The Biopsychology of Cooperation Part Seven

Sarkar promotes a set of ten principles that encapsulate cardinal human
values.149 The first three are concerned with the avoidance of violence,
deceitfulness and theft as described above. To act according to cardinal
principles of morality, says Sarkar, is virtue and to act against them is sin. The
central idea in virtue is “to serve the collective interest, to accelerate the speed
of the collective body…” To retard the speed of the collective body is sin.150
Note that the ‘speed of the collective body’ to which Sarkar refers is the
collective movement from crude to subtle encapsulated in his definition of
progress. We must flag this as a critical concept in Sarkar’s philosophy – virtue
and sin, good and bad, are defined by reference to collective social progress
and not in terms of some prevailing religious idea.
The cardinal human principles have five important characteristics: 1) they are a
natural system of morality in the sense that, without them, the natural
developmental sequence of expansion and subtlification of mind cannot occur;
2) they are not ends in themselves but the means to individual and collective
progress; 3) in particular they provide the necessary foundation for a healthy
inner spiritual life; 4) their practice builds trust and therefore the quality of
48 UNDERSTANDING PROUT – VOLUME 1
cooperation in society; and 5) they are egalitarian because they are of benefit to
all – their practice, by definition, excludes group or class interest.
Of the ten principles, one is of particular importance because it encapsulates
the others: non-objectification.151 Objectification is the use of people (or indeed
anything animate and inanimate) as objects for one’s own purposes without
regard for their well-being. It is interesting to note that economic exploitation is
defined in a similar way.152 This principle appears in Neohumanism as the
distinction between utility value and existential value. To recognize the
existential value of a person is to recognize that their joys and sorrows are as
important to them as my joys and sorrows are to me. We may therefore
describe non-objectification as the empathic principle. It requires an ability to
put oneself into the mind of another – to expand one’s consciousness beyond
its limited ego boundary.153
Environmentalism infused with the empathic principle becomes deep
ecology,154 whose significant feature is to acknowledge the existential value of
the natural world in addition to its utility value for humans. Recall also that
social capital is defined in terms of the trust and empathy inherent in social
relationships. It is now clear that the building of social capital has a moral
dimension.155
The practical translation of ethical principles into good social outcomes is
performed by a society’s legal system.156 The law defines crime and the
corresponding punishments. The larger the gap between crime and sin (the
latter defined as that which impedes social progress), the more problems a
society will face. Put another way, social progress depends on reducing the gap
between morality and legality. Of course differences in climate and local
circumstances will require minor differences in the application of the law from
place to place, but the intention of the law should always be to give expression
to cardinal human principles.
If we try to expand the scope of the few fundamental cardinal human
principles and draft the constitution, legal code, administrative and
judicial systems in adjustment with the expanded scope of those cardinal
principles, that will pave the way for the greater unity of human society.
Humanity or Neohumanism will thereby acquire accelerated speed, which
is one of the essential factors for the path of proper movement… This
should not remain a utopian dream. It should be the first expression of the
practical wisdom of humanity.157
Contemporary society offers many examples of a harmful gap between
morality and legality. Consider CEO salaries, concerning which the word
‘obscene’ is used time and again. It was justifiably used to describe the £10.9m
payouts received by Scottish Power’s former chief executive and colleagues
just three months after they warned customers about severe increases in power
bills.158 And in Scotland again, Sir Goodwin, former boss of the Royal Bank of
THE BIOPSYCHOLOGY OF COOPERATION 49
Scotland, had to have police protection after public anger over the
announcement that he would receive a £650,000 annual pension entitlement on
leaving the bank which had collapsed under his stewardship. CEOs defend
their astronomical incomes as not breaking any law and as justified by ‘market
forces’.
A cardinal human principle relevant to CEO salaries would be contentment.159
To maintain contentment, one must struggle against greed. It requires, says
Sarkar, “being contented with the earnings of normal labour”. How might we
give this principle economic and legal expression? Sarkar’s proposal is to
provide a guaranteed minimum income (GMI) to all, sufficient to cover the
basic requirements of life, and then to set the maximum remuneration at some
fixed ratio to the GMI. This policy is already part of cooperative ethics and has
been practised by cooperative businesses in Mondragon and Maleny for many
years. However, due to the contributory role that excessive CEO salaries
played in precipitating the Global Financial Crisis, the proposal to set a
maximum salary at some ratio to the minimum is finding broader support.160
Another gap between morality and legality in contemporary capitalist society
concerns the waste of material resources. The relevant cardinal principle is
non-acquisitiveness,161 or the avoidance of superfluous material consumption.
Material goods should be acquired only to the extent required for a fruitful life.
Note that this definition implies a legitimacy to consume something beyond
basic needs, in contrast to Marx’s ‘needs slogan’ that limits individual
consumption to the basic requirements.
The justification for placing a moral constraint on material consumption is that
material resources are finite. One person’s inconsiderate use of finite resources
disturbs the welfare of others and upsets environmental balance. From a social
perspective, therefore, this principle offers the moral justification to pursue
economic efficiency. As we have mentioned earlier, those who argue for
productive efficiency do have a valid moral argument. But that same argument
must also extend to efficiency of consumption, the issue which so worries
environmentalists. Profligate consumption of fossil fuels (because capitalism
considers Nature to be free for the taking) has brought planet Earth to a dire
situation. The green slogan, reduce, reuse and recycle has a moral imperative.
Neo-ethics
The cardinal human principles define virtuous conduct for individuals. By
contrast, Neo-ethics162 is more concerned with the ethics of groups, that is,
social groupings whose identity is defined by race, language, gender, economic
class and so on. Neo-ethics is not an alternative to the cardinal human
principles – the two are complementary. As the name implies, Neo-ethics is the
ethics associated with Neohumanism.
50 UNDERSTANDING PROUT – VOLUME 1
Recall that the purpose of Neohumanism is to expand the circle of those who
are included in the cooperative embrace. The existence of a circle, however,
implies two groups, those on the inside and those on the outside. Within the
circle there is cooperation and outside the circle is the other, those with whom
there is not necessarily felt a need or even a willingness to cooperate. Groups
are inevitable in society and they cannot simply be wished away. The problem
to be addressed by Neo-ethics is the pathological tendency for some groups to
coalesce around the desire to exercise power over the ‘other’.
Sarkar labels this problem imperialism, a term he uses quite generally to refer
to the endeavour of any group to wield power over another. The imperialist
urge is a psychic ailment “rooted deep in the human psyche”.
Goaded by this psychic ailment, a superpower forces its own selfish
national interests on other weaker states to establish its suzerainty
politically, militarily, etc. An imperialist power wants to dominate and
exploit other socio-politico-economic units as an expansion, perpetration
and consolidation of its vested interests; a powerful linguistic group
suppresses other minority linguistic groups; the so-called upper castes
subjugate the so-called lower castes in society; and opportunistic males
curtail the rights of women in various ways. In all these cases, the same
inherent psychological malady of imperialism prevails.163
Whether expressed as capitalism, nationalism, caste-imperialism, male
chauvinism or lingualism, imperialism is anti-human. “It runs counter to the
spirit of Neohumanism and the ethics of human life… it thwarts human
progress and creates global wars and all sorts of divisive and destructive forces
in society.” Imperialists “cultivate a psychology based on slavery, inferiority
complex, pseudo-culture and psycho-economic exploitation”.164
Concerning the problem of imperialism, socialists in the 19th century, both
utopian and scientific, were quite naive. They appeared to believe that the
imposition of material and social equality would somehow obliterate groups
and therefore obliterate the group psychology giving rise to imperialism. But
the imperialist impulse runs deep. George Orwell, in Animal Farm, identified it
as the source of what went wrong with the socialist revolution but, as we have
previously noted, he apparently still believed in the healing power of an
imposed material and social egalitarianism.
An appropriate concentration of political power in society is required for stable
governance – nowhere does Sarkar give the anarchist agenda any credence.
Furthermore, individuals and groups will differ naturally in their social
influence, quite apart from any power granted to them by a democratic process.
We may view power as a neutral instrument which can be used for good
purposes or bad. The question is whether power necessarily corrupts those on
whom it is endowed and, if so, what can be done about it. Sarkar recognizes the
seriousness of the problem and approaches it from two sides. On the external or
objective side he advocates, among other things, the separation of powers and
THE BIOPSYCHOLOGY OF COOPERATION 51
the checks and balances that have gradually developed in Western
democracies.165 But external checks and balances are not enough – something
is required on the internal or subjective side.
We have already noted that the natural sequence of human development gives
rise to increasing intellectual subtlety, empathy and moral intuition. This
constitutes the starting point for Prout’s understanding of individual and
collective progress. Unfortunately, for many different reasons, the
developmental sequence is sometimes frustrated, in which case some
intervention is required to remove the impediment and to encourage healthy
development to resume. Sarkar views the imperialist tendency as a psychic
ailment, that is, as a failure to develop to maturity. It arises when a person or
group fails to maintain a healthy balance in life, that is, fails to maintain a
balance between their outer (material) and inner (spiritual) lives, or to use
Sarkar’s unusual terminology, to maintain a balance between the carbonic and
non-carbonic pabula required to sustain those lives.
When people get detached from non-carbonic pabula and become
increasingly engrossed in carbonic pabula, there are two ill-effects as a
consequence. First, the arena of one’s own carbonic pabula will increase
and the mind will gradually and steadily drift towards crude matter.
Secondly, one’s mind will think in terms of devouring other’s carbonic
pabula. This is the psychological explanation of imperialism. That is,
imperialism has its origin in the psyche and functions in the psychic
arena.166
This passage addresses the internal or subjective side of the problem of power.
To protect against the corrupting influence of power it is important to remain
‘attached’ to one’s inner spiritual life. The lust for power grows in intensity
when one fails to maintain a healthy spiritual life. This idea is pivotal in
Sarkar’s social philosophy but it is very difficult for Westerners to understand
because Western culture is predominantly materialistic – we have little
understanding of the tremendous social importance of a healthy spiritual life.
Social dynamism is the resultant of a myriad of social forces, some of them
noble, some ignoble, some magnanimous, some selfish and so on. Just as in
individual life, so too in society, there is a never ending struggle between
progressive and degenerating influences. Sometimes the former are
predominant, sometimes the latter. In the worst case, degenerating forces
dominate to such an extent that they ultimately lead to the complete destruction
of a society. The rise and fall of various fascist regimes in the 20th century are
obvious examples.
Fortunately, many steps can be taken to tip the balance of social dynamism in
favour of progress. One of them, says Sarkar, is to promote the conscious
acceptance of the two principles of Neo-ethics. The first states that spirituality,
being that which promotes all human virtue and subtle consciousness and
therefore ultimately drives all social progress, “must be accepted as the
52 UNDERSTANDING PROUT – VOLUME 1
supreme desideratum in human life”. The second principle concerns
maintaining balance in life. “There should be happy adjustment and balanced
blending between carbonic and non-carbonic pabula.”
It must be emphasized that in Sarkar’s view spirituality is not something
imposed or unnatural. It is certainly not religiosity. Rather it is an attribute
latent in all human beings and its expression is to be encouraged because it
promotes all that is noble, charming and impressive about the human species.
Hence the first principle – without the conscious acceptance of the importance
of spirituality in individual and collective life, social progress becomes
uncertain, hesitant and difficult to sustain. Leaders fall prey to their cruder
ambitions and a blind populous follows to their ultimate destruction. In order to
accommodate social progress, a second principle becomes necessary. Progress
requires that the structure of society, including its economic structure, be
continually adjusted. If we understand an economy as producing the many
kinds of pabula required for human health and fulfilment, progress requires a
gradual shift in emphasis from producing carbonic pabula to producing more
and more subtle non-carbonic pabula. Sarkar describes that part of an economy
producing non-carbonic pabula as the psycho-economy. Its role is to find new
and creative solutions to economic problems so as to encourage the maximum
utilization of psychic and spiritual potentialities.167
We live in an era where human intellect and aspirations have attained some
degree of subtlety, but the most powerful of our political and economic
institutions are still mired in the dysfunctional materialism of previous
centuries. The choice is rather stark – imperialism or cooperation – but there is
a choice nonetheless.
Given the human proclivity for abuse of power and the tremendous impact that
this disturbing facet of the human character has had in history generally and in
the history of the cooperative movement and of failed socialist endeavours, it
deserves investigation from as many perspectives as possible, the political, but
also including the psychological and the spiritual.168
The biopsychology of ethics
Since the acceptance of ethical principles is essential to sustain a cooperative
society, it is clear that training in ethical decision making cannot be left to
chance. It is encouraging to find that courses on business ethics are now
multiplying in universities around the world, but something more than reading
books on the subject is required. Soldiers cannot learn to fight from books
alone and the same applies to those wishing to acquire ethical muscle. The
learning of ethics requires exposure to real moral dilemmas because, as recent
research has revealed, much more than the logical brain is involved.
Brain scans have opened a huge field of research into what parts of the brain
are involved during different kinds of activity. In one recent study,169 neuroTHE
BIOPSYCHOLOGY OF COOPERATION 53
scientists wanted to discover those parts of the brain associated with different
states of mind such as empathy, compassion, altruism, emotional stability, selfunderstanding
and pro-social attitudes. They found that pondering a situation
calling for altruism or compassion activated a brain region known as the medial
prefrontal cortex. However, moral decision making involved the joint activity
of several distinct parts of the brain – the medial prefrontal cortex just
mentioned (sometimes described as the social-empathic cortex), the rational
cortex (dorso-lateral prefrontal) which plays a role in sustaining attention and
working memory, the conflict detection cortex (“sixth sense” anterior
cingulated) and the limbic system (a part of the brain usually associated with
primitive emotions, such as sex, fear and anger). The authors concluded that
the neuro-biology of wisdom may involve an optimal balance between the
more primitive brain regions and the newest ones. For those teaching ethics in
MBA courses, the conclusion is clear. If the goal is to help students acquire
ethical muscle, they will need to be exposed to situations which exercise all
these different parts of the brain at the same time.
It turns out that all decision making involves the emotional parts of our brain.
Even decisions which are not apparently emotionally or morally charged still
engage parts of the brain associated with emotion. Far from being opposites,
emotion and rationality are interdependent. Neuro-physiologist Antonio
Damasio170 has shown that people who lose the ability to perceive or
experience emotions as a result of a brain injury also find it hard, if not
impossible, to make decisions.
Another important finding, this time by cognitive psychologists,171 is that
intuitive judgements of right and wrong operate quite independently of
religious affiliation. Atheists are just as ethical and have just as strong a moral
compass as persons with religious beliefs. Harvard psychologist Marc Hauser
says that his investigations, designed to test the kinds of moral decisions made
by people from different cultures and backgrounds, lead him to believe that
there might be something like a universal moral grammar, a set of principles
that every human is born with regardless of culture. It is a tool kit in some
sense for building possible moral systems. The analogy here is to Noam
Chomsky’s idea of a universal grammar, a basic linguistic tool kit that
underlies all the languages of the world, but which nevertheless permits much
variation in lexicon and grammar. Likewise, Hauser says, there is a suite of
universal (innate) principles that strongly influence how all humans think about
the nature of harming and helping others, but each culture has some freedom,
within constraints, to determine how those principles are expressed. Although
in many cultures religious beliefs have become the standard way to
conceptualize or articulate moral intuitions, religious conviction is not the
origin of those intuitions.
Hauser takes an evolutionary point of view and views the selective advantage
of a universal moral grammar within our brains as a mechanism that facilitates
54 UNDERSTANDING PROUT – VOLUME 1
making rapid decisions when confronted with ethical dilemmas. Part of the
substrate for a universal grammar must surely be the proclivity for cooperation,
altruism and empathy that also appears to have evolved with the human species
and that is demonstrated even in infants as young as 15-24 months.172 From
this perspective cooperation and ethics cannot be disentangled; they are simply
two different views on the same facet of the human character. They are both
supported by the same biological mechanisms which, according to evolutionary
anthropologist Michael Tomasello, have:
…very likely supported humans’ earliest forms of complex collaboration
and, ultimately, our unique forms of cultural organization, from the
evolution of tolerance and trust to the creation of such group-level
structures as cultural norms and institutions.173
Egalitarianism
Recall the assertion (possibly the most important made in this essay) that a
cooperative society can be built where there is some reasonable effort to do so.
That effort involves two parts, the first of which was discussed in the previous
section, the personal struggle with ethics. We now turn to the collective
struggle to establish a cooperative society, where the focus is on egalitarianism.
We have noted the communist attempt to impose material equality and found it
to be a disastrous failure. However, we have also reviewed some of the
accumulating evidence that more equal societies perform better on virtually all
social indicators than less equal societies. Even the rich are happier. People
appear to be deeply sensitive, even subconsciously so, to differences in social
status and relationships. The greater the differences, the more tension people
experience. The increased trust, cooperation and well-being that accompany
greater equality are associated with a reduction in social stress.
The balance of equality
So the question arises – if 100% equality is both impossible and undesirable,
and yet equal societies are happier, what should be the balance of
equality/inequality? Those on the left and right of politics take different
positions on this question because they attach different values to the
achievement of equality over other goals, such as productive efficiency. We
have suggested that there is a legitimate policy debate here because both
equality and efficiency have a moral dimension. The moral requirement for
productive efficiency places a legitimate constraint on the virtue of income
equality. If talent and hard work are not rewarded, both productivity and
cooperation suffer.
The Proutist solution has two components: first, to divide the Gross Domestic
Product into two parts, one part to guarantee the minimum requirements of life
to all and the other to reward effort and talent; and second, to set the maximum
THE BIOPSYCHOLOGY OF COOPERATION 55
income as a fixed ratio to the minimum income. As a community accumulates
more wealth, the quantity and quality of the minimum requirements can be
increased.
The commitment to egalitarianism in this incomes policy is evident in three
respects. First is the commitment to provide the minimum requirements to all
(humans, animals and plants). This corresponds to Marx’s dictum – to each
according to need. Second is the commitment to increase purchasing capacity
by increasing the quality and availability of the minimum requirements:
…increasing the purchasing capacity of each individual is the controlling
factor in a Proutist economy. The purchasing capacity of common people
in many undeveloped, developing and developed countries has been
neglected; hence the economic systems of these countries are breaking
down and creating a worldwide crisis.
The first thing that must be done to increase the purchasing capacity of
the common people is to maximize the production of essential
commodities, not the production of luxury goods. This will restore parity
between production and consumption and ensure that the minimum
requirements are supplied to all.174
Third is the commitment to reduce income inequality by gradually reducing the
gap between the maximum and the minimum income.
After the needs of all have been met, Sarkar proposes to reward those who
have demonstrated talent and effort. Fairness and the desirability to maintain
productivity justify such an approach.
The concept of equal distribution is a utopian idea. It is merely a clever
slogan to deceive simple, unwary people. Prout rejects this concept and
advocates the maximum utilization and rational distribution of resources.
This will provide incentives to increase production.175
Rewarding talent and effort can be interpreted as the meritocratic component
of Prout because, quite obviously, those so rewarded will rise in social
position. Many socialists oppose the meritocratic concept because, as the word
implies, it can lead to the entrenchment of a class that monopolizes access to
merit, thereby perpetuating its own power and privilege. Sarkar is clear that the
necessity to reward talent should not be at the expense of needs (however they
are defined in any particular age) and he also advocates checks and balances on
public power. But the positive outcomes are too obvious to ignore: work
satisfaction, work place efficiency, the possibility for self-improvement and so
on. The productivity increase so achieved creates more wealth which can be
used to increase the standard of ‘needs’. However the egalitarian versus
meritocratic impulses are always likely to be in political conflict – to hope
otherwise is to hope for the discredited socialist utopia. Rather than ignore or
suppress the associated political tensions, it is sensible to recognize them and
provide a forum in which they can be expressed constructively.
56 UNDERSTANDING PROUT – VOLUME 1
Ultimately the degree of egalitarianism in a particular community and the rate
at which egalitarian indicators can be increased is a matter of culture and
collective social consciousness. These do not change easily, which is why the
sudden imposition of equality will always fail if culture cannot sustain it.
The egalitarian principle in Neohumanism is referred to as the Principle of
Social Equality. It is a social mentality as much as an economic state. And
significantly it is defined in terms of needs:
It is the realization that all the creatures which have come to live in this
world, do not want to leave it – they all want to survive. Thus we must
grant them their right to remain in this world, their right to survive. We
must continue to fulfil all their needs so that they will not have to leave
this world prematurely. We must make arrangements for the food,
clothes, education, shelter and medical treatment of each and every
individual, so that all can live in this world as long as possible, and
become assets to the earth.176
In the context of Neohumanism, creatures is a reference to humans, animals
and plants. Those who wish to create a better society, says Sarkar, will have to
“stage a fight against all crude forces, a pauseless struggle against inequality
and cowardliness”. He then adds curiously that “complete one hundred percent
equality is an impossibility”, so for those wishing to create a better society,
“Where is the opportunity for them to have rest?”177 This is the way of the
world – we must struggle for social equality while recognizing that complete
equality is impossible due to the relentless dynamism of nature.
Coordinated cooperation
Sarkar makes a distinction between ordinary cooperation, coordinated
cooperation and subordinated cooperation. He opposes subordinated
cooperation and wants to promote coordinated cooperation:
…for the maintenance of any organism, there must be a close cooperation
between each of its component parts. Humanity is not inert, and the
relationships between human beings depend on more than mere
cooperation. This cooperation instead of being based on a master-servant
relationship, must be constructed in a warmly cordial atmosphere of free
human beings. It should be a coordinated cooperation and not a
subordinated one.178
The features of coordinated cooperation that distinguish it from ordinary or
“mere” cooperation are: 1) coordinated cooperation “must be constructed”, that
is, it is intentional; 2) the affect is positive for all concerned because part of the
process is to create “a warmly cordial atmosphere”; and 3) coordinated
cooperation must be voluntary, which is one of the internationally accepted
principles of cooperation.
THE BIOPSYCHOLOGY OF COOPERATION 57
Although the distinction between coordinated and subordinated cooperation is
quite general, Sarkar uses it most often in relation to the position of women in
society:
In the annals of human history we do find women whose memory
glorifies not only womanhood, but the entire human world. In philosophy
and spirituality, social reform and educational pursuits, science and
technology, they stand second to none. Women are found discussing the
riddles of philosophy, solving problems of social and educational reform,
and are inspiring men in times of struggle. They have their potentiality no
less than men. The difference in natural and biological characteristics
between men and women speaks only of coordinated cooperation, not of
subordinated cooperation.179
The progress of society is impossible when women are in a subjugated or
subordinated position. Sarkar cites his own country as an example.
Take the case of India. We are not as developed as we should be. Why?
One of the reasons is that we have kept women confined within the walls
of their homes, resulting in the progress of only fifty percent of the
population – the males. And as only the men are progressing, they will
have to carry the load of fifty percent of the population. Thus the speed of
progress is reduced. Ideally, women should also move with their own
strength and with the same speed as their male counterparts. In the
process of movement, if they feel pain in their legs, if they fall on their
faces, they should be physically lifted up. But not only women may need
assistance: the males may also fall down, and then it will be the duty of
women to extend their helping hand to carry the load of their male
counterparts. We cannot expect that, in relation to men, the position of
women will remain one of subordinated cooperation: it may also be one
of coordinated cooperation. The position of males may even be one of
subordinated cooperation. Nothing can be said emphatically in this world.
The fact is that we must move together in unison with all.180
There are two points to note from this passage. First is the clear hint that, while
the preferred future is coordinated cooperation, men could well find themselves
in the subordinated position. There are surely enough clues in the changing
dynamics of contemporary society to suggest this possibility. According to the
UK trend forecaster Future Laboratory, “the future of business is feminine”. In
the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, even in the high powered world of
global finance, women are now more sought after because they are more
inclined to be team players and less inclined to take testosterone-fuelled
risks.181
A second observation is that Sarkar never advocates the obliteration of “natural
and biological” differences between groups as the solution to antagonisms
between them. In order to bring an end to patriarchy, one might propose three
possibilities: matriarchy, coordinated cooperation or androgyny. The first of
these is a distinct possibility; the second is to be preferred but what about the
58 UNDERSTANDING PROUT – VOLUME 1
third? Androgyny could be understood as the attempt to stop gender
exploitation by diminishing the physical and psychological differences between
men and women. Sarkar never appears to favour this strategy. His approach to
class antagonisms, for example, is not to impose material equality (communist
states tried this and failed) but to allow class dynamics to unfold progressively
while remaining vigilant against the tendency for one class to exploit the
others.182 More generally, the dynamics that arise from the interaction of the
many different groups in society should be allowed to play out naturally.
Differences naturally endowed can be used to help one another. Service
psychology underpins Sarkar’s approach to coordinated cooperation.
Political leanings

 

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