“The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.”
– Bertrand Russell

We have discussed envy, greed and ritual display as drivers of over-consumption, another trait is competitiveness.

In evolutionary terms, competition and rivalry are natural traits. Inter-species competition is for limited resources like food, water and shelter. Intra-species competition, when it occurs, is primarily for territory and mating. 

People compete in business, politics, sports and even for love. However, competition is a ‘zero-sum game’, meaning that there is a least one loser for every winner. 

Competition provides what psychologists call an extrinsic incentive, meaning that the motivation is external, e.g. when you do something because you get a reward for it, like a prize, a payment, or the winner’s prestige. The problem with extrinsic incentives is that they generally only work for as long as the incentive is maintained.


Humans didn’t just evolve by being competitive. As human cognitive abilities grew, cooperation became a more critical driver of progress. Humans became such a successful species because we are highly socialised and we cooperate and network for mutual benefit. This means that cooperation is a non-zero-sum strategy.

As the saying goes, if you want to be incrementally better, compete. If you want to be exponentially better, cooperate.