Cooperation's Two Kinds

Henry George
The Science of Political Economy

Book III, The Production of Wealth*

Chapter X
Cooperation -- Its Two Kinds

Showing The Two Kinds of Cooperation, and How the Power of One of Them Greatly Exceeds That of the Other

The kind of cooperation which, as to method of union or how of initiation, results from without and may be called directed or conscious cooperation -- Another proceeding from within which may be called spontaneous or unconscious cooperation -- Types of the two kinds and their analogues -- Tacking of a full-rigged ship and of a bird -- Intelligence that suffices for the one impossible for the other -- The savage and the ship -- Unconscious cooperation required in ship-building -- Conscious cooperation will not suffice for the work of unconscious -- The fatal defect of socialism -- The reason of this is that the power of thought is spiritual and cannot be fused as can physical force -- Of "man power" and "mind power" -- Illustration from the optician -- Impossibility of socialism -- Society a Leviathan greater than that of Hobbes 01

We have seen that there are two ways or modes in which cooperation increases productive power. If we ask how cooperation is itself brought about, we see that there is in this also a distinction, and that cooperation is of two essentially different kinds. The line of distinction as to what I have called the ways of cooperation, and have in the last chapter considered, is as to the method of action or how of accomplishment; the line of distinction as to what I shall call the kinds of cooperation, and am about in this chapter to consider, is as to the method of union or how of initiative.


There is one kind of cooperation, proceeding as it were from without, which results from the conscious direction of a controlling will to a definite end. This we may call directed or conscious cooperation. There is another kind of cooperation, proceeding as it were from within, which results from a correlation in the actions of independent wills, each seeking but its own immediate purpose, and careless, if not indeed ignorant, of the general result. This we may call spontaneous or unconscious cooperation.


The movement of a great army is a good type of cooperation of one kind. Here the actions of many individuals are subordinated to and directed by one conscious will, they becoming, as it were, its body and executing its thought. The providing of a great city with all the manifold things which are constantly needed by its inhabitants is a good type of cooperation of the other kind. This kind of cooperation is far wider, far finer, far more strongly and delicately organized, than the kind of cooperation involved in the movements of an army, yet it is brought about not by subordination to the direction of one conscious will, which knows the general result at which it aims; but by the correlation of actions originating in many independent wills, each aiming at its own small purpose without care for or thought of the general result.


The one kind of cooperation seems to have its analogue in those related movements of our body which we are able consciously to direct. The other kind of cooperation seems to have its analogue in the correlation of the innumerable movements, of which we are unconscious, that maintain the bodily frame -- motions which in their complexity, delicacy and precision far transcend our powers of conscious direction, yet by whose perfect adjustment to each other and to the purpose of the whole that cooperation of part and function that makes up the human body and keeps it in life and vigor is brought about and supported.


A beautiful instance of cooperation of the first kind is furnished by the tacking of a square-rigged ship under full sail. The noble vessel, bending gracefully to the breeze, under her cloud of canvas, comes driving along, cleaving white furrows at her bow and leaving a yeasty wake at her stern. Suddenly her jibs fly free and her spanker flattens, as she curves towards the wind; her foreyards round in and their sails begin to shake, and at length, as what were their weather braces are hauled taut, to fill on the other side. The after sails that at first held the wind as before, begin in their turn to spill; then their yards are shifted, and they too take the wind on a different side; and with every sheet and tack in its new place the vessel gathering again her deadened headway, begins to drive the foam from her bow as she bends on the other side to cut her way in a new direction. So harmonious are her movements, so seemingly instinct with life, that the savage who sees for the first time such a vessel beating along the coast might take her for a great bird, changing its direction with the movement of its wings as do sea-gull and albatross.


And between ship and bird there are certain resemblances. Both are structures in which various parts are combined into a related whole and distinct motions are correlated in harmonious action. And in both movement is produced by the varying angles at which flat surfaces are by a mechanism of joints and ligaments exposed to the impact of air. In a bird, however, the parts in their motions obey instinctively and unconsciously the promptings of the conscious will. But in the ship the motions of the parts are produced by the distinct action of a number of conscious wills, ranging from one or two dozen in a merchant vessel to several hundred in an old-fashioned ship of war. Their cooperation is produced, not instinctively and unconsciously, but by intelligent obedience to the intelligent orders of one directing will, which prescribes to every man his place and function, directing when, how, and by whom, each motion shall be made. The bird veers, because when it wills to veer, nerve and tendon directly respond with the necessary motions. The ship tacks because the separate wills that manage her rudder and sails consciously obey the successive commands which prescribe each of the necessary motions from the first order, "Full for stays!" to the last, "Belay all!" A series of intelligent directions, consciously obeyed by those to whom they are addressed, bring about and correlate the movements of the parts.


Nor could the maneuvers of a ship be carried on without such intelligent direction. Any attempt to substitute independent action, no matter how willing, for responsive obedience to intelligent direction would be certain ere long to result as in the traditional coasting schooner, manned by two -- captain and mate -- where the captain who was steering, irritated by some gratuitous advice of the mate who was tending jib-sheets, yelled out to him, "You run your end of this schooner and I'll run mine!" Whereupon there was a rattle of chain at the bow, and the mate yelled back, "Captain, I've anchored my end of this schooner; you can run your end where you choose!"


Now, much of the cooperation of man in producing social effects is of the nature of that by which a ship is sailed. It involves the delegation to individuals of the power of arranging and directing what others shall do, thus securing for the general action the advantages of one managing and correlating intelligence. But while cooperation of this kind is indispensable to producing certain results by conjoined action, it is helpless or all but helpless to bring about certain other results involving a longer series and more complicated and delicate actions and adjustments.


To continue our illustration: The bird structurally is a machine as the ship is a machine, which the conscious will of the bird, controlling certain voluntary movements, causes to rise or fall, to sweep in this direction or in that, to be carried with the gale or to tack in its teeth, in short to execute all the movements, sometimes swift and sometimes slow, but nearly always graceful, of which this bird machine is capable. But the conscious will that controls the voluntary motions of the bird; the intelligence that is the captain of this aerial craft, will not account for the machine itself; for its consummate arrangements and adjustments and adaptations. These not merely infinitely transcend the intelligence of the bird, but of the highest human intelligence. The union of lightness with strength, of rigidity with flexibility, of grace with power; the appropriateness of material, the connection and relation of parts, the economies of space and energy and function, the applications of what are to us the most complex and recondite of physical laws, make the bird as a machine, as far superior to the best and highest machines of man's construction, as the paintings of the great master are to the rude slate-drawings of the prattling child.


The bird is not a construction as man's machines are constructions. It was not built, but grew. Its first tangible form, as far as we can trace it, was a limy envelop containing a substance called the yolk, swimming in a sticky fluid, the white. Under certain conditions and without external influence except that of gentle and continued heat, the molecules of the contained substance began, by some influence from within, and seemingly, of themselves, to range themselves into cells, and cells to form into tissue and bone, and turning in related order into heart and lungs, backbone and head, stomach and bowels, brain and nerve, wings and feet, skin and feathers, until at length a tiny living thing pecked its way out, leaving an empty shell, and with a little eating and sleeping, a little hardening of gristle and lengthening of feathers, the "it" of it, the new captain of the new air-ship, began to try rudder and sails and paddles, until having "learned the ropes," and got accustomed to the measurement of distance and the "feel" of motion, it started off boldly to skim and to soar, to get food and digest it, to live its life and propagate its kind.


The veriest savages must at times ponder over the mystery of the egg, as we civilized men at times ponder over the mystery of common things -- for to them as to us it would be an insoluble mystery. But it is the ship, not the bird, that would most excite their wonder and admiration, for the savage would see in the ship as soon as he came close to it, not a thing that grew, but a thing that was made -- a higher expression of the same power which he himself exercises in his own rude constructions. He would see in it, when he came to look closely, but a vastly greater and better canoe, and would wonder and admire as he who has begun to paint stands in wonder and admiration before the picture of a master, which one who knew nothing of the difficulties of the art would pass with little notice. As the savage would understand the kind of cooperation called into play in the managing of a vessel, so would he attribute the building of the vessel to cooperation of the same kind. Since a larger canoe than one man can build may be built by the same man if he can unite the exertions of others in cutting, rolling, hewing and hollowing a great log, so would it seem to our savage that it was in this way that the ship of civilization was built. And the admiration which the ship would excite in him would be an admiration of the men who sailed it, whom he would naturally take to be the men who built it, or at least to be men who could build it. The superiority of the ship to the rude canoes with which he was familiar he would attribute to superiority of their personal qualities -- their greater knowledge and skill and power. They would indeed seem to him at first as very gods.


Yet the savage would be wrong. The superiority of the ship does not indicate the superiority of individual men. If driven ashore with the loss of their ship and all its contents, these men would be more helpless than so many of his own people, and would find it more difficult to make even a canoe. Even if they had saved tools and stores, it would be only after long toil that they could succeed in building some rude, small craft unfitted for a long voyage and rough weather, and not in any respect comparable with their ship. For a modern ship is rather a growth than a direct construction in that as between the kind of cooperation required for its production and that which suffices for that of a canoe, there is a difference which suggests something not altogether unlike the difference between a work of nature and a work of man.


The cooperation required in the making of a large canoe or in the sailing of a ship is exceedingly simple as compared to that involved in the construction and equipment of a well-found, first-class ship. The actual putting together, according to the plans of the naval architect, of the separate parts and materials which compose such a ship, would require, after they had been assembled, some directed cooperation. But if cooperation of this kind could suffice for even putting the parts together after they had been made and assembled, how could it suffice for making those various parts from the forms in which nature offers their material, and assembling them in the place where they were to be put together?


Consider the timbers, the planks, the spars; the iron and steel of various kinds and forms; the copper, the brass, the bolts, screws, spikes, chains; the ropes, of steel and hemp and cotton; the canvas of various textures; the blocks and winches and windlasses; the pumps, the boats, the sextants, the chronometers, the spy-glasses and patent logs, the barometers and thermometers, charts, nautical almanacs, rockets and colored lights; food, clothing, tools, medicines and furniture, and all the various things, which it would be tiresome fully to specify, that go to the construction and furnishing of a first-class sailing-ship of modern type, to say nothing of the still greater complexity of the first-class steamer. Directed cooperation never did, and I do not think in the nature of things it ever could, make and assemble such a variety of products, involving as many of them do the use of costly machinery and consummate skill, and the existence of subsidiary products and processes.


When a ship-builder receives an order for such a ship as this he does not send men into the forest, some to cut oak, others to cut yellow pine, others to cut white pine, others to cut hickory and others still to cut ash and lignum-vitae; he does not direct some to mine iron ore, and others copper ore, and others lead ore, and others still to dig the coal with which these ores are to be smelted, and the fire-clay for the smelting-vessels; some to plant hemp, and some to plant cotton, and others to breed silkworms; some to make glass, others to kill beasts for their hides and tallow, some to get pitch and rosin, oil, paint, paper, felt and mercury. Nor does he attempt to direct the manifold operations by which these raw materials are to be brought into the required forms and combinations, and assembled in the place where the ship is to be built. Such a task would transcend the wisdom and power of a Solomon. What he does is to avail himself of the resources of a high civilization, for without that he would be helpless, and to make use for his purpose of the unconscious cooperation by which without his direction, or any general direction, the efforts of many men, working in many different places and in occupations which cover almost the whole field of a minutely diversified industry, each animated solely by the effort to obtain the satisfaction of his personal desires in what to him is the easiest way, have brought together the materials and productions needed for the putting together of such a ship.


He buys of various dealers in such things, knees, beams, planking, spars, sails, cables, ropes, boats, lanterns, flags, nautical instruments, pumps, stoves; and he probably contracts for various parts of the work of putting together the hull, such as calking, sheathing, painting, etc.; of making the sails and rigging the spars. And each of these separate branches of collation and production will be found on inquiry to reach out and ramify into other branches having necessary relations with still other branches. So far from any lifetime sufficing to acquire or any single brain being able to hold, the varied knowledge that goes to the building and equipping of a modern sailing-ship, already becoming antiquated by the still more complex steamer, I doubt if the best-informed man on such subjects, even though he took a twelvemonth to study up, could give even the names of the various separate divisions of labor involved.


A modern ship, like a modern railway, is a product of modern civilization; of that correlation of individual efforts in which what we call civilization essentially consists; of that unconscious cooperation which does not come by personal direction, as it were from without, but grows, as it were from within, by the relation of the efforts of individuals, each seeking the satisfaction of individual desires. A mere master of men, though he might command the services of millions, could not make such a ship unless in a civilization prepared for it. A Pharaoh that built pyramids, a Genghis Khan who raised mounds of skulls, an Alexander, a Caesar, or even a Henry VIII could not do it.


The kind of cooperation which I have illustrated by the tacking of a ship is a very simple matter. It could be readily taught, the difficulties of language aside, to Malays, or Somalis, or Hindus, or Chinamen, or to the men who manned the Roman galleys or the viking ships. But that kind of cooperation which is involved in the making of such a ship is a much deeper and more complex matter. It is beyond the power of conscious direction to order or bring about. It can no more be advanced or improved by any exertion of the power of directing the conscious actions of men than the conscious will of the individual can add a cubit to his stature. The only thing that conscious direction can do to aid it is to let it alone; to give it freedom to grow, leaving men free to seek the gratification of their own desires in the ways that to them seem best. To attempt to apply that kind of cooperation which requires direction from without to the work proper for that kind of cooperation which requires direction from within, is like asking the carpenter who can build a chicken-house to build a chicken also.


This is the fatal defect of all forms of socialism -- the reason of the fact, which all observation shows, that any attempt to carry conscious regulation and direction beyond the narrow sphere of social life in which it is necessary, inevitably works injury, hindering even what it is intended to help.


And the rationale of this great fact may, I think, at least in some measure, be perceived when we consider that the originating element in all production is thought or intelligence, the spiritual not the material. This spiritual element, this intelligence or thought power as it appears in man, cannot be combined or fused as can material force.


Two men may pull or push twice as much as one man, and the physical force of one hundred thousand men properly brought to bear will one hundred thousand times exceed the physical force of a single man. But intelligence cannot be thus aggregated. Two men cannot see twice as far as one man, nor a hundred thousand determine one hundred thousand times as well. If it be true that "In a multitude of counselors there is wisdom," it is only in the sense that in a large comparison of views and opinions eccentricities and aberrations are likely to be eliminated. But in this elimination the qualities necessary for superior judgment and prompt direction are also lost. No one ever said, "In a multitude of generals there is victory." On the contrary the adage is, "One poor general is better than two good ones."


In the first kind of cooperation, as for example, when ten men pull on the same rope in the same way in obedience to the direction of one man, there is a utilization of the physical force of ten at the direction of the mental force of one. But there is at the same time a loss or rather non-utilization of the mental force of ten. The result can be no greater than if the ten men who are pulling were for the time utterly devoid of intelligence -- mere automata. And we can readily conceive of such extensions in the applications of machinery to the utilization of natural physical forces that the captain of a ship might by touching an electrical keyboard, so give responsive motion to rudder, sheets and braces, as to tack ship without a crew, which would be a long approach in the mechanism of a ship to the mechanism of a bird.


But in the kind of cooperation that I have called spontaneous, where the direction comes from within, what is utilized in production is not merely the sum of the physical power of the units, but the sum of their intelligence. If I may be permitted to use for a moment the term "man power" and symbol M as expressing the physical force which one individual can exert, and the term "mind power" and symbol M' as suggesting quantitatively the individual power of intelligence or thought, the best possible result of the exertion of one hundred thousand men in cooperation of the first kind would be 100,000 man power x 1 mind power or 100,000 MM'; while of the same number of men employed in the second kind of cooperation it would be 100,000 man power x 100,000 mind power or 10,000,000,000 MM'.


The illustration is clumsy, but it may serve to suggest the enormous difference which we see developed in the two kinds of cooperation, and which as it seems to me arises at least in important part from the fact that while in the second kind of cooperation the sum of intelligence utilized is that of the whole of the cooperating units, in the first kind of cooperation it is only that of a very small part.


In other words it is only in independent action that the full powers of the man may be utilized. The subordination of one human will to another human will, while it may in certain ways secure unity of action, must always where intelligence is needed, involve loss of productive power. This we see exemplified in slavery and where governments have undertaken (as is the tendency of all government) unduly to limit the freedom of the individual. But where unity of effort, or rather combination of effort, can be secured while leaving full freedom to the individual, the whole of productive power may still be utilized and the result be immeasurably greater.


The hardening of muscular tissue, which comes to us as the years of our lives go by, has deprived the delicate mechanism which once adequately moved the lenses of my eyes of what opticians call their power of accommodation, so that to my natural sight printed pages that I once read comfortably are now indistinguishably confused. By piercing a small pinhole in a piece of cardboard and holding it close to one of my eyes, while I shut the other, I can cut off from my vision so many of the rays of light that the few which reach my retina do not interfere with each other, and I can thus see the same printed page for a few moments distinctly. But this is by the sacrifice of otherwise available rays of light. Now by means of a properly ground pair of spectacles which deflect so as to utilize for the eyes the interfering rays of light I can use them all.


To attempt in social affairs to secure by cooperation of the first kind that alignment of effort which by natural law belongs to cooperation of the second kind, is like attempting to secure by cardboard and pinholes the definiteness of vision that can be far better secured by spectacles. Such is the attempt of what is properly called socialism.


Imagine an aggregation of men in which it was attempted to secure by the external direction involved in socialistic theories that division of labor which grows up naturally in society where men are left free. For the intelligent direction thus required an individual man or individual men must be selected, for even if there be angels and archangels in the world that is invisible to us, they are not at our command.


Taking no note of the difficulties which universal experience shows always to attend the choice of the depositaries of power, and ignoring the inevitable tendency to tyranny and oppression, of command over the actions of others, simply consider, even if the very wisest and best of men were selected for such purposes, the task that would be put upon them in the ordering of the when, where, how and by whom that would be involved in the intelligent direction and supervision of the almost infinitely complex and constantly changing relations and adjustments involved in such division of labor as goes on in a civilized community. The task transcends the power of human intelligence at its very highest. It is evidently as much beyond the ability of conscious direction as the correlation of the processes that maintain the human body in health and vigor is beyond it.


Aristotle, Julius Caesar, Shakespeare, Newton, may be fairly taken as examples of high-water mark in the powers of the human mind. Could any of them, had the control of the processes that maintain the individual organism been relegated to his conscious intelligence, have kept life in his body a single minute? Newton, so the tradition runs, stopped his tobacco-bowl with his lady's finger. What would have become of Newton's heart if the ordering of its beats had been devolved on Newton's mind?


This mind of ours, this conscious intelligence that perceives, compares, judges and wills, wondrous and far-reaching as are its powers, is like the eye that may look to far-off suns and milky ways, but cannot see its own mechanism. This body of ours in which our mind is cased, this infinitely complex and delicate machine through which that which feels and thinks becomes conscious of the external world, and its will is transmuted into motion, exists only by virtue of unconscious intelligence which works while conscious intelligence rests; which is on guard while it sleeps; which wills without its concurrence and plans without its contriving, of which it has almost no direct knowledge and over which it has almost no direct control.


And so it is the spontaneous, unconscious cooperation of individuals which, going on in the industrial body the Greater Leviathan than that of Hobbes, conjoins individual efforts in the production of wealth, to the enormous increase in productive power, and distributes the product among the units of which it is composed. It is the nature and laws of such cooperation that it is the primary province of political economy to ascertain.

* No introduction or motto supplied for Book III in MS. H.G., Jr.