[OPE] Spectres of the future: "Science" magazine wrestles with the core concepts of competition and cooperation

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Mon Sep 14 2009 - 05:36:09 EDT

Hi Patrick

I'm on holiday and a full reply takes longer... I posted the reference
because the relationship of competition and cooperation which I have
mentioned on OPE-L before is posed in a remarkable clear way by the
scientists, and provides an opportunity for a dialogue if you should wish to
take it up.

The categories of cooperation and competition are transhistorical
categories, meaning that they apply to all human societies, and also to
animal groups (and to a certain extent vegetation and all living matter). It
is therefore obviously very easy to make generalisations about them, which
abstract from the specificity of particular forms of cooperation and
competition, and thereby to mistake a sectional interest for a common
interest and vice versa, generating a sort of ideology of cooperation and
competition. Scientists are often apt to frame these things in terms of
"game theory" or "rational actor" models, but that is not an absolute
requirement (Cf. for example Margaret Mead's anthropological discussion).

In dialectical theory, cooperation and competition form a unity of
opposites, a dialectical contradiction, in which these terms both presuppose
each other, and negate each other, simultaneously including and excluding
each other. I call cooperation and competition "core concepts" because they
are part of the foundation of the theory of social organisation, which Max
Weber largely ignores. The intellectual challenge is then, to go beyond the
surface paradox, and explain "in what way" cooperation and competition
specifically both include and exclude each other at different levels of

The problem with neoliberal thought is that, by recommending universal
market competition between private interests as the best method of resource
allocation, it removes the very possibility of any form of cooperation which
is incompatible with the principle of universal market competition. Yet, as
the scientists say, a form of cooperation is needed which transcends
universal market competition, and then the problem seems to be, that such
cooperation would effectively mean doing things which are not in one's
(immediate) self interest, in other words, the general interest is
counterposed to individual interests. Framed in this way, the problem does
not seem to permit of any solution. In order to solve it, it appears to be
necessary to reframe the problem, by thinking in a different way about
competition, cooperation and how they are related. And that provides plenty
opportunity for the Marxian social scientist to enter the fray.


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Received on Mon Sep 14 05:41:26 2009

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