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Cooperation, not Violence

"Stability in the sub-atomic miniature world arises out of flexibility and cooperation, not separation and struggle...We all knowe this natural cooperation from the plant world of our gardens. Carrots and onions thrive together... In nature, cooperation is a plus-sum game in which one own's advantage is also the other's advantage."
Cooperation, not Violence

Peace - Justice - Preservation of Creation

By Gottfried Orth

[This address originally given before the synod of the Evangelical Lutheran church in Thuringen, March 29, 2001 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.brsd.de Gottfried Orth, evangelical theologian and director of the Ernst Lange institute of Ecumenical Studies explains why the idea that life is a struggle is an error requiring new orientation.]

The following ideas are divided in seven sections. The first four sections emphasize the perception of reality. Thomas Aquinas formulated as an ancient theological principle: "An error regarding the world involves an error regarding God." Perception of the world is central in the first four sections. The following three sections argue systematically-theologically or dogmatically-ethically. I focus on our Christian faith and our church in view of the reality of the ecumene and the inhabited earth.

Cooperation as a Motor of the Intricate Network of Life

Life, as we were taught, is a struggle. Struggle rages between brothers and sisters around the largest desert. In the sandbox, we fight for the shovel. In school, better grades are sought. In love, the rivalry focuses around beauty and strength. In occupations, money, recognition and power are central. Competition determines the economy. The competition of bipolar thinking defined world history for a half century.

In the past this all-embracing competition had its legitimating basis in the theory of evolution. Darwin's concise sentence of the "survival of the fittest" was a hardly questioned tenet or core value of the modern age and marked history, culture, economy, society and politics. "This is an old wisdom that Darwin first described. We are products of this evolution. Therefore we have a past based on competition. Competition is reproduced in our everyday life" [Eckard Voland, cf. G.von Lupke, Kooperation als Motor des Lebens. In: Natur und Kosmos, December 1999 and M. Saver-Sachtleben (ed), Kooperation mit der Evolution, Das kreative Zusammenspiel von Mensch und Kosmos, 1999].

Ten years ago a new paradigm began to dominate the natural sciences. On all planes, natural scientists discover that the complexity of evolution could not be the result of a struggle lasting four billion years but rather is the product of an increasingly successful cooperative teamwork. Competition is not simply replaced by cooperation. Rather new competition arises in this interplay. Ultimately competition and trial of strength occur in larger areas of the cooperation of whole eco-systems and individual species. As the Heisenberg student Hans-Peter Durr described, stability in the sub-atomic miniature world arises out of flexibility and cooperation, not from separation and struggle. "The dynamic system must integrate environmental influences. Thus it must cooperate with its surroundings. What does not cooperate with its environment crashes" (H-P-Durr). Such cooperation is not only seen in sub-atomic phenomena or in the animal world. We all know this natural cooperation from the plant world of our gardens. Carrots and onions thrive well together... In Africa a very small bird cooperates with a mammoth rhino. The bird warns the rhino of enemies and chases away mosquitos and flies which it devours and `in return' finds protection with the strong mammoth rhino. Many examples from the world of plants and animals could be listed. "The very first gesture of human culture, as numerous bio-anthropologists emphasize, was not the grasp for a technical instrument securing individual existence but in the phenomenal circumstance that the proto-hominoids share the food with one another that they found themselves in a gesture of deep common interest from which the primal community developed" (L. Boff, Ethical Challenges of Globalization, 1998). These examples suggest three conclusions.

Instead of analyzing the animate world in isolated individuals fighting one another, the new cooperative worldview urges understanding nature and life in nature as an evolutionary unity dependent on one another. "Life did not conquer the earth through struggle but through interweaving", declared the cell biologist Lynn Margulis. In nature, cooperation is a plus-sum game in which one's own advantage is also the advantage of the other. Carrots and onions grow together better than in solitary monocultures. Monocultures live dangerously, not only in nature.

The question presses whether the Darwinian natural science merely wanted to see in nature what defined life in incipient capitalism to give this life a natural science blessing and quasi-natural consecration. In any case, life seems very different than competition-oriented and struggle-obsessed as we thought in the past. Anew natural science paradigm of theoretical evolution emerges: cooperation. Life is understood as a fine and sensitive network of cooperation integrating competition.

A question is immediately posed if four billion years of evolution can be understood under the metaphor "cooperation" instead of the metaphor "struggle". Do we people who function in a capitalist milieu under the paradigm of competition and force have a chance or must we not radically change our economic and social forms to make possible future evolution and further life on our earth? This question can be answered clearly and simply in the affirmative although concrete answers seem difficult. The world has become even more inscrutable since Jurgen Habermas coined the formula "new inscrutability" fifteen years ago. A future free of contradiction appears far more complicated today.


This diagnosis of inscrutability of Jurgen Habermas was surpassed in the last decade. "With his pregnant thesis, Habermas originally described the increasing incapacity of the political public to discover in the changed conditions a tendency beyond the narrow time horizon of the present that could offer the normative starting point for a collective utopia of the better society" (A. Honneth, An Expanded Idea of Justice, address before the Bundnis 90/ Greens conference, March 10, 2001).

"New unsimultaneities hardly foreseeable at that time appeared... There seems to be not merely an empirical inscrutability but a normative, moral helplessness that can be strangely reserved to us today. A ghostly disappearance of large demonstrations and social movements has occurred in the last years (the powerful and not unproblematic resistance against nuclear transports may not mislead us). Let me only mention several tendencies that can be understood as creations of normative paradoxes and reversals. Although the chances of an international constitutional order and thus the chances of a pacification of the world drastically increased after the end of the Cold War, the question of the necessity of international interventions even with military weapons has become simultaneously more urgent through loss of state authority and the barbarization of ethnic conflicts through an epochal structural change of war (Mary Kaldor). The moral situation in relation to the world of work is similarly confusing since a resolute deregulation is recommended as a royal way for reducing unemployment while the follow-up social costs of a dissolution of legally protected paid working conditions are increasingly clear. Finally to name a very recent example, a compromise legal solution was found in the abortion question that corresponded to the strivings of women for autonomy and the legitimate hopes for emancipation since a moral necessity seems to open up in the ethical discussions on therapeudic clones and on setting embryos under the protection of their future human dignity. As these examples reveal, every political-moral goal follows an objection not easily dismissed. A contra that also has a moral persuasiveness and logic faces every pro. We no longer only face a growing inscrutability of social conditions but have come into a situation through an acceleration of unsimultaneities and opposites with all the symptoms of a lack of political-moral orientation" (A. Honneth).

All large corporations in our country, the parties, churches, unions, employer associations and industrial organizations are affected by this maelstrom of opposite tendencies. However the crises of our civilization model have become immense.

Incalculable Crises

Almost arbitrarily I select three crisis scenarios from the themes of the subtitle of this text, "peace, justice and preservation of creation". They are all indications for the attitude towards life of the generation of our children. Our twelve year old daughter recently declared: "Papa, I would like to be eighty today." "Why is that?", I asked startled and without thinking. "Then I would not need to experience all that is coming." Children like my daughter who want to be thirty years older than me have a fine sense for the earth and have not yet learned to hide their fears. They speak existentially of what I now address in a more distanced way as incalculable crises.

War and Violence

The chances of an international legal system and a pacification of the world drastically increased after the end of the Cold War. However the number of wars rises undiminished. More and more ethnic and other conflicts are resolved violently and belligerently. I mention representatively only the Kosovo conflict, the wars in Africa and the war against Iraq along with the recent bombardments at the start of the Bush administration in the US and the nearly uncritical acceptance of this demonstration of power of the new hoopla-here-I-am-president of the US. The end of bipolar thinking has not made war more unlikely but rather tangible again in the regions of the world that are militarily or economically of strategic importance for the industrial countries. In all other regions of the earth, the same industrial countries focused on military intervention or pacification are uninterested in war and conflict.

Another aspect should be cited: the production, trade and use of small arms that kill "thousands of children daily" (cf. S. Wright in: Le Monde diplomatique, February 2001 and Campaign against small arms in: Global Lernen, 3/2000). At the end of 1999 there were around 500 million firearms in circulation worldwide. Between 1990 and 2000, around 3 million persons were killed by small arms, above all women and children in the countries of the southern hemisphere. The large majority of these weapons come from countries of the northern hemisphere. According to estimates, 50% of the trade with small arms amounting to $5 billion a year is illegal. More than 300,000 children and young persons under 18 are presently using such weapons worldwide in military conflicts including 30% of the children from eleven to twelve years of age. "A future potential of social and political problems arises by arming young persons and children. Will the thousands of boys from Liberia, Sierre Leone, Somalia and the Sudan who grow up with weapons and without school education ever be able to feed themselves through peaceful work?" [UNHCR (ed), On the Situation of Refugees in the World, 1997-98].

Injustice and Hunger

At least 2500 children die every hour. Each of them dies of hunger, malnutrition, dirty water and slight infections. Each of these children dies of something for which there is no reason to die. The children do not die because of insufficient food on earth or because there is too little money or resources for water treatment or for precautionary medical measures. The children die because of our wealth. Poverty and death are the backsides of our affluence. "20% of the poorest of the world control only 0.5% of all the wealth of the earth while the richest 20% possess over 80% of all wealth. 5 billion of the 6 billion inhabitants of the earth are poor. In the meantime the neoliberal world system presumes a smaller humanity. This system functions well for 1.5 billion persons. "What do we do for the superfluous 4.5 billion persons?" asks Leonardo Boff, Latin American liberation theologian. The so-called industrial and the so-called developing countries are bound through structures of exploitation coming from colonial times and the dependence producing inequality. There is enough food on our earth for all people. The problem is just distribution. No `green' or agricultural genetic engineering helps. On the question of agricultural genetic technology, I will only mention four arguments so we do not go astray in the discussion around the struggle against hunger and poverty on the earth.

Cambodia is one of the least developed countries. Neither the first nor the second generation of transgenic rice will be accepted by the small farmers who are still essentially responsible for food production in the former `corn basket of southeast Asia'. Day-cha Siripat from the Alternative Agricultural Network in neighboring Thailand insists: "The poor do not need any vitamin A rice. They need vitamin L land and vitamin M money. Food shortage is a poverty problem, not a technology problem" (cf. www.twnside.org.sg/title/pr.htm).

An indissoluble connection has existed since the 70s between the green industrial genetic engineering and biopiracy, that is the theft of genetic resources. 10 rice varieties now dominate in the example of India and the so-called "green revolution". Earlier 30,000 different rice varieties grew there... Monocultures live dangerously... As a consequence of the patented terminator technology, a plant can only bring fruit when the `killer gene' is eliminated. No successors can be produced. Every year the farmers must buy new seed. On the other side the same industries exploit the varieties that are marginalized or destroyed. A new form of colonialism occurs. Biodiversity disappears in the laboratories of the firms intent on making farmers dependent on a single transgenic variety of rice.

An enormous concentration has occurred in the past years in genetically engineered food production. A global oligopoly formed which in 1999 was dominated by five firms, Novartis, AgrEvo, Dow-Elanco, DuPont and Monsanto... There are neither good reasons, arguments nor analogous historical experiences that these five multinational corporations can solve the world food problems more justly than the countless firms of the past.

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