Personal Blog of Joe Brewer

Evolution, Cooperation and the Transition to Sustainability

In Collaboration, Global Integration, Human Behavior, Social Change on July 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm

I’ve organized some of my thoughts on the evolution of cooperation, how society forms organizations, and the key insights into human nature that will be needed to build a political pathway to global sustainability.  Then I put them into a video:

I’ve recently made the argument that the only way to address global challenges that threaten humanity is to cultivate a shared identity based on trust and cooperation amongst all of the progressive social movements in the world.  A keystone of this approach is the analysis of group selection in evolutionary science by the great biologist E.O. Wilson in his book The Social Conquest of Earth.

The strategy I recommend is that we accelerate the convergence of social movements across the world (a trend that seems to be underway already, as I’ve suggested here) by articulating the foundational values shared across them all  — including compassion, openness, diversity, tolerance, creativity, life, happiness, and perhaps a few more.  Based on these shared values we can articulate a shared identity that binds us together as a global community of people striving to re-envision our institutions so that they transition from being destructive of the planetary commons into a configuration that is regenerative and life-promoting for the world’s ecosystems and human communities.

This strategy of building trust to increase group cohesion is supported by research in mathematical biology.  This video of a talk given by Martin Nowak, a mathematical biologist at Harvard University, explains how such cooperation works in evolutionary terms.  Martin provides the answer to an age-old question, “Why would cooperation arise as a winning strategy for biological organisms?”  The answer is nuanced and draws upon many bodies of research.  You’ll see in my video that I’ve pulled together many of the elements that make this answer accessible for designing a transition to sustainability.

Would love to hear your thoughts!



  2. What you describe reminds me a bit of the convention of underground communities and movements on Mars in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, where (despite a wide range of differing and conflicting political/economic philosophies) they worked out a basic statement of shared principles that became the basis of revolution against transnational corporate domination of Mars through the UN Mars Authority. The statement also became the founding document of the successor society, a quasi-anarchistic federation of autonomous communities that governed Mars after corporate rule was overthrown.

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