Competition: A Necessary Root of Social Structure, Work and Education?
Member of the Zeitgeist-Toronto Chapter
Member of the Institute for a Resource Based Economy
Herbert Spencer, under the influence of Charles Darwin, altered foundations of our social structures profoundly by coining the phrase “Survival of the fittest” (as the premise of evolutionary theory)(1). That is with the underlying premise that, in a scarce environment, competition is the main driving force for human development. Those genetic traits, or those individuals with genetic traits that were successful would naturally survive and end up at the top of a social/biological hierarchical structure. This simple idea has far reaching consequences – like natural evolution in a free market system, competition in a scarce environment would most accurately and efficiently evaluate the value or price of a good or service(2), where the most scarce and most in demand good or service would be valued higher. Correspondingly, our education system was fitted to prepare individuals for a free market system and competition has been incorporated in all aspects of education.
What if we were wrong and competition isn’t the driving force for an efficient system? What if we could re-evaluate education and recreate it for the benefit of everyone without attachment to rewarding the best? What if we found that the premise for advanced evolution is not competition but cooperation, and rebuilt society in that framework?
More and more biologists are discovering that inter and intra-species cooperation not only exists, but is necessary for the survival of a species. The human body itself is not only made up of a bunch of human cells, but a consortium of different organisms that communicate with one another and aid in each other’s survival. For example, healthy gut bacteria has been shown in studies to decrease the risk of autoimmune arthritis(3)(4), autism(5), and protect against intestinal infection by pathogenic bacteria(4). In return, these beneficial bacteria get nutrients required for their own survival. If we look at human development, our applied knowledge is that which we have accrued over multiple generations of understanding and investigation. Every human being is born helpless and dependent on other humans for food, water, clothing and shelter. All of these ideas indicate that the premise for survival is not dependent on competition, but on cooperation. If this is the case, should our educational system not reflect that accordingly?
Let’s say hypothetically we can sit in a room and revise our education system, to a model based on cooperation. We could decide, based on this model, the fundamental concepts that everyone should learn. Wouldn’t these concepts, revolving around community and group cooperation, be required in day-to-day living? Let’s take for example some key concepts that would benefit every human being:
- -Understanding the mind and body interface, and the relationship between experience, thought, mind, and awareness.
- -Learning to communicate effectively, comfortably and confidently in listening, speaking, and writing.
- -Basic mathematics, natural science, language, motor, art, and musical skills.
- -Basics skills to look at a problem, break it down into smaller logical and solvable chunks
- -To learn and be comfortable on how to lead in a group.
- -To learn and be comfortable on how to follow in a group.
- -To be able to both as a leader and as a follower to work at solving a big problem in a group or small pieces of a big problem in a group.
In a cooperative educational system, perhaps we would evaluate without testing but with tasks that an individual is observed to achieve at the end of a milestone – similar to those same milestones recognized in child development such as turning, crawling, walking, speaking and so forth. Perhaps we would not have teachers but facilitators in a system of self-guided learning where the completion of a milestone may be observed by the individuals themselves.
Education is the start of learning and is the starting point for how societies will evolve. A cooperative model encourages a free-sharing, inclusive and holistic developmental environment; a competitive model encourages a protectionist, exclusive, and selfish developmental environment, which clearly limits growth.
Perhaps we can evaluate the problems in society today, and observe where we are heading, and consider changing it for the better – beginning with education.
(1) Herbert Spencer, “Principles of Biology”, 1864; Vol. 1, p. 444
(2) Adam Smith, “The Wealth of Nations” edited by R.H. Campbell and A.S. Skinner, The Glasgow edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith, 1976, vol. 2b, pp. 47.
(3) Science Daily, “Learning How Gut Bacteria Influence Health: Scientists Crack Sparse Genome of Microbe Linked to Autoimmunity”, 14 September 2011; Science News
(4) Andrew Sczesnak, Nicola Segata, Xiang Qin, Dirk Gevers, Joseph F. Petrosino, Curtis Huttenhower, Dan R. Littman, Ivaylo I. Ivanov. “The Genome of Th17 Cell-Inducing Segmented Filamentous Bacteria Reveals Extensive Auxotrophy and Adaptations to the Intestinal Environment.” Cell Host & Microbe, 15 September 2011; 10(3) pp. 260 – 272
(5) Behavioural Neurotherapy Clinic, “Cellular malnutrition and Intestinal Dysbiosis in Autism”, http://www.adhd.com.au/Intestinal_Dysbiosis.htm
var _gaq = _gaq || ; _gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-28392821-1']); _gaq.push(['_trackPageview']);