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Although in the 'Flight From Meaning' series, a rather traditional show concludes my second year of making Unwelcome Guests. First, a regular speaker, Alfie Kohn, speaking on why he believes that any competition is too much. We conclude with the end of chapter 9 of David Graeber's Debt, The First 5000 Years, on the introduction of coinage in India, Greece and China.
In our first hour, we hear a 1989 recording of Alfie Kohn speaking at a conference entitled 'Beyond Competition'. He begins by clarifying that he thinks "human nature" should always be in quotation marks - to reflect humans' innate flexibility in behavioral patterns, something often overlooked by conservative forces who would stifle thinking about which changes are possible. Kohn makes a remarkably simple but profound case, that the ideal amount of competition to promote excellence in any field is none at all. He deconstructs the indoctrination of US schooling - in which pupils' cooperation is referred to as "cheating" and the word "cooperation" is used by teachers to mean "blind obedience to whatever I say". His characteristically vehement presentation is bristling with scientific findings and quotations from important thinkers.
He dismisses "Human Nature arguments [as] profoundly conservative arguments masquerading as realism", and cites the little known Seville Statement on Violence, adopted by a 1986 international meeting of scientists, convened by the Spanish National Commission for UNESCO, in Seville, Spain, who specifically refute "the notion that organized human violence is biologically determined".
"To believe that man's aggressiveness or territoriality is in the nature of the beast is to mistake some men for all men, contemporary society for all possible societies and by a remarkable transformation to justify what is as what needs must be. Social repression becomes a response to rather than a cause of human violence. Pessimism about man serves to maintain the status quo, it is a sop to the guilt of the politically inactive, a comfort to those who continue to enjoy the amenities of privilege." — Leon Eisenberg, Science 176, 1972-04-14
In our second hour, we continue our ongoing reading of David Graeber's Debt, The First 5000 Years, finishing chapter 9. We hear how the introduction of coinage was associated across the world - in Greece, India and China - by materialistic thinking and especially the notion that decisions are framed according to conceptions of profit and loss. If it seems self-evident that people do things if the costs are 'outweighed' by the benefits, we could benefit from musing on whether it would have seemed so to our ancestors who did not have the ideas of equivalence which accompany the widespread use of money.
N.B. The Alfie Kohn lecture is from 1989, not from 2004 as suggested in the show.