Why Academia needs Ecovillages p.3: competitive vs. cooperative



As we transition into a post-oil world, humans face a fork in our evolutionary journey.  We can choose a bunker mentalitywhere we hoard resources and weapons and fight any and all intruders; or we can awaken to our fundamental inter-being and learn to live in right relationship with each other and the Earth.  The first path, I fear, will dead-end in the extinction of our species; the second path could mark the dawn of a new era of conscious evolution and harmony.  The choice is stark and clear.  So, tell me … why are we still educating in ways that lead to competition rather than cooperation?

In this 10-part blog series, I am unpacking the destructive \”stories\” or “hidden curricula” embedded within much of higher education and offering ecovillages as alternative \”campuses\” in which to train leaders for a more sustainable future.  In my first two posts, I explored the following contrasts:

  1. Conventional vs. Experimental
  2. Hierarchical vs. Heterarchical

I will now share a third comparison of academia vs. ecovillages as…

3. Competitive vs. Cooperative

\"\"Competition infuses academia on all levels. Students compete for grades; faculty compete for grants, tenure, and recognition; and schools compete for prestige and endowments.  Rather than encouraging individuals to “follow their bliss” or \”march to the beat of their own drummer\”, this system reinforces conformity, extrinsic motivation and a scarcity mentality which often leads to a tragedy of the commons as individuals race to “get theirs” first.  Is it any wonder then, why our \”highly educated\” leaders so often see competition and war as the only options in securing resources and our national health and safety?

Ironically, competition within academia can even be seen in the growing field of sustainability as university departments occasionally vie for the right to claim the term as their own and be seen as the “green” department on campus.

\"\"While competition certainly exists within ecovillages, cooperation is more the norm with members working toward common goals and assuming as much responsibility as they are willing to handle. The success of individuals is typically viewed as inherently tied to the success of the community as a whole.  For example, students on Living Routes programs collaborate on service learning projects and leading seminars and they often rotate responsibilities such as Health Monitor, Meal Prep/Clean-up, and Community Meeting Facilitator, This cooperative support naturally leads to a sense of competency, confidence, and agency in the world.

Going further, I would argue that cooperation often leads to a greater wholeness andemergent properties within an ecovillage, or any community for that matter. Consider an ant in an anthill.  It goes about its business, but also serves the larger collective.  I often wonder, \”Can a single ant – have any awareness of the intelligence that exists on the level of the anthill?\”  Similarly, is it possible there is a collective consciousness present within communities – and perhaps the planet – that we, as individuals, are only dimly aware of?  If so, then perhaps our highest goal is to become the best “ants” we can be by finding that place where, as Frederick Buechner said, “our deep gladness and the world\’s deep hunger meet.”(Beuchner 1993:95).

Through immersion experiences within ecovillages, Living Routes students get to try on new stories of interdependence and cooperation.  Many carry this transformed way of being into their lives and careers and are now leading others down the path towards a more sustainable future!

Next up: “Fragmented vs. Transdisciplinary Knowledge.”  Please share your thoughts, questions, and counter-arguments in the comments.  Thanks!

In community,
– Daniel


(This blog series is adapted from my forthcoming chapter in “Localizing Environmental Anthropology: Bioregionalism, Permaculture, and Ecovillage Design for a Sustainable Future”, edited by Joshua Lockyer and James Veteto and published by Berghahn Books)