communities or workshops can countervail against this destructive pull, because the impulse of goodwill it also imprinted in our genes. As social animals, we have to work out through experience how to strike a balance.
71 Natural cooperation begins with the fact that we can't survive alone. The division of labour helps is multiply our insufficient powers, but this division works best when it is supple, because the environment itself is in a constant process of change. Changes in the environment running ahead of genetically patterned behaviour; among social animals, no single institution, like the family, can guarantee stability. Given all this, how are balances between cooperation and competition struck? The answer lies in the spectrum of exchanges ants, apes and humans experience.
72 The spectrum of exchange: „Exchange“ simply names the experience of give-and-take among all animals. It arises thanks to life's basic rhythm of stimulus and response; it occurs in sex, feeding regimes or fights. Exchanges become self-conscious among higher primates, in the sense that all primates show evidence that they ponder what to give and take, and that they experiment with different kinds of exchange.
The exchanges in which all social animals engage run a spectrum of behaviours from the altruistic to the viciously competitive. For the sake of clarity I've divided the spectrum of exchange into five segments:
altruistic exchange, which entails self-sacrifice;
win-win exchange, in which both parties benefit;
differentiating exchange, in which the partners become aware of their differences;
zero-sum exchange, in which one party prevails at the expense of another; winner-takes-all exchange, in which one party wipes out the other.
128 We explored the relation between cooperation and competition: striking a balance between the two means considering our nature as social animals.
The great monotheistic religions have treated man in a state of nature as a flawed creature, destroying the peaceable Kingdom of Eden; for tough-minded philosophers like Thomas Hobbes, Eden never existed; natural man engages in lethal competition, and is not at all minded to cooperate with others.
Modern ethological science takes a more hopeful view: social animals do strike a fragile balance between cooperation and competition in dealing with one another. The balance is fragile because the natural environment is constantly shifting, but it can still be struck through exchange.
We saw the forms of exchange run the gamut from altruistic to winner-takes-all encounters; in the middle of the spectrum, balance between cooperation and competition can most easily occur. Ritual is a particular way that the human social animal organises balancing exchanges, rituals of our own making, rituals endowed with passion when they become skilled performances. It is a passage from nature to culture.
129 We have explored a more particular journey in European culture, the changes in cooperative culture which appeared at the dawn of the early modern era, within religious practice, the organisation of labour in workshops, and in the emergence of civility among professional diplomats and in the conduct of everyday life.
Our social arrangements for cooperation need a reformation. Modern capitalism has unbalanced competition and cooperation, and so made cooperation itself less open, less dialogic.
179 Two forces are weakening cooperation: structural inequality and new forms of labour. These social forces have psychological consequences.
A distinctive character type is emerging in modern society, the person who can't manage demanding, complex forms of social engagement, and so withdraws. He or she loses the desire to cooperate with others. This person becomes an „uncooperative self“.
221 Everyday diplomacy: Everyday diplomacy is one way people deal with people they don't understand, can't relate to all or are in conflict with. To meet these challenges, people in communities, at work or in the street proceed in ways analogous to making and repairing things in the workshop. They use minimal force; create social space through coded gestures; make sophisticated repairs which acknowledge trauma. Everyday diplomacy puts the dialogic conversation to work practically. One result is skilled conflict management.
274 Coda Montaigne’s Cat
At the end of his life, the philosopher Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) inserted a question into an essay written many years before:“When I am playing with my cat, how do I know she's not playing with me?“ The question summed up Montaigne years long held conviction that we can never really plumb the inner life of others, be they cats are other human beings. Montaigne’s cat can serve as an emblem for the demanding sort of cooperation explored in this book.
My premise about cooperation has been that we frequently don't understand what's passing in the hearts and minds of people with whom we have to work. Yet just as Montaigne kept playing with his enigmatic cat, so too a lack of mutual understanding shouldn't keep us from engaging with others; we want to get something done together.
Montaigne provides a fitting coda to this book because he was a master of dialogical thinking… He began both to experiment with writing in a dialogical way and to think through its application to everyday cooperation. Montaigne‘s emblematic, enigmatic cat lay at the heart of this project. What passes in the minds of those with whom we cooperate? Around this question Montaigne associated other aspects of practising cooperation: dialogic practices which are skilled, informal and emphatic, - „the art of conversation“.
Montaigne disputes that the skilled detection of what others mean but do not say is the province of exceptional minds; this detective and contemplative skill, he insists, is a potentiality in all human beings, one suppressed by assertions of authority.
Montaigne was the philosopher par excellance of modesty, particularly the self restraint which helps people to engage with others. „Our self“, Montaigne writes in an essay on vanity, „is an object fall of dissatisfaction, we can see they're nothing but wretchedness and vanity“. Yet this is not a councel to engage in Luther's anguished self-struggle: „so as not to dishearten us, Nature has a very conveniently cast the action of our sight outwards“. Curiosity can „hearten“ us to look beyond ourselves.
As has appeared in the course of this book, looking outward makes for a better social bond and imagining others are reflected in ourselves, or as though society itself was constructed as the room of mirrors. But looking outward is a skilled people have to learn.
Montaigne thinks empathy rather than sympathy is the cardinal social virtue. In the record he kept of life on his small country estate, he constantly compares his habits and tastes with those of his neighbours and workers; of courses interested in the similarities, but he takes particular note of their peculiarities: to get along together, although have to attend to mutual differences and dissonances.
Taking an interest in others, on their own terms, is perhaps the most radical aspect of Montaigne‘s writing. His was an age of hierarchy in which inequalities of rank seem to separate seigneurs and servants into separate species, and Montaigne is not free of this attitude; nonetheless, he is curious.
It is often said that Montaigne is one of the first writers to dwell on his own personal self; this is true but incomplete. His method of self-knowledge is to compare and contrast; he stages differentiating encounters and exchanges again and again in the pages of his essays. Montaigne’s cat was an emblem fashioned at the dawn of the modern era to convey a set of possibilities, the cat represented new ways of living together: cooperative life, freed of command from the top.
280 The word „individualism“ names, I believe, a social absence as well as a personal impulse: ritual is absent.
Ritual‘s role in all human cultures is to relieve and resolve anxiety, by turning people outward in shared, symbolic acts; modern society has weakened those ritual ties. Secular rituals, particularly rituals whose point is cooperation itself, have proved too feeble to provide that support.
Today, the crossed effects of desires for a reassuring solidarity amid economic insecurities to render social life brutally simple: us-against-them coupled with you-are-on-your-own. But I insist that we dwell in the condition of „not yet“.
Modernity‘s brutal simplifiers may repress and distort our capacity to live together, but they do not, cannot, erase this capacity. As social animals we are capable of cooperating more deeply than the existing social order in visions, for Montaigne‘s emblematic, enigmatic cat is lodged in ourselves.
Boe: individualism – cogito – Es denkt (Fuchs) - cogitamus
Beobachtung Dritter Ordnung