Co-Operative Collective Action

I originally posted this article about 10 years ago. I think it will make more sense today.

Timothy Wilken

Today, most humans solve their problems as individuals or at best as nuclear families. They meet their individual needs with  individual actions. At best they may meet the needs of their nuclear family through family actions, but this is rarely more than a husband and wife both working. The extended family is an organizational pattern rarely seen in modern society.

This focus on individuality results in a massive loss of opportunity to co-Operative strategies that could result in greater efficiency and economy.

Individual Actions

Even though we humans are an interdependent class of life, we choose our actions based not on what we are, but on what we think we are. Today, modern humans are convinced they are an independent form of life. This deep belief in human independence means that most modern humans seek to meet their needs as individuals and make their choices independently of their fellow humans.

In our present culture humans meet their needs by purchasing products and services as independent individuals. In today’s fair market there are providers of products and services and there are consumers. Both the providers and the consumers for the most part think of themselves as independent and make their choices without great awareness of what others are doing.

In today’s marketplace, the providers and consumers meet only in the retail space. They have little or no direct relationship with each other. In this ignorance, both are, for all extent and purposes, blind and ignorant. The provider doesn’t know his consumers, let alone what they might need or when they might need it. And often the consumer don’t know the providers.

Bird’s Eye View

Let us imagine an aerial view of our community on an average evening at 10:00pm. Looking down we notice that within one square mile there are several small convenience stores open from seven to eleven. These small stores are all competing with each other as well as with larger supermarkets now staying open 24 hours in order to compete with them. At this hour of night there are only a few available customers to be divided up among all these providers.

Each store is paying one or more clerks to staff the store, plus the costs for lighting and heating each store. From our view above our community, it is obvious that most of the clerks could be sent home and most of the stores closed and still allow every customer seeking products and services at that hour to get what they needed. This would also produce enormous savings for this group of providers. To all stay open, the providers must pass the costs of doing business on to their customers, so this means that the prices in all of these stores is higher to subsidize this inefficiency.

Why is this happening? In today’s world we mostly ignore each other. After all, we are all independent. Each individual is supposed to look out for himself. So there is little communication between provider and consumer. The providers are keeping the stores open in hopes that someone will need something. If they were communicating with their customers, they would know when to be open and when they could close. They could then operate much more efficiently.

Now imagine that this same inefficient process is going on with many different kinds of products in every community in our nation and you start to sense the enormous amount of wasted time and energy.

Let’s return for a moment to our bird’s eye view of our community. Only this time let us imagine a time lapse video camera above our neighborhood. Imagine a family of four, two adults and two older teenagers in local college, having four automobiles. If we focus the video camera on the garage and parking area next to their home we would discover that there are times when there are no cars at home. This means that the family has four cars in use. Sometimes there is one car parked, so three cars are in use. Sometimes there are two cars parked, so two cars are in use. Sometimes there are three cars parked so only one car is in use. And sometimes we will find all four cars parked, so on these occasions this family has no cars in use.

Now careful analysis of our time lapse photography will reveal that this family is, on average, making use of only only 1.8 cars. This means that on average 2.2 cars are parked and not in use. Yet this family is making payments on four cars, paying insurance and taxes on four cars, and experiencing depreciation on the value of four cars whether the cars are in use or not. And, this is without considering the expense of operating the cars. Since most modern humans solve all their problems as individuals, they have chosen the most expensive solution possible.

Now if we move our time lapse camera higher, we discovery that this same phenomenon is occurring at every home in the neighborhood. If we examine all the homes within just a few blocks we discover that there are always cars in the neighborhood that are not in use.

Now, as we continue to watch from above, we see that often times the members of this neighborhood are going to the same place. They all go to the same supermarket. They all rent from the same video store. They use the same post office and drug store. As we watch we discover that often one individual will make the same trip to the same place maybe only a few minutes earlier or later than a neighbor. Again, we see that solving our problems individually means that we have chosen the most expensive option. We are doing this because in our neutral culture we don’t even know our neighbors let alone what their transportation needs are.

Now, if we move our aerial time lapse camera high enough to see the entire community, we can now see the parking lots at stores, supermarkets, shopping centers, places of work and schools. And again at any one time most of the cars are parked.

We also discover that one individual living at the north edge of the community is driving to the south edge of the community to his work in a retail store, while another individual is passes him going in the opposite direction, this individual lives on the south edge of the community and is driving to work on the north edge of the community to a similar job. Of course neither individual knows the other, or even how similar and paradoxical their situation is.

We could also analyze these same neighborhoods and discover that each garage contains a lawn mower and numerous tools that are only being used once every two weeks and all of these tools are expensive and require maintenance. I would imagine that in the neighborhood I live in, that on any given moment, ninety five percent of the tools in our garages are not in use.

Individual Actions are Expensive

Our current reality requires that we meet our needs as individuals. This guarantees that we will pay the highest prices for the products and services we need, and with the greatest waste of time and energy.

In any average week, if we total the time and expense involved in making multiple trips to the grocery store, pharmacy, hardware store, nursery, dry cleaners, video shop, post office, etc. etc. etc…, remembering to include the cost of individual transportation with each of us acquiring, maintaining, insuring, and operating our own cars, it would be hard to imagine a system that could be more expensive and inconvenient than our present reality.


While limited forms of cooperation are and have been used in the production of both products and services. Co-Operation is almost non-existent in product and service consumption. Almost all of us consume as individuals.

This has several effects. It insures that the prices we pay for products and services are much higher than they have to be. It further insures that the hidden costs we pay in time and expense related to simply acquiring needed products and services is also much higher.

Synergic relationship is the win-win relationship. We first discover synergic relationship in the microscopic universe. It is the basis of human cellular organization. Each of us has approximately 40 trillion cells organized within our bodies. These cells are related synergically, each acting in a highly co-Operative way.

Synergic relationship becomes available to human individuals because of our human intelligence. Our ability to invent and to understand new ways of doing things creates a new possibility for co-Operation which does not exist in the world of the plants and animals.

Co-OPERATION -def-> Operating together to insure that both parties win and that neither party loses. The negotiation to insure that both parties are helped and that neither party is hurt.

Here are some examples of how co-Operative actions might be used in the future to reduce costs and increase efficiency.

Co-Operative Videotape Rentals

The provider of videotape rentals operates much as do all small stores in our communities. The provider must select those available tapes which he feels will be popular and then make them available for rental. He keeps his store open long hours for the convenience of his customers, which travel on a regular basis to pick-up and drop-off tapes. This of course, results in lots of travel time and expense for the consumer, and when the consumer fails to find time to view the tape before the rental period expires, they are charged significant late fees.

Now imagine this alternative scenario: Instead of going to the video store you connect to the store via a web page on the internet. The available video tapes are listed with images from the movies, a list of actors, and even reviews.  You select the tapes you want to rent. And they are delivered to your home.

You have a locked delivery box outside your home in which you can retrieve new tapes when you order, and return for pick up when you are finished.

Co-Operative Consumption means that in addition to this scale of convenience, the provider and consumer now have a synergic and intelligent relationship. Using the same internet web page technology, the provider would query their customers as to which of the new releases of tapes they would be interested in renting. These choices could again be provided to the customer along with images from the videos, lists of actors, and reviews.

You could select one of three choices: Yes, Maybe or No.

This information would allow the provider to order an appropriate number of new tapes to fill the expected needs of their customers. Also, if your choices were popular and these tapes would be viewed many times, you could realize a rental at much lower cost. But, if your selection was unpopular, i.e. you were the only one wanting to see a particular tape, then the cost of rental would rise to could equal the full cost of purchasing the tape itself.

This is what is meant by an intelligent relationship with the provider.

The implications of this alternative are great in reducing the cost of rentals, increasing the likelihood that those tapes you are interested in are available, and with all the loss in time and inconvenience, let alone cost of picking up and dropping off tapes eliminated.

If this becomes the primary mechanism of videotape rental, the provider can close the retail Video Store in the high rent district and operate out of a low cost warehouse with delivery vans reducing the costs even more. Now imagine, how this same process could be be applied to many other products or groups of products.

Co-Operative Neighborhood Garages

Imagine purchasing a membership in a modern community garage within easy walking distance of your home. This garage could have a variety of automobiles that would be available for your use anytime day or night. The garage would be clean, well lighted, and safe. It would be staffed 24 hours a day, the automobiles would always be clean, serviced and full of gas.

Using either computer or telephone you could reserve a car for your own personal use. The garage could easily have many different types of vehicles available to serve your particular needs. You could reserve a station wagon, sports car, utility vehicle, or limousine. The garage could also run shuttle services to those destinations that were commonly and frequently requested.

The number of automobiles needed to meet the needs of the members co-Operatively would be much fewer than the number needed for the same members individually. Total costs would be much reduced and the secondary advantages would be tremendous.

On those occasions when all the cars happened to be in use, transportation needs could be supplemented by taxies or rental cars arranged by the garage.

What would the cost of such a service be. Well first, realize that ìattached garage” now a part of almost every home could be eliminated or turned into additional living space. Your cost of membership would be reflective of you use of automobiles. I would expect most families would experience major savings. Those very heavy needs for an automobile would find the costs to approach the same costs as owning their own automobile.

Now there is no reason the Co-Operative Garage should just offer automobiles. It could also provide garden tractors, lawn mowers, and tools of all kinds. The extent and value of co-Operative action is limited only by your imagination.

What is the size of your Biosphere?

Science defines the term biosphere as that environmental zone wherein a living organism can meet its needs and act to survive.

How large is your current biosphere?

How far do you have to travel to meet your needs. If you get out a map and place your home in the center and draw a circle with a radius large enough to enclose all of the stores and businesses you visit to meet your needs. This is your biosphere. The larger your biosphere the greater your expences in time and energy will be to meet your needs.

If you are seeking to save time and energy, then reduce the size of your biosphere.

Co-Operative actions are powerful methods to reduce the size of your biosphere. The savings individually and collectively are enormous. This will quickly translate into a major increase in the quality of one’s life and with an enormous savings in time and energy.

Time is the most valuable commodity that any human being can have.

By this I mean time spend doing what you want do do. This does not include time spent working to accomplish the goals of others, nor time spent transporting yourself or your family, nor the time spent physically acquiring the products and services you need to survive and enjoy life.

Integrated Communities

Another prototype for future living that takes advantage of co-Operative actions is the emergence of integrated communities. Integrated communities defined as those unitary environments structured so that the residents there can live, work, and recreate in one safe and pleasant place with all activities within easy walking distance. Integrated communities will offer their residents the greatest savings of time and expense. As integrated communities becomes available, I predict they will be so attractive that humans will move almost anywhere to live in them.