*A recovered Sept 2013 draft somehow never published
Cooperation makes us feel good socially, whatever else we don’t control may be done with it.
Dwight Eisenhower approached the question from the usual perspective in his 1960 address to the Commonwealth Club of California, quoting the club’s statement of purpose saying:
“California suffers greatly because the best elements of the population fail to cooperate for the common good as effectively as the bad elements cooperate for evil purposes.”
He then goes on to eloquently advocate and express confidence in the higher purposes of American society to heal our troubled world, to bring peace and justice to the world. But life is not a simple contest of good and evil. That’s a simple problem to solve, just let people join the side doing good.
What seems mistaken is portraying the evil of the world as being an absence of people doing good. As with the German holocaust of the 1930s and 40s. It is historically common for people who feel themselves to be doing good to then lose control of their societies, not realizing till much later they were doing great evil. In authoritarian societies, the leader commonly appears misled by the results of using their power to multiply their power, unaware of how very societally destructive their own behavior will become. That mechanism also applies to investors and governments now using wealth to multiply wealth, unaware of how destructive to the earth that will become. For the people in the societies doing the growing harm, like ours, “life seems normal”.
The larger difficulty is a “problem of normality”.
It’s almost too offensive for people to consider that their own good intentions and their own good feelings of cooperation in working together for the common good could be susceptible to evil. Examples of societies acting in complete contradiction to their own cultural values, and people having their good intentions twisted to evil purposes, seem like they must apply to “someone else”.
The author of the 2006 paper, Emergence and Evil, in the systems science journal E: CO, nicely documents in intimate detail how teams of good scientists, while living very normal academic & professional lives, also devoted their talents to making smallpox more contagious than it naturally is, for use as an efficient weapon. That is a hideously evil thing to do. The Soviet biological weapons program is also well studied from other views, usually addressing it from the simplistic “good v. evil” perspective. The real problem was good AND evil, a true evil that is not so simple, one taking the reader inside what true evil is. You find how very “normal” it is and how “good as evil” is the real problem behind people cooperating socially for evil purposes, like destroying the earth.
That your social relations within a society “can feel good” while your labors are “doing evil” is the problem.
There’s some kind of “disconnect” between what makes us feel good about our work, that fools us about the nature of what our societies are doing as a whole are doing with it. As soon as you realize the nature of the relation, it’s fairly obvious why it’s a problem. It’s that the cells of an organism have a completely different environment from the body, and as cells of the human body, people are rather unobservant. That seems to be the “disconnect.” The cells of a body have their common genome that helps guide each one to act in the interest of the whole, but for quite a number of reasons, our social lives don’t have that for our societal lives.
The general problem seems to be our inability to think of relationships on scales other than our own, blind to the evils that arise in society.
When you think of it that way, the reality of war comes out as people cooperating normally for evil purposes, unaware of why their society is creating great conflicts. One can learn from simple examples. In a misguided society, the natural personal choice of individuals is still to get along socially and feel good about their individual social accomplishments. You’d think they’d notice what others are doing with their work, but all too often, they don’t. Our personal relationships are so important to us, and the societal forces seem out of our control.
If a society is prospering from becoming organized to produce a profit to use for increasing their use of their environment for more profits, setting off a vicious cycle of multiplying interference, though that may be directed at other people’s environments, so it still locally feels “normal.” That can’t help naturally running into erupting conflicts with other societies, though, and worse, those societies are likely not to understand what’s happening on the societal scale, causing even more trouble.
Our own society is doing just that, of course, and has become a disease on the earth, a form of environmental smallpox on a societal scale. We’ve surrounded the earth with our social culture, organized to use the capital for investment to multiply pockets of wealth everywhere possible, to consume the wealth of the earth faster and faster. So it is causing the earth to be physically erupting with every imaginable kind of unsustainable bubble of environmental and societal conflict
The practical impact of understanding the problem would change our economic system. It would still be the same economy, with the same people and rights and reliance on creative innovation funded by investors. What would change is giving profits an end purpose of caring for things rather than growing power, and that would give the whole economy a different purpose.
We’d still use our ability to control things but also use the profits to care for them. It wouldn’t end our other problems, just stop inflaming them with needless conflict. It would mean giving up our ancient painful habit of using profits to multiply our control of things till it causes disasters. t The lazy choice is to choose not to make the change as if to see what happens. Predictably that would turn us into one of those societies of good people that work together for truly evil purposes that no individual would want to have anything to do with.
Dispassionately, one would have to say that devoting ourselves to cooperatively exhausting everything useful to people on earth would be as truly an evil thing as there is. It’s also what we are doing, violating everything we would want to stand for. But it’s the natural goal and purpose inherent in maximizing capital investment as a way of life. It also fits the evidence for how dozens of historic vanished human societies achieved remarkable greatness and mysteriously vanished. With “efficiency of growth” the central principle of institutional “sustainability” today, it’s also clear what human society, with all its marvelous achievements, is now energetically proceeding to synergetically to accomplish, something totally alien to what anyone would want.
Its directions would change from being guided by using profits to multiply one’s control of things to instead caring for them.
Changing from organizing our economy around using profit to multiply power to using profit to care for what we make. It would change “capitalism” to “trusteeship,” as the societal standard changes from make and destroy to care. The main source of financial capital would then be the savings from creative labor, still invested to maximize sustainable returns but used to serve as a reserve and endowment.