What if cooperation doesn't quite mean what I thought?

  • Posted on: 3 September 2018
  • By: benfell

I wanted to take note of the following:

“I tend to avoid the word ‘cooperation’ because that sounds really fun and nice,” says [Thomas] Talhelm. “It isn’t like being on a basketball team. It’s more like ‘my behavior affects other people, so I have to be careful.’” What he noticed anecdotally from his time in China, and later through research, was the conflict avoidance of residents in rice-growing areas. “You don’t swing your elbows as much,” he says.1

In particular, both Riane Eisler's The Chalice and the Blade2 and John Bodley's Victims of Progress3 rely on an image of cooperation among prehistoric people as cooperation. That image goes unchallenged in the other reading I have done and so I never even thought to question it.

But what if alleged prehistoric cooperation wasn't so much cooperation as it was what Thomas Talhelm describes above, which, by the way, is reminiscent of an event Colin Turnbull describes in The Forest People, in which a member of the community had not done his fair share of the work and was expelled? It seemed that real problem was not the crime of slacking off but rather the discord he created within the community by slacking off. This discord was intolerable and so the person seen to blame for that discord was expelled (but not really for very long).4