Here’s a way I could imagine things operating on a lot of levels simultaneously, from the simplest organisms to multinational organizations. Imagine with me…
We are always monitoring “how effective our volition is”. We want to exit situations where the “drive” we put into the world is counter-productive. We are bored when our drive (or “effort” or “labor”) has no effect. But we’re excited to be in settings where our drive turns into work, where things move in accordance with the drive we put into it.
A collective I want to be a part of is one that is moved by or even amplifies my volition. Working productively with others is a multiplier on how effective my volition is. When I pump my legs on the swing, I am excited to learn that by getting the timing right, the swing goes further each time I pump. I feel bad when I get the timing wrong and my drive does not turn into work. A good golf swing turns my drive into a lot of ball movement aimed toward the hole. I feel good about my speech when people are moved by it in the expected direction. I feel bad when they “don’t get it”.
Very roughly, I’m thinking about this formula:
The dot-product there means that alignment with movement direction is what makes force turn into work. “Alignment makes effort work.”
James Dama gave a surfing analogy and Nathan Haydon gave a white-water rafting analogy, which add dimension and nuance to the above story. It’s crucial that your paddle (e.g. hand or foot) pushes in proper alignment with the direction of water movement. If you push your paddle into a turbulent area, you could dislocate an arm or break a paddle. Similarly, if my car is skidding on the road, the first thing I should do is to “regain agency” by aligning my wheels with the direction of the skid, even if for a moment doing so is heading me off the road.
In summary, something like the following may be interesting to consider. Agentic things constantly test whether their “labor” is “co”: whether our effort is aligned with the surround, or is just turning into heat, or is actively being negated.
Final thought: Collaboration is coordinated through language: it lets us get the timing right, putting us into resonance.
Row! Row! May our labor be co!