Competition is behavior designed to benefit the individual agent rather than the group. The agent may be a person, an organization, a nation, and so on. The group is the larger set of similar agents against which the individual agent is competing.

Why this is important

When the general amount of competition exceeds cooperation in a social system, problems invariably appear. The prolonged failure to solve the sustainability problem is caused by excessive competition. Our challenge is to understand why such massive self-destructive competition is occuring, at the root cause level. Only then will we be able to solve the problem.

Application example

This example applies to the entire human system.

Competition occurs as competitive agents pursue their goals. In the human system this becomes members of Homo sapiens acting out their procreative drive. Competition is thus dominance and survival of the fittest, the strongest, the cleverest. If an individual cannot achieve dominance or survival, it will frequently resort to groupism. However once the challenge is surmounted, individuals or subgroups tend to revert to their own self-interest. Thus competitive equilibrium hovers around the level of groupism needed to optimize one's procreative odds.

Competition is such an important individual skill it's practiced during our educational years. Competitive sports are the outstanding example. Practicing competition begins when we are very young as games, continues with things like competition for awards or the highest grades in school, and then blossoms as careers start and many compete to see who can make the most, advance the highest, gain the most fame, or make the biggest splash.

The case can be made that competition at a high level of intensity is no longer necessary. Homo Sapiens is no longer threatened by any predators. In modern society things are going to be about the same for you regardless of whether you have children or not. Some individuals and groups are enlightened enough to see that their own behavior need not be competition centric.

The case can also be made that competition can be taken too far. Wars, genocide, discrimination, conspicuous consumption, and arrogance over others are obvious examples. Even population growth is a competitive trait, because it gives one group a greater advantage over another.

Many types of competition have unpleasant side effects because the competitor cared more for its own self-interests than others. One example is the environmental crisis we now find ourselves in. This crisis is clearly caused mostly by competition and can only be resolved by global cooperation. However, once resolved we must be certain to remain cooperative. Groups have rallied before to a common cause but in most cases they have eventually reverted back to their own self-interest. Thus long term global cooperation is a key subgoal to sustain the problem solution.

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The Alternative

The more mature alternative to competition is cooperation.

The Fallacy of Competition Is What Makes Society Efficient

Numerous social experiments have been tried to create a workable alternative to competition, like socialism, communism, communes, and utopian communities. None have worked on the large scale for long, i.e. larger than a community.

The longest running large-scale non-competitive experiment is found in China. In theory China's brand of communism is cooperative. But in practice it's highly competitive, even more so lately with the introduction of corporations. It seems that over time, all societies gravitate toward a mixture of competition at the bottom and cooperation at the top.

That all industrialized societies are based on competition between firms has been seized upon as proof that competition is what makes society efficient. This premise is then used to justify the independence of corporations and their goal of maximization of profit.

But it's a fallacy. Cooperation is what makes a society as a whole efficient. That's what governments are for. Competition is what makes individual social agents efficient, like corporations, people, families, and organizations. The needs of society always come first, since without the overall cooperation provided by government our social contract would vanish and life would become "nasty, brutish, and short."

Thus it's not competition that makes a society efficient. It's cooperation.

So the next time you hear the "rights" of large for-profit corporations defended on the grounds that they need those rights to be competitive and thus efficient, just say no. There is an alternative. It's non-competitive corporations, also known as non-profits or cooperatives.

This alternative lies at the heart of resolving the root cause of the social improper coupling problem.