Prof. Dennis J. Snower, President of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy
"Humanity is not rising to many of the global challenges we face. On many fronts – from climate change to resource depletion, from banking crises to sovereign debt crises, from deficient education to poverty in the midst of plenty, from energy security to food security, from fragile states to weapon proliferation, and more – we are not successfully engaging with the challenges of the 21st century. Our economies are not overcoming the scourge of poverty, the inadequate provision of collective goods (such as public education, environmental services, fish stocks and rain forests), our societies are increasingly fragmented, and our governance structures are inadequate to the problems we face.
If human nature is conceived in terms of Homo Economicus, then it is necessary for politicians to adjust incentives, regulations and property rights in order to create win-win situations for self-centered, materialistic, rational, individualistic agents in the private sector. But if politicians are also conceived in terms of Homo Economicus, then they will not do so, since winning elections is different from overcoming global problems. On this account, insufficient progress is made toward overcoming the growing problems posed by global public goods (such as carbon emissions), common-pool resources (such as overfishing) and global inequalities.
Against this backdrop, the talk will examine the human potential for cooperativity, in particular, the potential for cooperation among non-kin, as required for action to overcome current serious global problems. The talk will cover proximate mechanisms of cooperation, such as the human propensity for emotion contagion, empathy and compassion that lead people to form social groups and promote cooperation. It will examine how our prosocial motivation and behaviour is affected by our perception of another being belonging to our in-groups or out-groups and how group formation may be influenced by external circumstances and internal training. The talk will consider whether we can widen our circle of compassion and affiliation, thereby leading to an expansion of our prosocial motivation and our scope of cooperation. We will also consider ultimate mechanisms of cooperation, particularly in the domain of cultural evolution."