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Inter-Ethic Cooperation

First published June-2010
last update 15-November-2010

For two people to cooperate they need at least some common ground between them.

Though a bit of common ground does not guarantee cooperation, as there may be greater opposing goals, it is useful to see first if cooperation is possible. Since people can have many, often unclear and sometimes even contradictory goals, discovering the possibility of and actually building cooperation is far from simple.

It is essential to first understand the simple theoretical cases first considering simple and clear goals (ignoring for now the ambiguous). There are only four broad modes of relationship between people: cooperation, indifference, conflict and manipulation.

By definition, cooperation is best when possible, since cooperation means striving for the same goal, if a person has a simple and clear goal they necessarily want to achieve it as effectively as possible. Therefore, if it’s possible to cooperate with someone to achieve the goal faster, it is necessarily part of the goal to do so, otherwise the goal would not be so simple.

However, cooperation is not always possible, as the nature of someone’s goal in itself may exclude cooperation or the situation may renders the differences between people seem more important than what may be held in common.

For instance, take the simple goal of the hermit, taken to the extreme. The goal of the hermit is to live autonomously outside society, completely alone. By definition then, the total hermit’s goal in itself is the goal to not cooperate with anyone. So, it is not possible for the hermit to enter into cooperation, insofar as total autonomy is the goal. However, neither is the hermits goal to interfere with or control anyone else, so the relationship with the rest of society is one of indifference. Again, a real hermits goals may be more complex, perhaps only wanting to live in autonomy in certain ways, such as for food and shelter, and completely willing to cooperate in other ways, such as helping a passer-by or discussing the mysteries of the universe. However, the case of the total hermit illustrates well that the nature of a goal may exclude cooperation but not entail conflict or manipulation.

Now, when cooperation is not possible, indifference is the best relationship. For, by definition if we want to achieve a goal we do not want to be opposed in doing so, neither do we want to unnecessarily oppose others in their pursuit of their own goals, as such would take time and energy and not advance our own goals.

However, conflict may be impossible to avoid. If someone’s goal is to destroy the entire earth and another persons goal is to continue to live on the earth, then these two people cannot go about their goals in complete indifference to each other. At some point it will become clear that the activities of each other are inherent obstacles for pursuing the goals of each.

A special case of conflict is when one party is unaware of the conflicting goals and is led to believe that advancing the goals of the manipulating party is to advance their own goals. This is of course a worse situation than outright conflict for the manipulated party, and in favour of the manipulating party’s goals. However, some goals are incompatible with manipulation and so a person with such goals that engages in manipulation actually does disservice to not only their victims goals but their own goals as well. In the case of manipulation being used for such goals, this is the worse possible situation.

Now, as said, these four basic forms of relationship are for simple and clear goals. In the real world the intentions of people can be very complex and unclear, even to themselves. So, it is entirely possible for people to cooperate in some areas, while being in conflict in others, completely indifferent in still others, and trying to manipulate each other on some points. So, these four modes are usually only practical to apply for specific individual aspects of a relationship with someone, and not to describe the entire relationship bluntly. There are few people who’s only goal is to live in complete isolation or to destroy the entire earth. Likewise, there are few people in the world with precisely the same mutually compatible goals that can cooperate in everything at every moment of the day. Manipulation is even more problematic since it is by definition not explicit (few manipulators will say outright "prepare to be manipulated"), and people often try to manipulate others for their own good so an actual reason for the conflict (when the manipulation is discovered) may not even exist.

So the theoretical points above is not so proposed for the purpose of categorising everyone you know into rigid boxes of cooperation, indifference, conflict, and manipulation, but rather to help clarify each relationship you have by trying to understand what areas is cooperation possible, where indifference may be preferable, where and when could conflict arise, and to be on guard on what points another may try to manipulate, for whatever reasons (which is never justified in the authors opinion).

Situation Dependence of cooperation

The second important theoretical point is that the relationship modes described above are usually as dependent on the situation as they are on the ethic of each. Only the special cases of two people with absolutely compatible goals or absolutely conflicting goals, would there be absolute cooperation or absolute conflict regardless of the situation. These special cases rarely exist, so usually the situation people find themselves in will either reveal common ground (compatible goals) or reveal incompatible goals and so conflict.

A classic case is are a captor and a prisoner in a war that become stranded on an island, or lost in a forest, or face to a fire, and the only way they can survive is by working together; so if the captor’s goal of self preservation is greater than his goal to not let his prisoner escape, these enemies may find themselves in close cooperation until the day a new situation is reached where they are no longer co-dependent for survival. The prisoner may be recaptured or may escape, and one or both may be killed in the process.

The application of this knowledge is especially in understanding that situations change and looking for when cooperation may suddenly be possible or no longer possible and so foreseeing when conflict may arise in order to resolve it beforehand.

Written by Eerik Wissenz.

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*Chapters in grey are in progress.

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