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Meeting at Grand Central

Meeting at Grand Central: Understanding the Social and Evolutionary Roots of Cooperation

Lee Cronk
Beth L. Leech
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Meeting at Grand Central
    Book Description:

    From the family to the workplace to the marketplace, every facet of our lives is shaped by cooperative interactions. Yet everywhere we look, we are confronted by proof of how difficult cooperation can be--snarled traffic, polarized politics, overexploited resources, social problems that go ignored. The benefits to oneself of a free ride on the efforts of others mean that collective goals often are not met. But compared to most other species, people actually cooperate a great deal. Why is this?

    Meeting at Grand Centralbrings together insights from evolutionary biology, political science, economics, anthropology, and other fields to explain how the interactions between our evolved selves and the institutional structures we have created make cooperation possible. The book begins with a look at the ideas of Mancur Olson and George Williams, who shifted the question of why cooperation happens from an emphasis on group benefits to individual costs. It then explores how these ideas have influenced our thinking about cooperation, coordination, and collective action. The book persuasively argues that cooperation and its failures are best explained by evolutionary and social theories working together. Selection sometimes favors cooperative tendencies, while institutions, norms, and incentives encourage and make possible actual cooperation.

    Meeting at Grand Centralwill inspire researchers from different disciplines and intellectual traditions to share ideas and advance our understanding of cooperative behavior in a world that is more complex than ever before.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4548-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Anthropology, Economics, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Cooperation, Coordination, and Collective Action
    (pp. 1-17)

    Water management, vigilante movements, slave rebellions, and colliding aircraft. What could phenomena this diverse possibly have in common? They are all examples of cooperation of one kind or another, contrasted in each case with a similar situation in which cooperation failed to occur. We chose to begin our book with these examples to drive home an important point: Cooperation may occur all around us every day, but it should not be taken for granted. The forces working against successful cooperation are formidable, and the fact that cooperation occurs as often as it does is remarkable and noteworthy.

    That, in a...

    (pp. 18-46)

    Imagine that you are a flying fish. Thanks to your long pectoral fins, you can escape from predators by skimming the tops of waves. Clearly, those long fins of yours are an adaptation, designed by natural selection to provide a particular benefit. But returning to the water is also beneficial. Although the water is home to the predators from which you fly, it is also where you will find good things such as food and mates. Indeed, returning to the water is so beneficial that, were you a well-educated fish, you might be tempted to apply the concept of adaptation...

  6. CHAPTER 3 The Logic of Logic, and Beyond
    (pp. 47-71)

    Each year, 136 million people are born while fewer than half that number die. If this rate of growth continues, in just sixty-three years the world’s population will double, while the world’s resources remain finite. Overpopulation has been blamed, rightly or wrongly, for deforestation, air pollution, water pollution, global warming, urban sprawl, and the fall of ancient civilizations.¹ And yet, what can one person do to change this situation? Any single person declining to have children will have statistically zero impact on the overpopulation problem. If the person had hoped to enjoy a life full of children and grandchildren, then...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Cooperation and the Individual
    (pp. 72-100)

    Every approach in the social sciences begins with some theory of the individual. The approaches to collective action described in chapter 3 are no exception to this rule. However, most such theories attempt to explain behavior at only the proximate, mechanistic level. Consider, for example, Peter Clark and James Q. Wilson’s idea that people join groups that supply public goods in order to experience “solidary benefits.” In other words, people join groups because it makes them feel good to join with like-minded people and accomplish something they feel is important. Of course, this is true enough. But to say that...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Cooperation and Organizations
    (pp. 101-123)

    Shortly after Olson wroteThe Logic of Collective Action, ecologist Garrett Hardin published an essay titled “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Like Olson, Hardin was pessimistic regarding our ability to overcome the collective action dilemma. Hardin was inspired by observations made by nineteenth-century economist William Forster Lloyd regarding what happens when people try to share resources. Imagine, for example, herders sharing a common pasture. Each one has an incentive to add additional animals to the pasture because he receives all the benefit while the cost is shared among all. According to Hardin, this set of incentives will inevitably lead to...

    (pp. 124-150)

    You and a friend need to meet in New York City, but you did not prearrange a time or place. Where would you go, and at what time of day? Yale economist Thomas Schelling presented that question to “an unscientific sample of respondents” in New Haven, Connecticut, while writing his seminal bookThe Strategy of Conflict. A glance at the title of our book will give you part of the answer: A majority chose the information booth at Grand Central Terminal. And virtually everyone chose noon. Grand Central and twelve noon were prominent, salient focal point solutions to the problem...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Cooperation Emergent
    (pp. 151-168)

    In chapter 3, we asked you to imagine yourself as a flying fish. This time we have an easier assignment: Imagine waking up in a world in which all the vehicles are motorcycles. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to ride one. In this scenario, you do. Imagine also that there are plenty of roads to ride on, but no rules about which side of the road to favor when you meet another rider heading the other direction. Because everyone is riding a motorcycle rather than driving a car, a solution to this problem cannot emerge simply from which...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Meeting at Grand Central
    (pp. 169-188)

    We started this book with four vignettes, each highlighting a contrast between a situation in which cooperation did occur and one in which it did not. Let’s take another look at those vignettes in light of the theories and concepts described in the intervening chapters.

    Fresh water is a scarce resource around the world, but particularly in arid regions such as the American West. At one time, groundwater was sufficient for the needs of the region’s small population, but rapidly growing populations in recent years have led to the depletion of aquifers and the diversion of enormous amounts of water...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 189-206)
  13. References
    (pp. 207-236)
  14. Index
    (pp. 237-246)