Chapter XXX

COOPERATION AN ETHICAL FORCE


Man needs his fellow man. This need in present society expresses itself in a negative and in a positive way. The master needs servants. The soldier needs enemies. The tradesman needs customers. These are the negative expressions of this human need. Here is a give and take of interests, a conflict in which each hopes to get the better of the other--to get more than he gives. This is the negative aspect of human relationships found in the prevalent methods of business.

In cooperative organization there is something positive. We human beings need one another in order to be helped by others, but we need to help others in order to create a balance of services. A cooperative society is an organization of people each of whom makes his contribution to its success. What he does for the society in financing, in patronage, and in service helps the society toward success. It is for his own good. And what he does for his own good proves to be to the advantage also of all the other members. What each does to help the society toward success is of help also to him. Here people work together on the ancient principle of mutual aid, which has held species together and made society possible.

There are three attitudes toward human relations: (1) acquisitiveness, (2) self-abnegation, and (3) the cooperative way. Acquisitiveness is the prevalent attitude in the world today. It is the basis of profit capitalism. The idea is to get things; to get advantage; to win profit, if need be, at the expense of others; to get ahead of competitors and of everybody else. It grows the seeds of war as well as of the minor hostilities. Basically, it is a natural way of doing things, for human beings are naturally acquisitive and selfish, and naturally seek their own advantage.

Self-abnegation is attempted by an occasional zealot of this philosophy, but he never survives long. It is the basis of many of the religions that have had crucified saviours. If everybody gave no thought to the morrow, sold all he had and gave it to the poor, and kissed the hand that struck him, a chaotic condition would prevail, with the most ruthless, or the least kindly, on top. A child asked his father: "If we are to help others, what are the others to do?" The answer to be consistent should be: "The others are to help us." But if a condition prevailed, in a world of people looking to others for help, in which none helped himself but was helped by others, and if all were giving no thought to the morrow, a world of mendicants might result carrying on their affairs by the complicated method of indirection. If everybody were to get help, but from somebody else, everybody would as a result be helped, and the questions would naturally arise: Why the indirect method? Why not each help himself, thus get immediate results, and thus save his neighbor the trouble of doing it for him? Helping others at one's own expense may be good for the morale of the helper, but bad for that of the helped. As a principle it predicates an unbalanced transaction. None of this, however, should prevent the right thinking individual from giving himself the moral advantage of helping others in need, nor should it prevent those in need from wanting and accepting help. Indeed, the greatest and best results accrue to the giver when sometimes he gives something that he himself wants and needs. All this is for the exceptional occasion. As a universal attitude this ideology is unworkable. The height of hypocrisy finds people setting aside one day to advocate practicing a method which on six other days they find impracticable and have no intention of practicing.

The cooperative way combines the advantages of the two above attitudes and eliminates the disadvantages. It opposes exploitation of the individual by others and it obviates the necessity of his need of unrequited help from others. It makes it unnecessary for one to seek advantage over others and it aims to make each self-sufficient and beyond need of help. This is accomplished in the cooperative way by each following the natural bent of self-promotion. But in seeking good for himself by the cooperative way, he has to promote the good of others. And others in promoting their good, find that they are promoting his good. An individual joins a cooperative society. He wants to get as much from it as he can that is to his advantage. To accomplish this the society must carry on successful business, it must be well run, goods must be of the best quality, and prices the lowest. To attain these results the member finds that he must do his part to make the society succeed. He must be a loyal patron, seen on committees, induce his neighbors to become members, watch the business, scrutinize its reports, think of the best interests of the society, and carry its welfare on his mind because it is his business. In doing these things he is helping himself to get the best returns from a cooperative business.

Then he makes a discovery. He finds that all these activities to which he gives himself redound to the advantage of all other members as well as to himself. Indeed, each of them gets as much benefit from his activities as does he himself. Having made this discovery, he makes another discovery: he finds that the other members serving on committees, getting new members, and doing a multitude of things for the welfare of the society, are doing things for him, which do him as much good as themselves. Thus a cooperative is a body of people, each helping all and all helping each. It is an aggregation of servants served, of masters working together for the good of servants and masters. Here is exemplified the natural human impulse to seek self-interest which characterizes profit capitalism, but without the profit motive as an object and without the competitive struggle as a result. Here also is exemplified the philanthropic attitude which resides in every person of good will, the desire and satisfaction in doing for others; but in the cooperative way the others are doing the same thing. Charity which promotes indolence in others and faith which looks to forces outside of one's self for help are not a part of the cooperative program. They may have a place in the scheme of life of individuals, but only incidentally in the scheme of cooperation.

This cooperative method is an ethical force drawing people closer together and providing them a device by which the philanthropic impulses may be put into action in a practicable, workable, and mutually advantageous way. It is not a theory in the realm of the esoteric. It takes ethics into the market place and sees that scales balance true and measures are just.

All this bears upon peace and war. Betterment of human beings, elimination of their hostilities, and more adequate supplying of their needs make for peace. Inculcation of ethical principles makes for good will among men. After all, war is only possible where good will does not prevail. The cooperative method, when it functions across international boundaries, with its exchange of commodities and services, carries peace-promoting good will into action in the field where wars are bred and waged.

War is a political affair; cooperation is an economic affair. The cooperative method provides for supplying people's needs. Among their needs is peace. Cooperative democracy in its setup makes no provision for a war department. It assumes that a people well supplied with necessities of life do not need to attack any nation. Every force that makes for demonstrating values of friendship, in contrast with contention, is a force for weakening the powers that call people to do unkind things. People who have learned the values of service, who think in terms of brotherhood, who know that friendship in business is possible, are not material for war. We have seen that war is most naturally made by people who live lives of hostility, struggle, and competition for advantage over others; and that is the sort of life that competitive profit business promotes.

Cooperation is an ethical force because it invites all to join it and enjoy its advantages. Profit business merchants do not want everybody to be merchants. But cooperators, who are their own merchants, want everybody to join them and together become owners of stores and thus become merchants.

Cooperators are devoted to taking every step possible to make things more accessible to consumers. That means low prices and plenty. This attitude sets cooperation at work helping people get things. Its success depends upon this. This attitude possesses ethical values of incalculable importance. Ethics are closely allied with economics. Bread and butter underlie morals.

In the cooperative society is an aggregation of people working together to help themselves--a democracy of servers served. Self-interest is made social. The ethical defect of profit business is that men go into it not to perform service but to get the gain. "Let the buyer beware" is a byword of business. Cooperation makes business ethical. The more ethics that can be introduced in business, the less is the possibility of war.

Ethical attitudes are not enough. A change in method and motive of business, which the cooperative method is effecting, is the way of peace now offered to the world. While the profit system is moving on always toward the breaking out of war, the cooperative method is moving toward the breaking out of peace. The cooperative societies of the world are waging peace as a feature of their activities.

Family and home constitute the center around which cooperation develops. Cooperation makes for the preservation of these bases of civilization. War does damage to both. If it does not blast them to destruction with its bombs, it weakens their moral fibre with its immoralities. We have seen that men who enter the army detach themselves from the decent restraints of civil life. They feel free to violate their wonten moral codes. The army not only does not discourage but encourages the promiscuous sex practices of married and unmarried men. Armies supply prostitutes and easy women to improve the morale of soldiers. Soldiers are the most dangerous element to morals that can be visited upon a community. War not only leaves an army of cripples and widows, but an army of disillusioned women and fatherless infants. The cooperative way helps to preserve home and family and to prevent war.

The wickedness, gambling, and adventure in war appeal to many. Characterizing war as wicked only makes it fascinating to multitudes of men. When war is looked upon not so much as wicked but as vulgar, it will be less attractive. And its vulgarity is obvious to those who know its causes and who know that there are dignified ways of settling disputes, of carrying on business, and of supplying human needs--ways that do not give rise to hostilities and contentions. Sordidness of much of modern business makes men vulgar and unconscious of their own vulgarity and the vulgarity of war. There still survive in the world multitudes of dangerous people, who are left at liberty to walk our streets, who assert that war is noble and glorious. War is not only vulgar but absurd. Peace will come when men become better and wise enough to introduce a peace-promoting motive in production and supply. Morals alone are not enough. They come to naught without an economic basis.

Peace is not an entity to be striven for and won as a prize. The peace the world needs is like healthy life. It is something that must be lived. Its other name is social healthfulness. We shall have peace when we live healthily in our relations with our fellow men. Every contribution to social justice is an aid to peace. Peace must be developed in our socially healthful living, day by day, in the home, and in the market place.


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The content and opinions expressed on this Web page do not necessarily reflect the views of nor are they endorsed by the University of Georgia or the University System of Georgia.