The Broken Cooperation: How A Lack of Trust Compromises Society
Let me set things straight. I do not believe that governments serve any human function. Instead, I believe they serve to control human functions. Many anarchists grow to become staunchly individualistic, and this is a great thing. Human diversity leads to human creativity and it is amidst an abundance of thoughts in which ideas are born. But, this staunch individualism must be tempered with a slight collectivism. And, let’s not emphasize the “isms” here. Quite frankly, I am talking merely about competition and cooperation. There needs to be degrees of both in any working relationship. A non-jealous relationship in which competition spurs new planes of cooperation is a good relationship.
Just as their are many flavors of individualism, there are many flavors of cooperation. On both sides of the coin, some expressions of either are good, and some are bad. So, it is not important whether or not you are in it for yourself. What is important, rather, is how you are in it for yourself. And, how you are in it for yourself might depend upon how you were brought up. On the other side of the coin, what is important is not whether you cooperate, but how.
In a new study looking at the prisoner’s dilemma, a “subject” could either cooperate or compete against their partner. What the study found is that adult males who were exposed as children to violence, crime, conflict and neglect turn on their partners earlier and ofter in the study than males who grew up in stabler environments.
Some of the action experiments embarked upon in the study involved two partners – both thiefs -getting interrupted while looting by the police. If you stay silent, you face a month in jail. But, if you rat out your partner, he gets two years and you go free. If both snitch, both get a year.
In this particular study, researchers selected 244 male and female undergraduate students to participate in prisoner dilemma games. Each student was told they would play twenty rounds on a computer. While the students were told they were playing with a human, the reality was the computer was programmed to a ”tit for tat” strategy in which the computer does in the current round what the student did in the round prior.
After the play, the “subjects” completed questionnaires regarding the environment in which they grew up. They included socioeconomic status and whether or not their family functions harmoniously; i.e., rates of neglect, violence and conflict, as well as neighborhood violence and crime.
In women, researchers did not find a link between childhood exposure to violence/socioeconomic status and their choices in the game. Men, however, displayed something different. When exposed to violence and conflict young, be it familial or neighborly, were more likely to exploit their opponent. And so, for every one-unit increase in scoring on the childhood violence survey, there was a 9.2% greater likelihood of exploitation and a 4.5% decrease in cooperation. The implication here, I believe, might be that men respond to violence in a much more acute manner than do woman. Another finding is that broken childhood’s lead to a broken society, but this is a truism.
The researchers hypothesized that a harsh childhood leads one towards risk-taking behavior and a tendency toward exploitation and retaliation. ”If you look at the world in front of you and see cues that your situation isn’t stable, you’re going to become programmed to take rewards that are right in front of your eyes right now,” one of the researchers said.
Psychologist Ying-yi Hong of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, who did not partake in this study, believes something else is at play: ”In my opinion, a more likely explanation for what was seen here is that people who grew up in these environments with more conflict have a lower expectation of other people…And once someone doesn’t cooperate with you once, that just backs up your opinion of people.”
As expectations for each other lower throughout a society, the ability to cooperate becomes retarded, thus devolving the whole into a selfishly individualistic culture in which no harmony can be achieved because of a lack of trust. This is a problematic sort of individualism because it gives the individual no context. The individual does not learn from others, and because they have withdrawn, they never learn to become open-minded about cooperation, and thus never learn to cooperate. A true individualism in a healthy society would posit cooperation as key to individuality. Individuals would look to others for lessons, ideas and other sorts of inspiration, while maintaining their staunch individuality all along the way.