Illustration of a coyote (wearing a red t-shirt, suspenders and coyote/badger badges) and a badger (wearing a red t-shirt and a coyote badge) sitting at a table with a cloche in the centre of it and a sting of lights in the background

Sometimes nature surprises you.

For example: did you know that in the Americas, coyotes and badgers hunt together? 

This is not a ‘real’ revelation – Indigenous cultures worldwide have known that competition is not the only state of being for living things, and that nature cooperates at least as often as it competes.

This sort of thing falls into a category known as ‘settler epiphanies’ – where colonists ‘discover’ things that have been known by Indigenous cultures for tens of thousands of years (things often actively ignored or suppressed). 

Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ has been twisted to mean ‘survival of the strongest and fastest’ when it actually meant ‘survival of the best adapted to its environment’ (‘fit’ meaning ‘a good fit’). Some of the most effective adaptations involve the capacity to work cooperatively and pro-socially. Interdependence goes right down to the level of our cells, with mitochondria having originally been a separate, symbiotic organism.  

This interpretation of Darwin wasn’t a simple misunderstanding – it was a deliberate myth built up by 19th and 20th century economists and used to justify harsh, austerity-style interventions. Under the influence of this myth, most of our systems end up being designed as competition for scarce resources – social sector funding competition is one egregious example that I’ve spoken about previously

There is some irony in this. Why do we insist that co-design – cooperative, collaborative design – can work as a method, while also assuming that the systems we design using this method must be competitive? 

Western culture has a massive, blinding bias that notices competitive behaviours and ignores patterns of cooperation. Nature is collaborative, and that suggests we can design systems that are too – but our cultural bias severely limits our capacity to do so.

Imagine what we could achieve if we could shake off that bias?

— Dr. Reuben Stanton and the PG Team

Illustration by Wendy Fox, Creative Lead

Read the rest of Issue #51 here.