[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.
> Comments?

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 
historical dynamics.

Haines Brown       

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