[Humanist] 24.216 antagonistic cooperation
Humanist Discussion Group
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Jul 24 22:32:39 CEST 2010
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 216.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
Date: Fri, 23 Jul 2010 15:09:40 -0400
From: Haines Brown KB1GRM ET1 <brownh at historicalmaterialism.info>
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.213 antagonistic cooperation
In-Reply-To: <20100722202340.EA3825EC6A at woodward.joyent.us>
On Thu, Jul 22, 2010 at 08:23:40PM +0000, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:
> > ...it would be realistic to replace the ideal picture of
> > collaboration (derived from a rosy fiction of the middle ages) by the
> > notion of antagonistic cooperation. The patterns of dominance and
> > submission, of prestige and intrigue, that attend every human group
> > cannot be suspended from the special world of the arts. This factual
> > estimate of the changing patterns of human groups precludes ideal
> > solutions of permanent validity.
Willard, I do have a comment for Lawrence Alloway, although it may not
be an easy one.
There is what might roughly be called a modern Western ontology that
makes essential properties and potencies intrinsic to closed entities.
Newtonian corpuscular theory, or example. This implies a categorical
contradiction between inside and outside, part and whole, etc. Much
has been written about this, and I needn't belabor it here.
An implication is that any contingency, any outside influence, any
structural determination, is alien to what is essentially true or
natural to the affected entity or person. People's relations are
therefore contractual, finding common ground in what otherwise are
antagonistic private interests.
What I'd like to suggest is that this ontology is neither compelling
nor universal. There are other ways to see things that may not have
such an impoverished view of human relations.
For example, suppose the cosmic coherence that folks assume is a
condition for the advance of knowledge does not consist of a (lawful
or singular) causal relation of closed entities, but instead is a
relation of mutual enabling. To see things as processes rather than as
closed entities, the actual structure of one process constrains the
possibility distribution of the other, and it is actualized by the
framing implied by their physical relation. That is, emergent
properties are the actualization of real possibilities in the
processes that enter a physical relation.
If this ontology of processes is a legitimate, and if the relation of
processes is along the lines I sketched, then the structure of one
person, such as intentions, skills, capacities, and personality, gives
rise to a probability distribution which another person who enters a
relation with the first can actualize. That is, No man is an island,
but part of the main. People develop through combining their own
possibilities, in mutual constraint and actualization, with those of
Now this is not a zero-sum game, and each participant must expend an
effort for such mutual development to occur, but the expenditure of
effort does not vitiate their development but is its necessary
For example, in a successful marriage relationship each partner must
struggle. While each yields with respect to what they have been, it is
not a loss, but a development that combines their own possibilties
with those of the other person, and the resulting development is not
alien, but a further development of self in a way that is both true to
self and embodies the possibilities of the other person.
A music teacher and the student must both expend effort for the
student to develop a musical skill. Yet, the development of the
student is not at the expense of the development of the teacher, but
can and usually does develop the teacher as well. Teachers often say
they learn much from their students.
Is this alternative approach utopian? I don't think so. We all enter
relations of family, in school, at the workplace, and on the street
that are generally cooperative and mutually constructive. When are
relations clearly antagonistic? Perhaps driving ;-). The owner of
productive property such as a small businessman, has an antagonistic
relation with other businessmen, but the great majority of us are not
owners of productive property. Of course we can think of situations
that are clearly antagonistic or ambivalent, but my point is only to
suggest that the modern Western atomistic social model may be
inherently pathological and offer a woefully inadequate conception of
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