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UNIVERSAL CO-OPETITION: Nature’s Fusion of Cooperation and Competition . . . And how it can save our finances, our families, our future, and our world

Author: V. Frank Asaro

[ A corollary to the novel The Tortoise Shell Code , by the same author ]


In the late 1970s, I began writing essays concerning a theory I was developing on “co-opetition”—a universal principle that I believe unifies the apparently opposing forces of cooperation and competition. I circulated these essays and related notes in search of feedback, and in 1990, was flattered to receive the following comments from noted writer Spencer Johnson, coauthor of The One Minute Manager, who said in part:

Your extraordinary notes for your book . . . have given me some valuable insights. . . . I especially appreciate the way you have drawn an eclectic universe of knowledge from physics to anthropology and I expect many other appreciative readers will agree.

He urged me to expand the concept into a book, which I began to do while otherwise happily engaged in the practice of law. Over the years, I continued to send out manuscripts and discuss the theory with others; I even engaged university graduate students to test the idea. They all became enthusiastic about it. Others have since used the word co-opetition in their writings, especially in the business field, but the principle remains the same—the unification of cooperating and competing behaviors.

Now, twenty-five or so years after I first wrote about it, with the nation and world facing increasing economic and political turmoil and polarization, I believe it is more important than ever to get the word out on the general philosophy of co-opetition.

This book is the result.

Chapter 1: The Idea

The term “co-opetition” is, of course, a combination of “cooperation” and “competition.” But it’s more than just a contraction of two words; in fact, it embodies the very concept it describes: the synthesis of opposing principles into a single dynamic. It is an antidote for polarization.

Cooperation and competition. Giving and taking. Benevolence and self-interest. We all have within us the opposing impulses that comprise co-opetition. The problem is that if either trait becomes overly dominant, the result tends to be bad, or even disastrous. This work endeavors to help identify the natural fusion or synthesis point between cooperation and competition in various situations and explain why doing so is critically important.

Note that I said the natural fusion point. This work springs from the conviction that not only human beings, but animals and plants and art and music and politics and economics and geological formations and science and physics—in fact, everything in the universe—is inherently co-opetitive.

Why? Because the universe itself is inherently co-opetitive.

And we are all made from the stuff of stars.

Two Sluggers

Let’s illustrate the importance of locating the best point, or fulcrum, of synthesis for a situation by taking a look at two great baseball players of the past: Ted Williams and Barry Bonds. Professional sports in general and baseball in particular represent the epitome of competition, but they also depend very much on cooperation. Obviously, if you don’t have rules that are agreed upon and adhered to by everyone, you have no game—you have chaos.

Ted Williams grew up in the 1930s in San Diego, California, where he played unsupervised baseball as a kid under the lights of a small neighborhood community center. He had so much fun at the game, they regularly had to shut off the lights at nine p.m. to get him to go home. If you know baseball at all, you know the rest of the story: he became arguably the best hitter of all time, having the highest lifetime batting average ever at .344, with the highest single year average of .406. He attained that average despite the interruption of his sports career by WW II and later the Korean War, in which he became a jet fighter ace and war hero. He accomplished all this by virtue of his talent, hard work, and relentless practice; performance-enhancing drugs had not yet been invented.

Barry Bonds was born in Riverside, in southern California, and grew up in San Carlos, California, in the 1960s and 1970s. Bonds’s accomplishments put him among the greatest baseball players who ever lived. This accolade is backed up by his record-setting seven Most Valuable Player awards, including four consecutive record-setting MVPs, along with his fourteen All-Star awards, eight Golden Gloves, and his numerous Major League Baseball records. He has the all-time homerun record with 762 and is also the all-time career leader in both walks (2,558) and intentional walks (688). Barry Bonds holds numerous other baseball records, including the single-season 73 homerun Major League record, set in 2001.

But this is where the stories of the two players diverge. On April 13, 2011, a jury found Barry Bonds guilty on the felony charge of obstructing justice, stemming from an investigation into his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. The rule-making bodies in virtually all professional sports forbid the use of these drugs, which provide the athletes who take them with advantages over athletes who rely strictly on training and their own physical and mental gifts. In other words, performance-enhancing drugs are considered “cheating”—stepping beyond the accepted, universal, cooperative rules of the game.

In this light, the history of record proves that the fusion point between cooperation and competition that Ted Williams chose was properly placed. Co-opetition prevailed.

But it appears that Barry Bonds placed his point of fusion or unification too far in the competition realm. Co-opetition failed, and Bonds’s career attainments will likely always be overshadowed by the allegations that he gained unfair advantage through the use of drugs.

Because competition compels people to seek advantage over their adversaries, it is a realm especially rich with examples of unperfected co-opetition. However, it is equally possible to place the point of synthesis too far on the side of cooperation.

Buried in Good Fortune

In 1324 AD, King Mansa Musa, ruler of the city state of Timbuktu—now one of the most remote and desolate areas in all of Africa—took a prodigious amount of gold with him on his pilgrimage to Mecca. From his home in Timbuktu, he traveled north to Tripoli with eighty gold-laden camels, sixty thousand men, and twelve thousand slaves, covering a distance of more than twelve hundred miles—like going from New Orleans to Lake Superior near Canada—before proceeding east through Cairo. Along the way, in the belief that he was cooperating with God for the benefit of his people, Musa freely handed out gold. The closer he came to civilization, the more lavish his giving became, until by the time he arrived at Mecca, he had entirely run out of gold.

The result? Musa distributed so much wealth that he destabilized the entire economy of the Egyptian region, and for the next ten years, people suffered the effects of super-inflation.

By fulfilling his noble goal of maximizing cooperation between himself and his people, Musa inadvertently destabilized and “competed” with the workings of the market, money-changers, and gold merchants, resulting in the unintended consequence of ruining the economy. The short-term benefit of great generosity turned out to be vastly overshadowed by the long-term damage it caused.

Co-opetition failed because of too much cooperation.

Finding the Fulcrum

What should Musa have done differently? Or Barry Bonds? How does one determine where the best point of synthesis lies?

As mentioned earlier, this work asserts that all of nature strives to locate that fulcrum—the point at which cooperation and competition are unified and appropriately distributed for a given situation—and when human beings fail to do so for either selfish or altruistic reasons, the results tend to be unfortunate. Theoretically, the highest possible operation of any system—be it economics or art or politics or music or anything else—can be achieved by adjusting the placement of the fulcrum in the right direction. But for optimum synthesis and the best results, the fulcrum must be properly placed for the particular system being considered.

Fortunately, the struggle to find the synthesis is intuitive and instinctive, a form of primal wisdom. We know the appropriate point when we find it; it becomes self-evident. Post hoc history will verify the accuracy of our choice.

When we achieve synthesis in any endeavor, we are able to closely associate with one another for our common good while remaining individually separate and free. We are able to preserve our personal liberty while also living as social human beings.

An important finding about co-opetition should be mentioned: the fulcrum is rarely set at the actual point of balance between cooperation and competition. As will be shown later in this work, the more successful operations give greater weight to the competition side of the scale.

By whose rules or definition is the proper mix found? Much of this work is devoted to answering that question. But let me preliminarily say that the synthesis is usually generated through the workings of nature itself with, as I’ve said, the fulcrum tending toward the side of competition. It is man’s interference with, and distortions of, nature that causes the greatest disruption of the synthesis—which is to say, the point of highest and best operation of any system.

This synthesis of cooperation and competition should be kept foremost in our minds to allow us to more clearly analyze our issues and promulgate our laws and rules, whether great or small, for the individual or for the collective.

Table of Contents vii

Chapter 1
The Idea

Chapter 7
Definitions and Explanations

Chapter 13
Codification of the Rule

Chapter 17
Biophysical Inquiry

Chapter 23
What Did the Philosophers Say?

Chapter 29
Anthropological and Historical Inquiry

Chapter 33
Cultural Examples

Chapter 37
Crime, Freedom, and Leadership

Chapter 41
Religion and Leadership

Chapter 45
Happiness and Entertainment

Chapter 49
Economics and Political Systems

Chapter 73
Examples for Potential Application
of the Principle of This Work

Chapter 87
Synthesizing Conservative and Liberal Extremes 115
A Piece of the Capitalist Pie

Chapter 125
Productive Disparity and Maintaining
a Self-Executing Co-opetitive Synthesis 133 137 139
About the 143
Other Books by Bettie Youngs Book 144

Copyright Information:

Copyright © 2011 by V. Frank Asaro
All rights reserved, including the right to
reproduce this work in any form whatsoever,
without permission in writing from the publisher,
except for brief passages in connection with a review.
Front cover design: Mark A. Clements
Text design: Jane Hagaman
Bettie Youngs Books are distributed worldwide.
If you are unable to order this book from your local
bookseller or online or Espresso, you may order directly from
the publisher.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2011913449
ISBN: 978-1-936332-08-3
ePub: 978-1-936332-09-0
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3
Printed in the United States

DMU Timestamp: March 08, 2013 19:51

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