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When to Cooperate, When to Betray?

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright October 2018


People meet and interact: when they do, will they cooperate with each other or betray each other? When to expect cooperation and when to expect betrayal is the topic of this essay.

Cooperation and betrayal happen in many difference circumstances. This essay outlines a few of each. The goal is for you to understand when each is likely. You can use this understanding in story writing and in getting through life more predictably.

When is cooperation likely?

Cooperation happens in many circumstances. Here are a few.

Cooperation is likely when the participants are looking for long term benefits. If the people meeting foresee a steady stream of benefits coming from cooperating, then they will do so. This means they expect to meet on a regular basis and benefit from the meetings. This kind of cooperation is at the heart of commerce and business activity.

Cooperation also happens when there seems to be little benefit to betraying. This kind of cooperation is at the heart of what happens when strangers meet for the first time in a wilderness situation. They look around, they see there is no other help available, they will cooperate with each other. This kind of cooperation also happens in more crowded situations as well, but it is lower profile -- things such as opening doors for other people and helping them with directions.

Charity in its many formats is another form of cooperation. The root format is a person who is feeling generous encountering a person they feel is in need and cooperating with them by giving them a donation. There is often an intermediary person or organization that helps implement this style of cooperation. (When the charity is a scam, this activity is betrayal, not cooperation.)

These are some examples of the many styles of cooperation a person encounters.

When is betrayal likely?

Like cooperation, betrayal can happen in many different situations. Here are a few.

One circumstance where betrayal is seen as advantageous is when it produces short term benefits and no long term relation is likely.

A non-violent form of betrayal is a scam -- a fast-talking person quickly befriends a stranger, talks them out of something valuable, and then is gone forever.

A violent form of this meeting-just-once format is a robbery -- strangers meet and are unlikely to meet again. In addition to a stream of vulnerable strangers, another requirement for making a robbery betrayal pay off is having a place to dispose of the loot that is acquired by the betrayer -- a lair or haven of some sort. This means when the robbery happens the betrayer is likely to be near this lair.

Another kind of betrayal is one that happens regularly between people who know each other but tolerate the betrayal. An example of this is a married couple staying together even though one is "stepping out". This is an example of the benefit of larger cooperation outweighing the cost of a smaller betrayal. This is also an example of strong emotion mixing in -- "one does not betray family" even if a particular family member is betraying.

An example of mild emotion mixing with a small betrayal is tricking or teasing someone.

Another use for betrayal is signaling the end of what has been a cooperative relationship, and related, a way of getting some revenge when a person didn't want the relation to end.


Beyond the straightforward applications of cooperation and betrayal there are interesting implications as well.

In in the case of robbery betrayal if someone is working to reduce crime in their area -- robbery betrayal -- then working to reduce the lair benefit is one way of reducing the comfort of the robbery benefit.

In the case of family members covering up a betrayal The risk is that the family suffers even more damage if their covering up is revealed. Have they been cooperating with the betrayer?

An odd implication that concerns the affairs of nations is that it seems that newly installed autocratic rulers who are young often want to betray one or two of their dissidents with an innovative form of assassination. Russian, North Korean and Saudi autocrats come to mind as examples.


Cooperation and betrayal both take on many forms and show up in many different circumstances. The circumstances surrounding the meeting between people have a lot of influence over which activity -- cooperating or betraying -- is going to be more beneficial. When trying to forecast which is going to happen pay attention to the surroundings.



--The End--


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