From Competition to Cooperation

One of my favorite games growing up was Monopoly.  My grandfather has a special anniversary edition of the game and almost every time we visited we would pull it out of the box, choose our pieces (I generally liked the race car and the cannon), collect our money, and get to work.  The game itself was ruthless and looking back it has probably taught me more about our human society than many of the other recreational and educational activities of my youth and probably most of my adolescence.  The goal was simple, own everything.  And only a few rounds into the game most of our preexisting family loyalties quickly dissolved amid the quest for accumulation of property and resources.  Most of the time, I would try to volunteer to be the “banker” which allowed me to distribute all the money available in the game and occasionally, depending on the house rules we were playing at the time, allowed me to pass out loans to my competitors earning a bit of interest and essentially producing extra income out of thin air.  Of course, all the money loaned belonged to the game itself so I rarely saw much of the risk involved in loaning to people you hope to quickly push into bankruptcy…it was essentially free money and we really didn’t play by those rules very often…

As the game progressed, the board would grow steadily more stratified.  If you were lucky, rolled the proper combinations of dice, made a few strategic decisions, and accumulated assets early on you would quickly begin to see your competitors struggle and eventually be eliminated by bankruptcy.  And at the end after breaking final adversary you would be declared the winner (I tended to win more than I lost) earning valuable bragging rights for the rest of the day.  Of course, rather than sit around and stare at a board full of empty hotels, foreclosed houses, and unused utilities because there was nobody left to pay for any of them, we would clear off the game, place the pieces back into the box, and slide the whole thing back under my grandfather’s bed ready for the next idle afternoon in northern New Jersey.

As a society, we are very good at understanding the concept of competition.  Many of us follow sports and can easily talk intelligently about the last Super Bowl or World Series, discuss the ins and outs of our favorite college football teams, and explain why this or that head coach and sports franchise is far superior to all the others.  Most of us also follow war, the ultimate form of human competition, and can explain the successes and failures of our country along with several reasons why our wars ended up turning out the way they have.  We also understand big business, we readily buy stock in the good ones, and cast a thousand little votes every month with every purchasing decision we make in our lives.  We believe that our God is the one true God, that we are His chosen people, and that we have some type of manifest destiny to bring His world into our own by vanquishing all forces of evil.  We were put on this Earth to win.  We despise losers from the depths of our souls.  And we crush all forms of laziness as unfit to contribute to our final victory…

But what about cooperation?  What if we decided to change our rules, our goals, and our objectives?  What if instead of trying to own it all, ultimately being left with only a bunch of empty hotels and unused utilities, we decided to make the system  as sustainable as possible?  What if we pooled our resources, built bigger and better hotels, ran the prices down to fit our newfound level of efficiency, and rather than trying to bankrupt our competitors, sought to keep everyone in the game indefinitely?  Surely this would not make for a very interesting childhood board game…but then since when have we thought it a good idea to build a society on the basis of a silly game of chance?

Since the dawn of time humans have used technology to make their lives easier and more efficient.  Our technological advances have allowed for such great societal achievements as the creation of cities, the division of labor, the development of culture and the arts, the exploration of our world, and the interconnectedness of our people.  It has allowed us to produce enough food to feed ourselves, enough medicine to heal ourselves, and sadly, enough weapons to kill ourselves.  Today, we build our societies on the microchip, fuel them with them petroleum, feed them with genetic modifications, and protect them with predator drones.  We believe in progress and the steady evolution of our human species, and yet we are still base our systems and structures on the realities of our great-grandfathers.

Up until very recently in human history, technology served to assist human labor not to replace it.  Regardless of our developments, our society was still so teetering on the brink of destruction that we required the services of every capable human being to engage in some form of manual labor.  We created a free market system, still the best economic order we have developed to date, so that we could incentivize and motivate each other to continue our labor with the promises of some type of dream, a comfortable life, and for the winners, the massive accumulation of wealth.  And yet now, as we see technology becoming so advanced that it is not just assisting but actually replacing many forms of menial human labor we are finally beginning to see the problems in our old systems of order…

It is quite interesting that as we finally reach an era of human development and evolution where we can realistically provide for the needs of every single human being on the planet through the growth and intelligent utilization of technology that we see such great chaos and frustration.  As machines and computers reduce the need for so many forms of human work it seems we should be rejoicing in our achievements, rebuilding our families and our communities, further developing our sciences, our philosophies, and our arts, and shattering the realms of possibilities known to our parents just a few years before our time.  And yet, in a world without menial labor we also lack menial jobs.  Without menial jobs we lack the money to fuel our consumer-oriented societies.  Without the steady transfer of money (and the accumulation of debt) our economies stagnate, our goods and products remain on the shelves, and we struggle to provide for own basic needs much less any type true personal fulfillment in this life…maybe it is about time for something to change…

I am not a utopianist by any means.  I don’t believe in the “perfect” global society or anything perfect at all that was once touched by imperfect human hands.  I don’t think we can ever correct all the ills of our society, eradicate all our crime, end all of conflicts, or fix all of our social problems.  I know that human beings have a great capacity to do very cruel things to one another, that power corrupts even the best of us, and that few can truly resist the temptation of getting ahead in competition.  I don’t believe I will see a world government of any type at any point during my lifetime and doubt I will even live long enough to see the eradication of major civil war.  And yet by some weird quark of my mind and my reality, for some reason I still believe that we can at least do a lot better than we have in the past, and that we can develop better systems and structures for our societies than our parents perpetuated before our time.

Change by nature is dangerous and slow.  We cannot break down our walls and our structures without first creating something to put in their place.  We cannot destroy our unsustainable systems overnight but must seek to evolve and develop them into the image that best serves the needs of our fellow human beings.  We will not arrive at our answers from protesting and rioting in the streets, but with luck such actions will at least serve as a catalyst for fostering the important discussions and exchange of ideas we need to take our society and our planet on the right path…to turn our dreams of peace and happiness into our children’s reality.

Veterans’ Day is a time to remember the men and women who have served our country honorably in our many wars and, in some circumstances, have made the ultimate sacrifice for our ideals and our dreams.  It is also the day in which we remember then end of the great war, which almost a hundred years and several major conflicts ago, our society believed would be the war to end all wars.  As we celebrate this in our own place at our own time, I only hope we can imagine a time when the services and blood of our soldiers are no longer needed.  As military men, our ultimate goal has always been to work ourselves out of a job.  In the past and today these jobs were held up by a strong military-industrial complex where it was not just us relying on our militarization for employment, but virtually every sector of the population.  Yet as we begin to redefine and reorganize our societies perhaps we will be able to find better pursuits than the creation and implementation of weapons.  If we break from the need to labor in order to provide for our needs, perhaps we can also break from the need to kill each other as a means to do the same.  While there is surely a long and difficult journey in the years and decades ahead, for some reason I still believe that we actually a lot closer than are comfortable giving ourselves credit for.  Through technology most of the groundwork has already been laid.  Now it’s just a matter of allowing our societies to catch up…

Here’s to our veterans and all those who struggle and suffer with them.  May our children never know the depth of our toils in war.  Peace Be Upon You.



11 NOV 2011, 2035 AST, Sharana, Paktika, Afghanistan


About briangdonnelly

I'm pretty much a random traveler and free thinker. Right now I live and work with the Army in North Carolina. I grew up in Missouri but am from the northeast US and have traveled a lot with the Army and life in general so I can't say I really have a "home" except where I chose to catch a few hours or rack each day. Overall, life is pretty awesome and I'm looking forward to changing the world. Hit me up if you care... Peace, Brian
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