Act Thirteen – Why do we cooperate? An analogy between individuals and states & its relevance in contemporary world politics

This article looks at the theories promulgated by the noted American development psychologist Michael Tomasello in his seminal work, “Why we cooperate?”.

The whole debate on the inherent nature of the human beings is central to the arguments presented in this article. Contrasting views in this regard are presented to us by noted political philosophers Hobbes and Rousseau. On the one hand you have Hobbes, who says that human beings are born evil and that society teaches them better, while on the other there is Rousseau, who contends that human beings are born cooperative and society later corrupts them. The truth lies somewhere in between.

It is undeniable that both our genes and social environment play a significant role in shaping our personalities and character traits. What is unknown is the actual degree by which the two influence the human behavior. With the future advent of complex non invasive cognitive technologies, the role played by the two will become even clearer than it already is right now.

The process of socialization plays a critical role in shaping the character of a human being. The behavior of human beings is determined by their exposure to a variety of social factors and interplay between different social institutions such as family, school, religious institutions, etc. According to Tomasello, “different individuals have different experiences, and different cultures have different values and social norms—these have an impact”. But having said that, although certain human traits such as cooperation and aggression are developed as a result of societal interaction, complex modern cognitive neurosciences studies indicate that these traits also have an inherent genetic basis to it.

Analogy between individuals and states

The same analogy can be used to describe the behavior of individual states. This is because the personalities and character of individuals who wield power at the level of the state, determine the behavior of the state to a large extent (Byman and Polack 2001). The process of socialization that takes place at the individual level also takes place at the state level. Hence, I will be operating under the assumption that states, to a certain degree, display patterns of cooperation which resemble those of human beings.

Most anthropologists contend that, a group of individuals who wield power and make the decisions at the level of the state, have been to a certain extent been socialized in similar settings and environment and hence that makes state behavior a predictable phenomenon. But that does not happen. With the benefit of hindsight, it is safe to say that states historically have tended to display streaks of unpredictable behavior and this is partly due to the heterogeneous nature of the individuals present in the upper echelons of power.

Having established the individual-state analogy, we know look at the often controversial issue of foreign aid through the lens of state cooperation. Tomasello asserts that the incentive of rewards not only “stimulates the child’s helping, it may even subvert it”. In other words, if a child repeatedly receives a reward in exchange for cooperating with the adult, he/she becomes intrinsically dependent on it. Furthermore, once the reward is taken away from the child, the level of cooperation offered by him/her decreases drastically. Tomasello’s adult-child analogy can be applied to state of contemporary geopolitics with respect to foreign aid.

Relevance in contemporary world politics: A case study on Rwanda

Let us take the case of the United Kingdom providing foreign aid to Rwanda, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and other such least developed countries. According to a report released at the 2011 G8 summit, the United Kingdom gives provides more foreign aid to impoverished nations than any other country in the G8 grouping of states (Shipman 2011). Now, in exchange for this aid, the recipient country doles out certain favors to the donor country, i.e. the United Kingdom in this case. Some of these favors include opening up of the domestic economy to the products coming from the UK, allotment of domestic land at concessional rates, granting of licenses in several crucial financial sectors in the recipient country, cheap labor, etc. In other words, in exchange for significant amount of aid being offered by the UK, these recipient countries are expected to offer their cooperation in multiple sectors.

In the case of Rwanda, the United Kingdom had pledged to spend an average of 83 million pounds per annum in the country until 2015 (DFID 2013). In exchange for this substantial aid, Rwanda had offered cooperation to the UK in many of the fields mentioned above. As Rwanda is one of the poorest and the most impoverished countries of the world, over the course of time it had become dependent on this aid coming from the UK.

In light of the covert support and funding provided by the government of Rwanda to the M 23 rebels operating inside the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, the country received widespread global condemnation. As a result of this, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron suspended 21 million pound worth of aid to Rwanda. The foreign aid provided by the UK to Rwanda accounted for roughly 5 per cent of Rwanda’s national GDP, a figure that exceeds its entire military budget allocation. The cancellation of aid coming from the United Kingdom badly affected the Rwandan economy.

President of the Republic of Rwanda Paul Nagame addresses the Class of 2013 at the banquet during Plebe-Parent Weekend March 13. Kagame told the nearly 3,000 people in attendance that security is a global issue and "what affects one nation has inevitable consequences on others.” Kagame's son, Ivan, is a member of the Class of 2013 and one of 58 international cadets currently attending the world's preeminent leader development institution.
President of the Republic of Rwanda Paul Kagame.

After the aid was rescinded, Rwanda’s attitude towards the United Kingdom began to change drastically. Several ministers from the Rwandan government, led by its Prime Minister Paul Kagame, came out and publicly condemned this decision by the UK to cancel aid to the country. Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo lamented this nascent strain in the relationship between the UK and Rwanda when he said that, “Leveraging aid and development funds to punish or reward the perceived conduct of recipients, or to placate domestic critics, is contrary to the partnership philosophy that has helped make the collaboration between Rwanda and the UK among the most successful of its kind” (Ford 2012).

As a result, Rwanda completely restructured its relationship with the United Kingdom in the aftermath of aid cancellation. In terms of both rhetoric and action, their relationship took turn for the worse. Instead, Rwanda shifted its gaze towards its Eastern frontier and enlisted the help of China in forging a credible economic partnership. The growing hostilities between the United Kingdom and Rwanda resulted in increased developmental cooperation of the latter with China (Apollo 2012).

The analogy between foreign aid and the concept of rewards is profound in nature. While aid was being granted to Rwanda, it became intrinsically dependent on the United Kingdom in exchange for providing cooperation. But later, when the UK rescinded its aid package (refusal to give rewards), Rwanda refused to cooperate with the British government.

Thus, a commonality in behavioral patterns can be observed in this case between Tomasello’s concept of rewards for children in exchange for cooperation on the one hand, and Rwanda’s refusal to cooperate with UK after its long term aid dependency on the latter had been terminated. Hence, a clear analogy has been established between patterns of human and state behavior in the field of cooperation – an analogy that has serious consequences for the rule of law in international affairs.

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