‘Cooperation’ is to ‘Collaboration’ like ‘Hippies’ are to ‘Yuppies’

Sometimes, things nag at me.

‘Buzzwords’ ‘bug’ me in general, the buzzword ‘collaboration’ bugs me in particular.

Being a slow thinker, I have wondered for years now why I even care.  And, yes, I do flinch every time I hear it used….’collaborative efforts’ sets up a whole tick of flinches!

But, why?

The obvious reason is the pejorative connotation ‘collaboration’ has in all the European countries once occupied by Nazi Germany.  Collaborators were those who sought to improve their individual circumstances by working alongside (co-labour-ating) the oppressive occupational forces through (and this is key in my mind) harming others.  Growing up, there was no ambiguity in morality:  ‘collaborators ought to be lined up along a wall and shot’. 

Of course, that is not the only meaning in which the term is used.  Is there something else about ‘collaboration’ that I am almost – but not quite – picking up on here? 

Perhaps a good starting place is to contrast ‘collaboration’ to its ‘predecessor buzzword’, ‘cooperation’.  The dictionary definition is – excepting the whole ‘lining collaborators up against the wall’ thingy – somewhat similar…yet slightly different.  Some dictionaries list them as synonyms, others define ‘collaboration’ as ‘directed cooperation’…  Many people more qualified in this than I have done excellent analysis of the difference in meaning from one discipline to another (some are mutually quite exclusive)…

What about cultural connotations, who uses the words, and to what end.  Could I find a clue there?  Perhaps…

The ‘old’ buzzword, ‘cooperation’, has a decidedly ‘Kumbaya’ feel about it…  It is all about caring and sharing and stoning anyone who isn’t already stoned into cooperating with, like, nature, and people, and, like, stuff. 

But it is also evocative of super-exclusivist intellectuals, like those who wear Birkenstock sandals (those non-conformists!) and set up ‘condominium co-operatives’ where they insist on interviewing potential condo buyers to make sure they are ‘suitable’ kinds of people to ‘cooperate with’.  They are open-minded, of course – ‘minority status’ is a bonus, so long as they have the right ideology and score high enough on the ‘pretentiousness scale’.

And it also makes one think of some more ‘proletarian’ forms of ‘cooperation’, usually called ‘co-ops’.  These would be ‘co-operatives’ set up to ‘help’ a specific class of people – say, farmers.  These tend to be incredibly inclusive:  as in (here in Canada), they successfully lobied governments to make it illegal for someone – like, say, a farmer – to farm UNLESS they were a member of the cooperative.  Papa Stalin would have been so proud!

From ‘Milk’ and ‘Egg’ and ‘Wheat’… these took on names like ‘Marketing Board’ and – strictly to protect the farmers and assure a ‘fair’ wage for their work – set out manipulating produce prices by setting quotas to limit production.  ‘Member’ farmers then have to buy a ‘quota’ and are forced to destroy any produce above this – or the ‘inspectors’ will destroy their means of production.  It is so strict that a chicken farmer is not allowed to bring a chicken she grew to her son’s barbecue… for removing the chicken from the premises and allowing ‘others’ to consume it with her, she could be stripped of her production quota. 

Now, THAT is SOME protection ‘cooperation’ can provide!

Marx had seen human cultures as forming a closed circle:  starting with a ‘primal collectivism’ in the earliest dawns of human civilization, through various stages like feudalism, capitalism and socialism, all the way to ‘advanced collectivism’ (I am translating these terms, never read this bit in English – sorry if it is not in ‘usual terms’…it is, however, in accurate terms.)  ‘Advanced collectivism’ is, of course, synonymous with ‘communism’.

So why does the word ‘collaboration’ make me cringe even more?

Perhaps because ‘cooperation’ is to ‘collaberation’ like ‘hippies’ are to ‘yuppies’!

It is ‘self-centred’, ‘task-oriented’, ‘mean, lean and cold’.  Still just as pretentious – especially among the ‘condo people’.  Which is where the whole ‘WWII collaboration’ meaning comes in.  No, don’t invoke the ‘Goodwin law’, not like that…  Just that whatever the evils of ‘coerced cooperation’ may be, there is at least a ‘lip service’ paid to ‘improving’ and ‘community building’.  It still hold the idea – as wrong as this is – that whatever the means, there will be a common good that will come out of this.

‘Collaboration’ shakes these illusions.  Yes, is also is ‘working together’ but not like a team – more like cogs in a machine!

It is strictly business!  No social benefits, no community building, no ‘common goals’.  We have a ‘task’ here, you do your bit, I’ll do mine. Don’t bother trying to build an infrastructure from which other ‘stuff’ could grow – we don’t have funding for that.  Just build your widget – I don’t care how or whom you hurt in the process – and hand it over to the next guy in line!

I suppose it is a sort of a ‘modern day production line’, except without the robots.

Like ‘cooperation’, ‘collaboration’ is less and less a matter of choice and more and more a matter of coersion.  It has all the negative aspects of ‘cooperation’ (except the campfire songs – no time for that), yet more dehumanizing…. 

Oh, yes, we are all pulling ‘together’, but not as a team… it’s each collaborator for him/her self!

Where ‘cooperation’ was (in its infancy) a reaction to a controlling society, an attempt to band together to stand up to ‘big business’, ‘collaboration’ is the ‘next evolutionary step’.  It is – in every sense of the word – ‘bureaucratization’ of ‘cooperation’.  Just think about it for a while – it really is.

Which brings me to the WHO: Who are the people most fond of this buzzword?

Bureaucrats of all stripes! 

Oh, they don’t see themselves as bureaucrats!  They are ‘educators’, ‘intellectuals’ and ‘professionals’!  Except that….they’re not.  They could have been – but instead of ‘teaching’ and ‘discovering’ and ‘achieving’, they are busy ‘defining the process’ and ‘implementing best practices’ (controlling the process) and going to important meetings to tell other important people about their latest ‘best practices’… bureaucratizing!

Collaborators, the whole bunch of them!