Humanity has primarily been driven in its interactions along one of two dimensions: cooperation and competition. There’s an interesting book by Robert Wright, called Non Zero, which addresses the aspect of cooperation on two levels, that of the individual and that of society. He argues that since humans gain from cooperation, they tend to find ways to cooperate. The most common (and important) way is the sharing of knowledge, which contributes to human progress.
I think there is no escaping the fact that, along with the cooperation and collaboration that is essential for progress in areas such as science and medicine, competition is (and will remain) a major driving force for most humans in our striving for success. Intense competition can result in societal change, war, and many not-so-pleasant outcomes.
In the decades since the end of World War II, we have been living in an era that hasn’t included major wars and/or hostilities, and there has been a high level of cooperation between nation states and between people. This has resulted in tremendous growth and drive in humanity at large. Death rates due to war are the lowest; as a percentage of population, over the last 60 years we have lost fewer people due to war and military insurgence than in any other time in human history. This era, I believe, was driven partly by the Cold War—around the mutual assured destruction of nuclear weapons—and also driven by the fact that we were all busy trying to improve our lives. We certainly succeeded at the latter—the average person today lives better than the monarch of 200 years ago in terms of longer life span, better health and better amenities.
However, this does not mean that competition no longer exists. So, where is the competition taking place today? Primarily around jobs. There is global warfare taking place among nation states, each seeking to drive jobs within its community, and enterprises are being used as weapons. This drive for jobs is very, very significant. If we look at the most recent decade or two, the largest amount of violence and social unrest has all been intra-national rather than international. I believe the primary reason for this intra-national conflict is jobs.
Jobs are not only a source of income; they allow us to be bigger than we are, give us a sense of service and contribution to society, and provide a sense of dignity. As we continue moving forward, the regions of the world that will become more powerful in the future are the nations that create opportunities for their citizens to find the most meaningful jobs.