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(the Divine in me, recognises and honours the Divine in you)


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Competition is Driving Us to Extinction - And We're Taking Much of the Planet With Us

I wrote this piece on an Open Standards thread at the My Social Actions site.

I don't have much knowledge about Open Standards in technology, except that wherever possible I use Open Source software.  And I have talked casually to senior government and business leaders from around the world about the need for IT companies to break away from proprietory software and hardware competition/branding and to collaborate, if they truly want to create ubiquitous connectivity using cloud computing.

I'd like to comment on the idea of open standards and collaboration across all of society.

I think the Darwinian 'survival of the fittest' competition model our economic and social worlds are built on is leading us to extinction, dragging with us many of the planet's other inhabitants.

I don't believe we can afford to be participating in that model, at any level, any longer and the sooner large businesses and governing institutions can accept that reality and move into collaboration, the better.

For some more ideas around this, I'd recommend that people read Peter Senge et al's "Presence", which really is a distillation of the knowledge contained in most of the world's spiritual (not religious) traditions, especially in the indigenous cultures. 

For me its interesting that Senge - an MIT professor specialising in systems theory/organisational management - has come to these same conclusions that many spiritual traditions have been espousing for thousands of years.   

Buckminster Fuller also said a long time ago, that we are now in the age of collaboration, not competition; that we have the technological means to provide for the needs of every human on the planet so competition is no longer necessary or useful.

Competition is killing too many of us, and the fact that we still have to fight each other for basic life-giving and supporting resources such as food, water, shelter, clothing, moving up the scale to education and medical care etc, is a completely immoral and unjustifiable state of affairs in the 21st Century.

Juxtaposing the consumerism and waste of the west with the poverty and death in the east for example - where is the sanity in that?    

Taking it down to the most basic level, how can the west justify the idiocy of multiple brands of laundry detergent lining supermarket shelves, for example, when its confronted daily in the media about the reality of life and death struggles undergone by billions of other people in other places on the planet?    

Within its own borders, how does the US justify the growing gap between the haves and have-nots, and the lottery system that's in place that determines whether or not a child will be given the opportunity to mature into his/her full potential?

It seems to me to be a completely irrational economic argument that the free market and competition are the mechanisms that best encourage prosperity. Capitalism, by its very nature, is exploitative, driving up the cost of finite resources with the winner being the person/entity at the end of/controlling the 'value-added' chain.

Its non-sustainable - look at the cycle of expansion and contraction, growth and depression - the system keeps imploding on itself and only those very few at the top are immune to the effects of that cyclical binge and bust phenomenon.

Look at the pyramidic wealth structure that exists in the west, notice the fact that 90% of the wealth is controlled by 3% of the population; competition actually costs incalculable amounts of money, resources, time and energy in lost human potential and 'ambulance at the bottom of the cliff' measures to contain the societal damage and dysfunction of a system which is in reality, the ultimate hybrid Pyramid-Ponzi scheme...

Remember the Reagan and Thatcher economic battle cries of the 80s - be patient and wait for the trickle down effect?  Statistically and in real terms, people are worse off now than they were post WW2.    How many years of economic decline does it take before people realise there never has been, and never will be, a sharing of the profits from the top down to the middle and bottom? 

Running out of people and resources to pull into the bottom of the pyramid?    Easy - sell the 'dream/fantasy' offshore and suck people into the pyramid from there - globalisation.... 

Limited resources on the earth?   Easy - start claiming ownership of the water and the air and the fuel and the medicinal plants and the trees and the minerals and now even human genomes and make people pay for use and access... 

Natural resources becoming rare or too expensive from which to make a profit?    Easy - start planning to go off planet - see

And then we have the nonsensical accounting structures we have in place in measuring costs and profits.   Goods are sold at a fraction of the real costs of production.   We don't count the costs of environmental degradation for example, and we seem to think it justifiable to pay some people less than a living wage to produce goods and services which then are sold at 200+% the cost of production.

Referring again to Buckminster Fuller, he estimated that the actual cost of production of a gallon of gas over the millions of years it took to form in the earth was more than $1,000,000 and he said commuting to work could not be justified.

For a more detailed, scholarly look at this issue, I'd recommend people read Marilyn Waring's "Counting for Nothing".   Marilyn's an internationally-respected New Zealand economist.    She was at one time the youngest member of New Zealand's Parliament and brought down her National Party government led by Robert Muldoon.
There is nothing in all of this enthusiasm about capitalism and the free market about equity, stewardship, collaboration and sharing.   And none of this will change until major businesses and governments turn their backs on the current paradigm, turn their backs on the idea of competition being a good thing and commit to equity and sustainability.   

And the cynic in me sighs and says "yeah, and pigs might one day fly"... One can live in hope, can't one?   After all, what else is there?


  1. Interesting figures and a fine message but if we want to take power from those who abuse it, we must be ready to do the job correctly. I haven't read "Counting for Nothing" or "Presence" but they do seem interesting. Would there happen to be an online link? Finally, although the costs of competition may far outweigh the benefits, collaboration can easily give way to collusion complete with it's own victims left on the outside looking in.

  2. thanks for your insight - much appreciated...

    Here's a link to a Marilyn Waring radio documentary: Counting for Nothing: Womens' non-Value

    and here's some info on Presence/Senge: Presence - extracts and review

  3. Ed reform is constantly touting collaboration as the answer to everything.

    Good stuff, Sahila.

  4. @TFT.... knowing you and ed reform, I think you meant to write "competition" rather than "collaboration"?