sedlenieks, klavs


The Fiction of Competitiveness: How Latvian Unhappiness Tells a Story of Human Nature

Torn between the assumption that competition is beneficial for ‘development of society’ and their intuitive understanding that they do not like to be forced to compete, people in post-Soviet Latvia become depressed and unhappy. Their ‘circles of trust’ are narrow, they have few friends, and their satisfaction with life is low.

In this article I argue that far from being naturally inclined towards competitiveness, people need to be taught to enjoy competition. As it was observed by Pjotr Kropotkin more than 100 years ago, cooperation rather than competition is what helps surviving and as such is the main factor in evolution. Although humans can be very competitive, what characterizes them especially well is a capacity that can be termed supercooperativenes, not characteristic to any other species. In fact, it seems that there are in-built mechanisms characteristic to both humans and their closest genetic relatives that work against the unduly competitive individuals and towards ensuring that people will be willing to cooperate rather than compete. However, the philosophical foundations of contemporary capitalist world stress the need for and the natural character of competitiveness.  While at the level of conscious rationalization capitalism indeed is based on the principle of cooperation, in real life situations cooperation is what enables life of any (including capitalist) society.  Therefore in a manner similar to Karl Polanyi, I argue that the rule of competitiveness is a fiction that cannot be sustained unless cooperation is strongly developed. The theories of social capital and civil society as well as some trends in contemporary economic theory strengthen this kind of argument.

What explains the above mentioned problems in contemporary Latvia, is, I ague, the acceptance of the dogma of competition which is detached from the real-life naturalness of the need to cooperate

Friday 26 October 11.15-13:15 Panels VIII, Panel 21 Social Welfare and Well-Being: Problems and Challenges (Hall 8)