The argument of this pamphlet is that we should jettison the assumption that humans are selfish, first and foremost. Instead, we should start from the assumption that most of the time, most people want to be cooperative.
We should also assume that the most enduring, productive, adaptive solutions to our shared dilemmas will also be the fairest, because fairness breeds cooperation. Only when cooperative approaches manifestly fail should we turn to solutions that hinge on self-interest.
Drawing in evidence from infant development studies, evolutionary science and the course of human history from the prehistoric to the modern, Charlie Leadbeater argues that society – including our political leaders – can and should embrace and foster humankind’s integral cooperative spirit and redress the individualistic, transactional model of modern capitalism.
‘Humans are more cooperative than other species because we are capable of more fine-grained forms of cooperation: we are prepared to cooperate with strangers, over large distances and times, overcoming obstacles of language and culture. This deeply wired capacity for cooperation will be more important than ever to enable us to create shared solutions to complex challenges, from global financial regulation to ageing and climate change.
‘Yet most of our systems, institutions and models of public policy lock us in to a miserable, impoverished view of ourselves as untrustworthy and selfish. These approaches actively crowd out cooperation, supplanting cooperative solutions with systems that rely on material incentives. They remake the world in their own image.’
Looking at three issues as examples – bankers and their bonuses, the UK riots of 2011 and the ongoing immigration debate – Leadbeater concludes that cooperative models of organisation and problem-solving offer the best hope of deepening understanding and producing fair and good outcomes.
Published in partnership with Co-operatives UK