The main impetus that has made us advance is competition. Without war or the need for oneupmanship perhaps the human race would have remained stagnant.
Do you think creatures become more complex because they compete, or because they cooperate?
For instance, it’s believed that mitochondria, the powerhouses in animal (and other advanced life) cells, were actually small, tiny little bacteria that were absorbed by larger cells. They cooperate and both do better.
Here’s more detail on this Endosymbiotic Theory, if you’re interested.
Let’s move up the chain though, to humans. We used to all be hunter-gatherers. We had to move around a lot in groups and there was very little interaction between groups.
Then something amazing happened: we invented agriculture. We took plants that we could grow easily and selected the best of the best until eventually we had so much food leftover, we didn’t really have to move around.
So what happened next? Well, instead of everyone being a hunter or gatherer, people could trade skills to get what they wanted. A craftsmen could focus on making farming tools, and a farmer could focus on farming. So we cooperate and we’re all better off!
Soon afterward, we created cities. Instead of sparsely populated areas, we had a well-populated area, and each person could focus on one thing, enriching us all. For instance, a tailor could focus on clothing, a cook on developing recipes. This is all cooperation. We become rich, together.
Later on, in the past few hundred years, we’ve invented capitalism. Some people think it’s about competition, but it’s really about cooperation.
The people that cooperate the best, produce what others want for the best value. So a company that works well together produces more value because it’s a group.
Is there competition between these groups? In some sense, but if we take a broader view, we see that using capitalism is a big, cooperative, joint effort. We could just all be fighting and blowing stuff up, but we realize we’re better off being peaceful and creating things for others that we want.
So, the main impetus that has made us advance is cooperation.