Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mi Casa es tu Casa; The Market and the Social Contract.

Evolutionary psychologists are discovering that the human being is driven by genetic, deeply imbedded tendencies, which though powerful are also amenable to being moderated and modified in their expression. One such genetic tendency is the competitive, hierarchical, territorial, ownership driven: “What is mine is mine” aspect of behavior; the other also genetically driven tendency supports cooperative, egalitarian, collective, mutual aid, “what’s mine is yours” behavior. These two strong but plastic and modifiable behavioral trends are largely mutually contradictory and require regulation and arbitration by a separate human capacity of rationality and control, which, in an advanced society, is represented by a democratic government of laws.

Competition vs. Cooperation.

The drive to compete and the drive to cooperate—are in a grand struggle in the present transition between millennia. The drive for hierarchy, territory and capitalist competition—a primitive drive arguably lodged in the reptilian portion of the brain--became ascendant toward the end of the 19th Century until its excesses brought about the communist revolution. The revolution was an attempt to bring to bear a second tendency--arguably lodged in a more recently evolved brain center, the limbic brain--the need to cooperate, act collectively, share resources and engage in mutual aid. But the communist revolution attempted to obliterate the basic need for individual effort, personal property and competition while failing to adequately represent the human need for cooperation thus creating abject failure for its ideals.

These two behavioral responses exist in all humans in varying degrees and in opposition to each other and have evolved into modern manifestations. The competitive, territorial, hierarchical, aggressive instincts have evolved in modern man into the market and its invisible hand. The egalitarian, cooperative herd instinct has developed into the social contract and its social welfare institutions. Both are essential to human survival; our continued existence depends on how they coordinate their contradictory, and at times mutually exclusive operation.

Both are fundamental aspects of human nature that, in order for humans to prosper, need to work together balanced by intentional, mutual regulation. The function of regulation is performed by a third part of the brain-- the frontal lobe-- the source of rationality and control, embodied in its modern manifestation by the law and democratic institutions. When the law fails to maintain the balance between competition and cooperation, the market and the social contract fall out of equilibrium and human development and further cultural evolution is halted or even reversed.

We are in a historical moment in which the flaws of the social contract have been revealed and exaggerated, while laisse faire capitalism is again reasserting its reign in world events. It is time to reestablish the ascendance of rationality and control--democracy, law and regulation--over these two tendencies if we are to avoid continuing catastrophic environmental damage, lawlessness, polarization of poverty and wealth, global conflict and chaos.

The Market and the Left.

People of the left have traditionally been deeply skeptical about capitalism, the market and competition. The market is, without a doubt, a powerful soulless machine that, if unfettered, can run over and destroy all that is alive as easily as it can aid in building it. But history has conclusively demonstrated that the competitive marketplace, if regulated, is also a powerful engine of productivity and a potential source of well-being. However, the market will not control itself; today the increasing unleashing of market forces by the Executive and the Republican dominated Congress is creating the polarization of wealth resulting in immense richness for some and abject poverty for others.

The left, arguably represented by the Democratic Party, has placed its hopes for humanity in the powerful psychological laws of cooperation and mutual aid while disdaining competition and individualism. Today, we are experiencing a backlash after many years of taking care of others through Democrat inspired government intervention, notably the New Deal and the War on Poverty. The conservative reaction against the inefficiencies of government involvement, represented by the Republican Party, has resulted in a catastrophic neglect of the social contracts that would bind the people of the US to each other.

Both the Democratic and Republican visions—welfare and laisse faire capitalism--are bankrupt. We must recognize that both powerful forces—the Market and the Social Contract—are equally important and need to be expressed if our people are to live out the promise of the US and its Constitution.

The Bush Administration.

The myth of the 2004 presidential election was that the country is divided between Christians people of faith and Godless liberals and that values and religion won. In fact, what caused people of the Christian faith to vote in large numbers for Bush was a subterfuge that persuaded them that the dangers that loomed over their lives were gay marriage, abortion and Saddam Hussein instead of the damaging results of capitalist excesses; deteriorating health care, failing education, underemployment and a debilitating, endless war.

As the war mongering, corruption, neglect and cronyism of the Bush presidency develop it becomes evident that his promise of "compassionate conservatism" with its hint of social contract protection was a mere campaign slogan in the service of the narrow and selfish goals of a small elite of corporate bandits. Recent polls show that people all over the US, religious or secular, Christian or agnostic, are appalled at the evident malfeasance of the so called conservative faction and are dramatically losing confidence in their leader and his program.


We want to live in a just, balanced society that is good to all without unfair privileges for anyone. Well to do, poor and middle class folks want the same thing: an opportunity to create a good life for themselves, their children and grandchildren. That opportunity requires the right to participate in the market as well as to control and divert some of its gains by way of taxation; taxes to help educate, heal and provide security for those amongst us who, for whatever reason, have failed to make the market work for them.

In order to have the benefit of both a healthy market and a meaningful social contract we have to have a democratic system of just laws to manage their interaction. Fair taxation of wealth laws, fair tax collection laws, fair private versus public property laws are essential for an effectively functioning nation.

That is why it is essential that we on the left promote and support a world in which competition (the market,) and cooperation (the social contract) are seen as equally valuable human functions essential to the attainment of human security and well being as long as the law regulates them.

Claude Steiner

1 comment:

TampaCajun said...

If the majority are caught up in competition and can't be persuaded to move to a better balance, are we then stuck with their position, however long it lasts? What if the damage from their imbalance begins to inflict heavy suffering?

I am more and more convinced that we are not free agents but are pretty much the product of the chemical flow into various parts of the brain. The mix of the chemicals is triggered by lots of things, internal and external.