Beyond the Culture of Contest

Are conflict and competition inevitable expressions of human nature? Is self-interested competition the only way to motivate people to strive for excellence? Or is it possible for humanity to transcend the prevailing culture of contest, along with the myriad social and ecological problems it creates? If so, how can this be done? These questions frame the broad lines of inquiry that this course explores.

This exploration requires students to examine fundamental assumptions about human nature and society that are widely held today. In the process, they examine the deeply materialistic interpretation of reality that consolidated itself in many parts of the world over the past century, and the ruinous consequences of this. Only by questioning these assumptions and interpretations can people learn how to read social reality with their own eyes and not through the eyes of others. And only as people develop this capacity do they develop forms of consciousness that empower them to address the mounting social and ecological crises now facing humanity.

Topics covered in the course include the relationship between human nature and culture; the role of cultural codes, representations, and discourse in the formation of culture; the operation of power in human affairs; the prevalence of conflict and competition as maladaptive cultural norms; structural causes of social injustice and ecological degradation within the prevailing culture of contest; the materialistic interpretation of reality that fosters the prevailing culture of contest; the role of mutualism and cooperation in the advancement of civilization; non-adversarial strategies of social change; and identity formation in the context of increasing global interdependence.