The first time I encountered the word “prosocial” I immediately became confused, it looked like an old friend with which I grew up with, but at the same time, I had the feeling it’s the first time we met. It made all the sense in the world at the time, linguistically speaking we have social behavior, antisocial behavior, and clearly, we must have prosocial behavior. Then I googled it and saw that antisocial behavior was immensely more researched that prosocial behavior and I realized that mankind has way more information about how things go wrong, rather than how to make them go right. That moment helped me understand a lot of things and gave a certain perspective and clarity which I will try to coagulate in understandable terms and sketch out a first draft about how I see prosocial behavior and what would Prosocial Labs be.
Prosocial behavior is a certain type of behavior which creates social cohesions, as antisocial behavior creates social disparity; or you can also say that prosocial behavior is sustainable behavior. At a fundamental level, we can boil things down to four pertinent questions in order to determine if something is prosocial, is it socially sustainable, is it economically sustainable, is it ecologically sustainable, and is it moral?
Social sustainability refers to the ergonomics of change, is it something that fits well on human nature and can be easily integrated by people, or is it something which must be enforced? A type of change that resonates with people will be perpetuated forward by those people and costs next to nothing while enforcing something has financial costs as well as social costs because it’s a form of structural violence. While both ways work in society, nonviolence would be the way to go.
Financial sustainability does not refer just to the profitability of an enterprise, but also to the distribution of gains. Centralized business structures that work at a global level were able to create a lot of wealth disparity and create an ultra rich and influential class which does not take the interests of the majority into account. Financial sustainability also needs to have a fair distribution of gains which can bridge the gap between classes and redistribute power.
Ecological sustainability is quite self-evident, but there is a certain nuance we need to touch upon. It’s clear that we need to find ways of production and living that are environmentally friendly, but we also need to take into consideration the other living beings on this planet and realize that exploiting them is not ecologically sustainable or moral.
Morals are not something that can have a clear form but is a discussion everyone needs to have when creating something. Morals are one of the most impressive human stories we came up with and constantly tries to figure out what is the right thing to do, but human behavior is so diverse that there are no clear-cut rules to what is correct. At the moment, the most commonly used and simplified way of determining what is moral is the duality of good and bad, but this is so vague and subjective that it creates more problems than it solves. In prosociality the core question, or duality, is cohesion vs disparity; does something make people come together or does it create separation.
Answering these questions needs to involve critical thinking and science at times because guesswork and intuition are not enough to generate working answers. Critical thinking and the scientific method need to be tools we work with in order to maximize the chances of a project or an idea to meet the above-mentioned criteria of prosociality.
Apart from these four questions that create a general framework for positioning things in a prosocial context, there are also four pillars of prosocial behavior that coagulate certain directions and outcomes. The four pillars are effective altruism, complementary consensual collaboration, open source education, and prosocial arts.
Effective altruism is something that has been researched and has quite a few vocal advocates, so there is much to be studied in this field, but the bottom line is that different methods create different results and if you really want to be altruistic, you should do the most effective thing in order to create the best results. At a general level, this refers to donating for a cause and finding the organizations with the best method so you maximize the impact of the money donated. At a personal level, this can refer to obtaining the best skills needed to solve a problem if you prefer to donate time, rather than money, to a cause.
Complementary consensual collaboration refers to a non-hierarchical collaboration mechanism in which people with different intertwining visions and skills reach consensus regarding a common way of action. This method of structuring collaboration creates higher engagement and ownership in a project because all members agree with the direction and methods used; this, in turn, maximizes the chances of success and is also a fertile environment for innovation.
Open source education refers to a transparent and fully accessible digital learning model to structure education. We need a major shift in the way people acquire new skills because the job market is very rapidly evolving and is increasingly dynamic; thus, the old model of education that seeks to create people with 20 or 30 years of competitiveness in the job market is not sustainable. Education needs to be accessible, on demand and constantly updated in order to create a medium in which people stay up to date with the skills needed to remain competitive. And the digital approach is the most sustainable way of facilitating this.
Prosocial art does not refer necessarily to the subject of the artwork itself, but more to the context in which its presented and marketed. We need to reevaluate the interactions between art creator and art consumer and build more sustainable relationships which facilitate long-term support for an artistic endeavor. On the other hand, artists are encouraged to find ways in which their art can be associated with causes in win-win situations.
This is just one attempt to structure prosocial behavior in a coherent and functional way, this is not by any means a final version and needs to be improved upon. But the general values, framework, and mindsets are defined to a workable extent.