Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Awaiting the emergence of a +N sector (Part 3 of 3) — toward a U.S. Chamber of Commons

My December 2012 post about the concept of the commons (here) proposed that it might be a good idea to create a series of Chambers of Commons, including a U.S. Chamber of Commons, and network them together. This would be in keeping with TIMN’s implication that a +N sector will eventually take shape, as discussed in the first two posts in this set of three.

My TIMN-inspired forecast was that a U.S. Chamber of Commons could operate as a wedge organization plying wedge issues. This could help provide organizational impetus to pro-commons and other +N actors and ideas, while also counter-balancing negative aspects of the +M influence of the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its affiliates and allies.

My proposal gained some traction, I’m pleased to say, because the 2012 post was noticed by P2P activists Michel Bauwens and David Bollier, among others. Today’s post offers an update, prompted by news in 2015 that Chicago-area activists started working to organize a Chicago Chamber of Commons, along with a US Chamber of Commons.

Today’s post draws on my 2012 post, as well as on updates I added during 2013-2015. But for the most part, today’s post reports on new materials and other observations about the idea to create chambers of commons. The first sections are mostly reportage. I refrain from offering much TIMN analysis (or my own personal views) until the final section.

Overall, I am upbeat about people’s efforts on behalf of the chamber-of-commons idea. But I have a key concern as well: efforts to date seem aimed more at reforming +M than evolving +N. That may make sense for some anti- and post-capitalism perspectives on the Left; but from a TIMN perspective, I’d wish for a greater and sharper focus on creating +N.

Initial interest in the chamber-of-commons idea in 2013

In remarks about my 2012 post, David Bollier focused just on the chamber-of-commons idea, while Michel Bauwens emphasized its potential as one of various initiatives within a broader plan he was formulating.

Bollier greeted the proposal warmly as “a timely idea” — a way to “advance the commons paradigm” and “span the cultural barriers that divide digital and natural resource commoners”:
“Scholar of networked behavior Ronfeldt has proposed an idea whose time may have arrived: let’s create a new federated network of commons enterprises called the “Chamber of Commons.” The term is a wonderful wordplay on the more familiar group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the notoriously reactionary business lobby.
“A federation to help advance the commons paradigm and projects is a timely idea, especially in international circles and localities that enjoy a critical mass of commons projects. …
“... It would be especially exciting if a chamber of commons could begin to span the cultural barriers that divide digital and natural resource commoners, not to mention international political boundaries.” (source)
Bollier also wisely noted some organizational and membership challenges that might be faced:
“I would respectfully suggest that any parties that enter into a Chamber of Commons have a focused commitment on the commons paradigm and philosophy. It’s imperative that a group of this sort take the commons seriously, and not see the Chamber as an opportunity to wrap themselves in feel-good PR terms. …
“As this little thought-exercise suggests, clarifying the criteria for membership in a Chamber of Commons could be one of the biggest but most important challenges. ...
“... The best solution, I think, lies in having serious commoners, as members, decide the criteria on an ongoing basis, and pass judgment on any new members. After all, any participants in such a project would have a big stake in protecting the integrity of the commons concept and its reputation. ...
“... It’s time for various commons and commons-based businesses (coops, CSAs, etc.) to find ways to band together. We need to create a new focal point for making commoning more visible in an organized way. The mutual support, dialogue and new initiatives could only be enlivening.” (source)
Meanwhile, beginning to formulate a broad P2P-inspired plan that he and his colleagues would call the Commons Transition Plan (here), Bauwens embedded the chamber-of-commons idea in a “powerful triad” of “next steps” for “constructing three institutional coalitions”:
“The civic/political institution: The Alliance of the Commons ...
“The economic institution: the P2P/Commons Globa-local Phyle ...
“The political-economy institution: The Chamber of the Commons”
Of the three, Bauwens viewed the chamber-of-commons proposal as a way for “emergent coalitions of commons-friendly ethical enterprises” to form counterparts to the business-oriented chambers of commerce:
“In analogy with the well-known chambers of commerce which work on the infrastructure for for-profit enterprise, the Commons chamber exclusively coordinates for the needs of the emergent coalitions of commons-friendly ethical enterprises (the phyles), but with a territorial focus. Their aim is to uncover the convergent needs of the new commons enterprises and to interface with territorial powers to express and obtain their infrastructural, policy and legal needs.” (source)
Together, Bauwens said, these three “institutional coalitions” would provide a “powerful triad for the necessary phase transition” to a commons-oriented economy and society:
“In short, we need a alliance of the commons to project civil and political power and influence at every level of society; we need phyles to strengthen our economic autonomy from the profit-maximizing dominant system; and we need [a] Chamber of the Commons to achieve territorial policy; legal and infrastructural conditions for the alternative, human and nature-friendly political economy to thrive. Neither alone is sufficient, but together they could be a powerful triad for the necessary phase transition.” (source; also here)
And that’s how the chamber-of-commons idea began to take root in pro-commons and P2P circles.

Subsequent idea to create parallel assemblies and chambers of the commons

In early 2015 (at least that’s when I first read about it), Bauwens added the idea of creating “Assemblies of the Commons” alongside “Chambers of the Commons”:
“At the local level, we propose the creation of Assemblies of the Commons, institutions that bring together all those that are creating or maintaining commons, immaterial or material, but we propose to restrict membership to civic organizations and not-for-profit oriented projects.
“At the same time, we propose the creation of local Chamber of the Commons, the equivalent for the ethical economy and ‘generative’ capital, the what the Chamber of Commerce is for the for-profit economy. Our aim is to reconstruct commons-oriented social forces at the local level, and to give them voice. These assemblies and chambers could produce a social charter, that would be open for political and social forces to support, which in turn would guarantee some forms of support from these new institutions.” (source)]
Acting in parallel, the Assemblies and Chamber would reinforce each other. Yet each would have different roles, purposes, and participants; and they would operate independently:
“I am proposing the creation of two new institutions:
“1. Assembly of the Commons. This will be a place or an institution where people who actually co-create common goods can meet, create a shared culture and create social charters and demands towards the policy world.
“2. Chambers of the Commons. – Which is for all ethical entrepreneurs. People who create commons and who create livelihoods for the commons. They would also create their own institution.
“The reason why they need to be separated is a bit like the separation of church and state. When you are in business you have certain priorities, when you are a citizen you have other priorities. I think it is better not to contaminate these two institutions and let them operate independently.” (source)
As trends have developed, it appears that the assembly idea may be proving more popular in Europe, the chamber idea in America.

Elaboration in P2P and pro-commons plans throughout 2013-2015

Bauwens and his colleagues steadily reiterated these ideas in numerous additional writings and talks during 2014 and 2015 (e.g., including those cited below, plus here and here).

As I understand it — though I’m not sure how best to summarize it — their goal is a new type of post-capitalist economy (and society), organized around the commons and P2P principles. This economy (and society) would rest on “network-based peer production” and “commons-based peer production” — particularly, “open cooperativism” and “platform cooperativism”, pursuant to fostering an “ethical entrepreneurial coalition” and an “ethical market economy”. This new economy would be oriented toward benefitting civil society, and be served by a new type of state (the “Partner State”). The chambers and assemblies of the commons would be constructed as “meta-economic networks to bridge these fields of action.” (sources: writings by Bauwens and Bollier).

In Bauwens words, “The Commons transition plan is based on a simultaneous transition of civil society, the market and the state forms.” Moreover,
“In the Commons Transition Plan, we are making also very specific organizational proposals, to advance the cause of a commons-oriented politics and a ‘peer production of politics and policy’.” (source)
The organizational structures and interactions he proposes are very elaborate — more than I can convey here, but including the following points regarding the chamber-of-commons idea:
“As an alternative, we propose that we move to a commons-centric society in which a post-capitalist market and state are at the service of the citizens as commoners. …
“• Ethical market players create a territorial and sectoral network of Chamber of Commons associations to define their common needs and goals and interface with civil society, commoners and the partner state …
“• Local and sectoral commons create civil alliances of the commons to interface with the Chamber of the Commons and the Partner State …
“• Solidarity Coops form public-commons partnerships in alliance with the Partner State and the Ethical Economy sector represented by the Chamber of Commons …” (source)
Overall, then, Bauwens urged anew in 2015 what he originally urged in 2013 — a “Chamber of the Commons” as part of “a powerful triad for the necessary phase transition”:
“In short, we need an alliance of the commons to project civil and political power and influence at every level of society; we need phyles to strengthen our economic autonomy from the profit-maximizing dominant system; and we need a Chamber of the Commons to achieve territorial policy; legal and infrastructural conditions for the alternative, human and nature-friendly political economy to thrive. Neither alone is sufficient, but together they could be a powerful triad for the necessary phase transition.” (source)
Quite an ambitious ideological and organizational agenda.

Optimistic global outlook for P2P efforts at the end of 2015

As a result, 2015 closed with two optimistic wrap-up assessments. In the first — The Top Ten P2P Trends of 2015 — Bauwens noted that “It is therefore particularly heartening to see the simultaneous creation this year of several local commons groups, such as Assemblies and Chambers of the Commons.” He thus lauded:
“5. The launch of independent, commons-centric civic organisations
“I called for this about three years ago, but they are finally emerging.
“A proto-Assembly of the Commons has been operating in Ghent, Belgium, and on the occasion of a big francophone city festival on the commons (Villes en Commun), Toulouse and a few other French cities launched Assemblies of the Commons. A Europe-wide Assembly meeting is planned at the EU-level. In Chicago, a Chamber of the Commons was launched and, just this month, a Commons Transition Coalition for Melbourne and other places in Australia. This means that commoners will increasingly learn to have a political and social voice.” (source)
A related document — What the P2P Foundation did in 2015 — adds further promising details:
“Our proposals to create an independent political and social voice for commoners gained traction in 2015. Chambers of the Commons and similar were created in Chicago (USA) and several cities in France, and a local Commons Transition Coalition in Australia was formed, all following Michel’s visits.” (source)
All quite impressive and purposeful, despite some TIMN-related misgivings I have that I will raise in a concluding section (or follow-up post)

Organizational progress in Chicago

The place where activists committed to pro-commons and P2P principles have seized on the chamber-of-commons idea the most (and prospectively the best) is Chicago. In May 2015, a gathering of Chicago-area activists began to rally around Creating a Chamber of Commons (source), which raised the question Could Chicago be the first city to create a Chamber of Commons? (source), partly on grounds that a Chicago Chamber of Commons Points Way to Thrivability for All (source).

I am too removed to tell much about his innovative activity. But materials at a few sites and blogs enable me to glean the little that follows.

With support from the Chicago Community Trust, and before long a grant from the Knight Foundation, interested activists organized a steering committee, led by Steve Ediger (as head of the newly-fielded US Chamber of Commons), and set out to generate workshops and a start-up plan, much of it inspired by Michel Bauwens and his writings (see above). They also established two websites for the project:
• one for the Chamber of Commons US (here)
• the other a Facebook site for the Chicago Chamber of Commons (here)
Their objective is to create an “umbrella” organization, an “advocacy group”, and/or a “seed” for promoting pro-commons stewardship based on P2P principles. Their current focus is on Chicago — yet their hope is that it will become a “prototype” or “template” that can spread, leading to additional new chambers across the country.

The efforts in Chicago appear to reflect some of the organizational and membership challenges that Bollier anticipated in his 2013 post (see above). While my meager knowledge doesn’t tell me to what extent the Chicago-area organizers have had to face such challenges, an October 2015 event report revealed that theirs has been “a complex task”:
“It took a long time for the group to reach consensus on the Commitment and by the time we got to Coordination, looking at the calendar and tasks to identify incongruities among dependent tasks across teams, we were almost out of time. … Whether, or not, we had true consensus remains to be seen as we execute tasks.” (source)
In general, their efforts have been oriented to addressing pro-commons matters, broadly defined, but with an emphasis on emerging economic reforms:
“We advocate and bring visibility to elements of the generative economy, partly to protect endangered areas of the Commons and partly to develop the expression of new forms and practices of Commons, such as the knowledge Commons.” (source)
“The Chamber of Commons recognizes, supports and highlights the green shoots of a budding Generative Economy. As such, we see ourselves as an advocacy group for emerging models of generative-ownership designed businesses forming around the Commons.” (source)
“Forming around these Commons is an entire economy created by new types of businesses engaged in market activities, but in an ethical way. These include fair trade organizations, solidarity organizations, B corps and social entrepreneurs, Bauwens said.” (source)
This emphasis on economic matters appears to be attended by a selective focus on new kinds of business enterprises and opportunities in particular:
“The US Chamber of Commons, a startup organization dedicated to “recognizing, supporting and highlighting the “green shoots of a budding Generative Economy,” is trying to get a new form of chamber off the ground: one to connect social entrepreneurs, L3C’s, B-Corps and other enterprises focused on triple bottom line, sharing-economy approaches to commerce and community development.
“The group sees its role as advocating for the four broad categories of organizations outlined in Marjorie Kelly’s Owning our Future: (1) Commons Ownership and Governance (2) Stakeholder Ownership (3.) Social Enterprises and (4) Mission Controlled Corporations. … The discussion will address an array of Commons-relevant topics such as the environment, public land, the food supply, public education and transportation, open-source software, the internet, arts and culture and taxpayer- funded scientific research. Unclaimed realms such as the oceans, Antarctica and outer space will also be on the agenda.” (source; also here)
Against this background, the goal is to formally announce a Chicago Chamber of Commons at a grand assembly in May 2016. I wish them well, though I have some concerns I’ll raise in the next section.

A TIMN assessment of the Chamber-of-Commons idea — my thoughts at this point

Oh gosh, as I look over this draft before tackling this final section, I see that once again, in my slowed-down condition, I have written an overly long wordy post, all the while refraining from injecting much TIMN analysis until the end. Yet TIMN is what matters most.

I can tell, now that I have started to focus on this concluding section, that my ability to finish it in a succinct timely manner is somewhat in doubt. So I’m just going to go ahead and post what exists above, plus posit the following sketchy outline of what remains to be added.

In my view, there are three key points I should make about the Chamber-of-Commons idea with regard to TIMN:
  • It remains a good idea whose time is nigh, whether motivated by P2P, TIMN, or some other forward-looking framework (e.g., "cultural evolution") — but especially if/as it becomes instructed by TIMN.
  • It seems advisable to emulate historical aspects of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the better to counter-balance it — and counter-balancing it may be a key function.
  • It is important to assure that the Chamber-of-Commons idea serves the creation of the prospective +N sector, more than and apart from a potential reform of the +M sector.

Whether the full version of this concluding section — the elaboration of those three key points — ends up being appended here before long, or is issued as a new post, remains to be seen.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Awaiting the emergence of a +N sector (Part 2 of 3) — a nod to Darwinian dynamics

TIMN purports to be a kind of theoretical framework for describing, explaining, and analyzing a lot about social evolution across the ages, primarily from an organizational perspective. +N is viewed as the next stage in centuries-long processes of innovation, variation, selection, and adaptation, shaped in part by how people go about their struggles to compete and cooperate — indeed, to out-compete by out-cooperating.

Darwinian dynamics behind TIMN

Thus, TIMN is rather Darwinian. And indeed, an old chart comparing the TIMN forms contains a line tentatively comparing biological and social evolution, which I explain as follows:
“The next row observes that each form corresponds to a different aspect of anatomy: tribes to a body’s skin or look; hierarchical institutions to a musculo-skeletal system (as Thomas Hobbes implied); markets to a cardio-pulmonary circulatory system (as Karl Marx noted); and networks to a sensory nerve system (as Herbert Spencer thought, and many writers still suppose today). These are only analogies and metaphors, but they help impart the distinctive nature of each form.” (source; also here)
Furthermore, in a collection or propositions about TIMN dynamics, I included several that seem quite Darwinian to me. Here’s one that claims that incomplete adaptation may be best:
“Imperfect adaptation to a form may be optimal for continued evolution: The task of getting a form “right” does not mean that exact adaptation (or adaptedness) to its environment is best for a society’s potential for further evolution. Incomplete adaptation may provide for flexibility. Each form may well have an ideal type in theory and philosophy; yet, in practice, none operates fully according to its ideal — nor should it. One reason may be the presence of other forms, and the importance of having to function in relation to them. Another reason may be that imperfect adaptation may allow for opportune, innovative responses to environmental changes.” (source; for more, see 1996, p. 34)
And here’s another that has Darwinian aspects, for it insists on the evolution of regulatory mechanisms that enable the TIMN forms to work properly together:
“Successful combination depends on the development of regulatory interfaces: As societies progress in TIMN terms, the forms and their realms increasingly intersect and interact, such that a society’s functioning depends not only on which forms are present, but also on the nature of the interfaces between the realms. Regulatory mechanisms (laws, policies, agencies, etc.) enable realms — e.g., the state, the market — to function well together. Regulatory interfaces also help keep those realms separated and in balance, preventing one from overwhelming another. They provide a needed kind of connective tissue.” (source)
Even so, I am years behind in trying to lay TIMN out in Darwinian terms (I’m no expert on Darwin anyways). But I’d offer a couple points and snippets here that may help with thinking about the emergence of +N, at least abstractly.

Pertinent points and snippets from Darwinian thinking

A crucial initial point may be to note that Darwin’s work is about the evolution of “species” — but the TIMN forms do not correspond to species. They correspond to something higher from a taxonomic viewpoint. According to Wikipedia, “The best-known taxonomic ranks are, in order: life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species.” I’m not sure which of these equates best to the TIMN forms, or to their mono-, bi-, tri-. and potentially quadri-form (T+I+M+N) combinations. But I am sure that the TIMN forms and their combinations are not “species”; instead, they generate myriad and varied species of societies. Deeper consideration, more than I can do now, may reveal that the fields known as morphology and phylogeny are more appropriate than speciation to understanding TIMN.

That said, lots of deliberately Darwinian concepts and dynamics look very applicable to TIMN. Here are two snippets that recently caught my attention — one about general dynamics, the next about an advance in speciation.

Regarding the general dynamics of selection and adaptation, David Sloan Wilson writes (a bit controversially, I gather) about an “iron law of multilevel selection”:
“The iron law of multilevel selection is: “Adaptation at any given level of a multi-tier hierarchy of units requires a process of selection at that level and tends to be undermined by selection at lower levels.” The reason that unsustainable practices are so common is because they benefit lower-level units at the expense of the higher-level good.” (source; also here)
This looks pertinent to TIMN. I see no reason why TIMN cannot be articulated in terms of multilevel selection. Besides, Wilson’s point about lower-level selection undermining higher-level selection matches a point I often make about the tribal/T form. It is the first and forever form; no society can do without it as a basis. Yet, it is not an easy form to get right. Its bright sides (e.g., family, community) can reinforce the other TIMN forms. But its dark sides (e.g., gangs, cronies) can corrupt and distort them. Indeed, TIMN offers a way to analyze corruption that I’ve not seen before: Basically, TIMN implies that corruption arises, and persists, because of the strength of the T form in societies where the TIMN forms are not properly separated and shielded from each other — notably where T and +M forces penetrate and corrode the +I sectors (e.g., Mexico, Russia). It’s a Darwinian dynamic that cuts across all the forms.

Also of interest here is an article on “Our Transparent Future” by Daniel Dennett and Deb Roy (drawing on Andrew Parker’s In the Blink of an Eye, 2003). They use the biological evolution of eyesight in the Cambrian era millennia ago — plus the ensuing revolution in “transparency” and the “arms race” between perception and locomotion — to forecast an organizational revolution for our own time. Accordingly, “Parker’s hypothesis about the Cambrian explosion provides an excellent parallel for understanding a new, seemingly unrelated phenomenon: the spread of digital technology.” (source)

In drawing parallels between past biological evolution and future social evolution, Dennett and Roy conclude that we should expect “a massive diversification of species of organizations” in the future:
“The tremendous change in our world triggered by this media inundation can be summed up in a word: transparency. We can now see further, faster, and more cheaply and easily than ever before — and we can be seen. …
“The impact on our organizations and institutions will be profound. … the old interfaces are losing their effectiveness. …
“By analogy, we might expect organizations to respond to the pressure of digitally driven social transparency with adaptations in their external body parts. …
“Small groups of people with shared values, beliefs and goals — particularly those who can coordinate quickly in a crisis using ad hoc channels of internal communication — will be best at the kind of fast, open, responsive communication the new transparency demands. To draw a contrast with large hierarchically organized bureaucracies, we might call these organizations “adhocracies.” As the pressures of mutual transparency increase, we will either witness the evolution of novel organizational arrangements that are far more decentralized than today’s large organizations, or we will find that Darwinian pressures select for smaller organizations, heralding an era of “too big to succeed. …
“A final implication of our Cambrian analogy is that we should soon witness a massive diversification of species of organizations. It has not happened yet, but we can look for early signs. … Time will tell, but it appears that we might be at the cusp of a radical branching of the organizational tree of life. …
“Most sheltered from immediate evolutionary pressures are systems of government. … Yet even here we should anticipate significant change, because the power of individuals and outsiders to watch organizations will only increase.” (source — h/t Dick O’Neill)
I like that; it expresses Darwinian principles in ways that coincide with TIMN. There’s nothing new in their observations about the digital information revolution — indeed, they seem to be playing catch-up. But I've not seen anyone else draw close parallels between a specific phase of biological evolution and a prospective next phase in social evolution. Their emphasis on “transparency” — personally, I think “illumination” would be a more apt term — fits with the parallel I noted up front between +N and the biological evolution of sensory systems.

Thus I agree with their evocations that “we should soon witness a massive diversification of species of organizations”, and that “we might be at the cusp of a radical branching of the organizational tree of life.” That is very TIMN-ish of them. Even so, their projections are quite conventional, for they tout already-widespread ideas that the digital information revolution will empower non-state actors and individuals, thereby resulting in new organizational species. But according to TIMN, more than new species — possibly a new genus or phylum? — should be expected from +N, along with new kinds of networked actors.

Potential proving grounds for a +N sector

Wrapping up this post — both as a follow-on to the prior post (here), and as preparation for the next post in this three-part series — one conclusion I draw is that Darwinian ideas can help with developing and presenting TIMN. Something is to be gained theoretically from going in Darwinian directions. Moreover, something may also be gained practically, if the ill rep of Social Darwinism can be superceded.

For example, I take heart in the above regards when I see prominent pro-commons P2P theorist-activist David Bollier write about the prospects for organizing a commons sector — “its aliveness” —in a way that is almost implicitly Darwinian:
“It means breaking down some of the dichotomies that we take for granted, such as between public and private, between collective and individual, between rational and nonrational. In the commons, they start to blur. You have to start talking about the commons as this organic whole, and not as this machine you can break down into parts or dissect. It’s a living organism and that’s precisely what needs to be studied: its aliveness.” (source)
To end this post, I’d call attention to two prospective proving grounds.

One may be what develops organizationally around the vast new sensory apparatuses that are being created. I’ve alluded to that in both this and the prior post. I’ve also discussed it in other posts scattered across this blog. For this post, I’d just add an apropos quote I spotted not long ago. It’s by Alex Pentland, Report for the World Economic Forum (2008):
“These distributed sensor networks have given us a new, powerful way to understand and manage human groups, corporations, and entire societies. As these new abilities become refined by the use of more sophisticated statistical models and sensor capabilities, we could well see the creation of a quantitative, predictive science of human organizations and human society. At the same time, these new tools have the potential to make George Orwell’s vision of an all-controlling state into a reality. What we do with this new power may turn out to be either our salvation or our destruction.” (source)
Another proving ground may be efforts to create Chambers of Commons that can give guiding impulse to +N efforts, while also countering the purportedly +M (but actually quite distortive) roles of the Chambers of Commerce. More on that in the next/third post (about a week or two from now, since I don’t have much of it drafted yet).

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Awaiting the emergence of a +N sector (Part 1 of 3) — an update

I continue trying to track and verify this implication of TIMN. Accordingly, the rise of +N — i.e., information-age network forms of organization and related philosophies, technologies, and activities — will eventually lead to the creation of a +N sector, alongside the established +I (public) and +M (private) sectors. Then, quadriform (T+I+M+N) societies will take shape and supersede the world’s aging triform kinds of (T+I+M) societies.

Recapitulation of basic T+I+M+N dynamics

As for how a new form arises and takes hold amid earlier forms, here’s a reminder drawn from an old briefing slide titled “General Dynamics — Which Should Recur Anew With Spread of +N Actors”. What’s below is deduced from looking for general dynamics that recurred in the progressions from T, to T+I, to T+I+M types of societies across the centuries and around the world. If TIMN is correct, these dynamics will recur anew with the growth of +N:

— With rise of any form, subversion precedes addition
— Addition brings creation, consolidation of new realm [i.e., sector]
— Combination restructures, strengthens overall system
— Combination depends on regulatory interfaces, norms
— Balanced combination of forms/realms is imperative
— Combination improves comparative advantages
— Each form has both bright and dark sides
— Each form has — but cannot realize — its ideal type
— Control must eventually give way to “decontrol”
— Incomplete adaptation may be best for evolution

For discussion, see the pertinent sub-section in the overview I presented in 2009 (here).

By now, I think I have other points to add, scattered around this blog, but I can locate only one readily. It’s about differences between tribes and networks. And it stems from constant outside comments that the tribal T and +N network forms seem awfully similar, so much so that there may be only three cardinal forms, not four. While I have a long answer about this, the only observation I want to make right now is about system-change dynamics.

My observation is that every TIMN form has a tribal tone at first. This goes without saying for the tribal/T form. Next, it is true for the hierarchical institutional/+I form, for it grew out of clan-based chiefdoms and hereditary claims to rule, long before it became a professionalized form of organization. It appears to be true as well for the market/+M form; for many early trading, banking, and craft enterprises were family-based and kin-biased. Therefore, it makes sense that many +N proponents act today as though they belong to special new tribes, bound by memes rather than genes. Decades may pass before this nouveau-tribal tone dissipates among +N actors, and the +N form’s deep nature, systemic significance, and professional standards become fully evident. For elaboration, see an earlier post (here).

Seeking a name for a +N sector

As for what a +N sector might be called, I’ve collected the following. All say that a new sector is emerging alongside the established public and private sectors, and that it consists largely of non-profit civil-society NGOs: Peter Drucker (1993) calls it an autonomous “social sector”. Lester Salamon (1994), Jeremy Rifkin (1995), and Ann Florini (2000) prefer “third sector”. William Drayton used “citizen sector” (acc. to Bornstein, 2004). Paul Hawken (2007) deems much of it a global humanitarian movement that has no name and does not yet know it is a movement (much less a sector). Paul Light (2008) added “social benefit sector”. David Bollier (2008) proposed “commons sector” — a concept promulgated by Michel Bauwens as well.

Lately I’ve spotted new additions to this compilation: Henry Mintzberg (2014) calls it “plural sector”. Ina Praetorius (2015) suggests “care sector”.

Other terms include “public-interest sector” and “civic sector”, as well as “nonprofit sector” and “voluntary sector”. Actors defining them are sometimes said to be “social entrepreneurs”, some manifesting as “benefit corporations” (“B Corps”).

Meanwhile, John Keane (2008, 2009) has proposed that “monitory democracy” is a key implication. But he has not specified that a “monitory sector” is coming into existence.

My own hypothesis remains what I’ve long said: Aging contentions that “government” (+I) or “the market” (+M) is the solution to particular public-policy issues will eventually give way to new ideas that “the network” (+N) is the solution.

For now, I think that commons sector is the most promising of the foregoing ideas. Even so, I remain uncertain what a +N sector may end up being named, what its key purposes will be, and what actors will define it. But I have some inklings, as discussed below.

Seeking a purpose for a +N sector

From a TIMN perspective, the T form is mainly about maximizing dignity or pride in one’s tribal / familial identity. The +I form is mainly about maximizing hierarchical power and authority. And the +M form is mainly about maximizing profit through exchange. (Note the prevalence of terms starting with the letter “p”; I admit that this plays into my penchant for alliteration.)

What then will be the key purpose / motivation for +N? What will it seek to maximize? I can’t tell for sure. But the pertinent NGO networks around which this new sector may revolve seem especially suited to addressing social equity, care, custody, stewardship, sharing, monitorial, and/or justice matters that state and market actors have tended to downplay or been unsuited to resolving well. This has occurred partly because the successes of these +I and +M actors have generated the very problems that now need resolving in advanced T+I+M societies, often in the form of “negative externalities”. (I think all four TIMN forms generate negative externalities, and that another system-change dynamic waits to be identified in that regard — a topic for another post someday. Meanwhile, for an engaging discussion of market-system externalities and system change, see post by John Michael Greer here.)

In wondering about additional new terms for identifying +N’s overall purpose, I’ve noticed that +N may turn out to be mainly about maximizing prosociality or providence or provisioning. My main source for “prosociality” — David Sloan Wilson, writing a synopsis of Chapter 8 of his new book Does Altruism Exist? (2015) — defines it as “any attitude, behavior, or institution oriented toward the welfare of others and society as a whole” (souce). But his view is broadly evolutionary, spanning all four TIMN forms. That information-age network (+N) forms in particular may enhance prosocial behaviors is more explicit in Yochai Benkler’s The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest (2011) — e.g., where he states that “When we design systems of cooperation, we can use that tendency as a way of encouraging people to choose prosocial behaviour” (p. 145 — h/t Jean Levien summary; also see Wikipedia page here).

Personally, I think “providence” or “provisioning” have more potential for identifying +N’s key purpose. I’ve seen “providence” defined as "timely preparation for future eventualities” (source misplaced), and as “divine guidance and care” (Merriam Webster online). That is indeed what many pertinent NGO networks’ activities seem oriented toward maximizing. The term “provisioning” is often used in posts at the P2P Foundation blog (e.g., here) to express what commons-oriented P2P networks seek to maximize. It too suits +N’s likely nature, in my view.

Accumulating strength around +N’s growth

Whatever the exact name and purpose, +N actors appear to be growing. The issues they care about — environment, rights, privacy, health, poverty, consumer protection, disaster relief, information policy, insurance, etc. — are intensifying. The roles they play — as heralds, monitors, sensors, watchdogs, advocates, recruiters, knowledge and service providers, etc. — are expanding, as are their abilities to affect the agendas of state and market actors. These +N actors also have a longer reach than ever before; instead of standing alone, the usual case in the past, many now operate in sprawling multi-organizational collaborative networks that are said to represent the rise of “global civil society” and “monitory democracy”.

Despite setbacks and counter-currents in recent years, optimism remains especially among social activists in liberal democracies who believe that a new sector is emerging that can bring radical change. In some enthusiastic accounts, civil-society NGOs could serve collectively as a “second superpower” to counter American power (Moore, 2003); and they could merit their own representative body in or alongside the United Nations (Attali, 2005). But according to other accounts — the ones I prefer — this new sector’s potential as a counterweight to aging political and economic actors will be less significant than its potential as a new complement and collaborator with other actors in new modes of governance that learn to include +N.

Current sources of impulse and articulation for +N

As for who is presently thinking about these slowly-unfolding matters, my observation is that mainstream conservatives generally don’t recognize or understand +N, while mainstream liberals don’t know what to make of it yet. This is evident in the debate rhetorics of the presidential candidates for both the Republican and Democratic parties. While I still believe that America will be the first to achieve a +N transition and next-stage society, the current presidential campaign rhetorics have muddled my hopes, as well as stoked my apprehensions that, if a Cruz or Trump wins, +N will be put on hold or suppressed for a long while.

The cutting-edge energy behind +N is mostly located farther on the Left, especially among theorists and activists grouped around P2P and pro-commons ideas. Many of their ideas (e.g., for “platform cooperativism”, and for “Assemblies of the Commons” and “Chambers of Commons”) look promising for the development of quadriform societies. These proponents also keep coming up with solid critiques of what I’d call nouveau-triform notions (e.g., for “conscious capitalism”) that don’t really engage +N. For example, see recent overviews about The Top Ten P2P Trends of 2015 (here), and What the P2P Foundation Did in 2015 (here).

Yet, to my eyes, many (though far from all) P2P and pro-commons writings and activities seem heavily oriented to economic and business matters — they seem more about radically reforming +M than distinctively building +N. There may well be good tactical and strategic reasons for this. But my view of TIMN is such that their emphasis on economic and business matters looks somewhat off-course strategically. They may be on-course from a neo-Marxist perspective, for many such writings are from the Left and concern P2P’s potential implications for creating alternatives to capitalism. That is to their credit. But if I’m right about TIMN, that is ultimately not the central matter.

Capitalism will be radically altered by +N, but the market system (+M) is here to stay, albeit in modified form. The main arena for +N will be about other matters (some noted above, such as the commons) that, to my eyes, are more social than economic in nature, and more suited to being separated out and organized into a distinctive new sector.

Or so my view of TIMN goes, in part because TIMN is far more Darwinian than Marxist. Darwin provides a better guide than Marx for thinking in TIMN terms. Which I shall discuss in the next post, before drawing some general conclusions.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

ISIS and its affiliates as a global tribe waging segmental warfare — plus an implication for information strategy

Here, for your consideration, are a “précis” and an “excerpt” about ISIS. Later, I’ll explain how and why I’m posting it as another step in my enduring effort to urge analysts and strategists to recognize the importance of the tribal (T) form, even if they don’t fully accept TIMN.

* * * * *

ISIS and affiliates are using the information age to reiterate ancient patterns of tribalism on a global scale. They are operating much like a global tribe waging segmental warfare.

My purpose in this chapter is to describe the dynamics of classic tribes – what motivates them, how they organize, how they fight – and show that ISIS fits the tribal paradigm quite well. I argue that the war they are waging is more about virulent tribalism than about religion. The tribal paradigm should be added to the network and other modern paradigms to help formulate the best policies, strategies, and analytical methods for countering it.

* * * * *

In short, analysts and strategists have adopted a basic set of organizational views to work with. But they still face a lack of knowledge about ISIS and its affiliates, particularly as to how they may combine and shift among network, franchise, hierarchical, and possibly other design elements. Thus, it is advisable not to get fixed on any one view, but instead to work with "multiple models" whose content and probability may continue to vary. It is also advisable to keep looking for additional views that are not yet fully articulated.

Here is a viewpoint worth adding to the mix: ISIS and its far–flung affiliates are organized and behaving much like a classic tribe, one that wages segmental warfare. This view overlaps with the network view, but has its own implications. It shows that ISIS’s vaunted, violent fundamentalism is more a tribal than a religious phenomenon. It also shows that continuing to view ISIS mainly as a cutting–edge, post–modern phenomenon of the information age misses a crucial point: ISIS is using the information age to revitalize and project ancient patterns of tribalism on a global scale.

When a tribe does go to war, it tries to do so as a whole, but it fights as segments.

Classic tribal warfare emphasizes raids, ambushes and skirmishes — attacks followed by withdrawals, without holding ground. Pitched battles are not the norm, for tribes lack the organizational and logistical capacities for campaigns and sieges. Sometimes the aims are limited, but tribal warfare often turns into total warfare, aimed at massacring an entire people, mercilessly. Killing women and children, taking women captive, torturing and mutilating downed males, scalping and beheading are common practices. So is treachery, as in mounting surprise attacks at dawn, or inviting people to a feast then slaughtering them on the spot. Tribal fighters do not hold prisoners. Enemies who are not massacred are put to flight, and their lands and homes seized. Bargaining in good faith to end a conflict becomes nigh impossible, for the attackers have denied legitimacy to those whom they are attacking. In ancient times, this brutal way of war did not ease until the rise of chiefdoms and states, when leaders began preferring to subjugate rather than annihilate people. In today’s world, examples are still easy to find — the Hutu massacres of Tutsis in Rwanda come readily to mind, as do episodes in the Balkans.

Tribes that go to war normally do so in the name of their god(s). Indeed, many (though not all) religions, from ancient totemism onwards, have their deepest roots in tribal societies. The major monotheistic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — each arose from a tense tribal time in the Middle East. And each, in its oldest texts, contains passages that, true to traditional tribal ethics, advocate reciprocal altruism toward kin, yet allow for terrible retribution against outside tribes deemed guilty of insult or injury. Today, centuries later, tribal and religious concepts remain fused in much of the world, notably Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.

The more a religion commends the kinship of all peoples, the more it may lead to ecumenical caring across boundaries (as Islam often does). But the more a religion’s adherents delineate sharply between "us" and "them," demonize the latter, view their every kin (man, woman, child, combatant or non–combatant) as innately guilty, revel in codes of revenge for touted wrongs, and seek territorial or spiritual conquests, all the while claiming to act on behalf of a deity, then the more their religious orientation is utterly tribal, prone to violence of the darkest kind. This is as evident in the medieval Christian Crusades as in today’s Islamic jihads, to mention only two examples.

All religious hatred — whether Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, or Hindu — is sure to speak the language of tribe and clan. And that language is sure to be loaded with sensitivities about respect, honor, pride, and dignity, along with allocutions to the sacred, purifying nature of violence. This is a normal ethic of tribes and clans, no matter the religion.

This is not the dominant way to view ISIS and its affiliates. Analysts have preferred to keep looking for central decision-making nodes and specialized structures — even committees — for matters like targeting, recruitment, financing, logistics, and communications, as though they might reveal a corporate pyramid. Or they have treated the creation of affiliates as though they were franchises that took the initiative to become affiliates or were concocted at ISIS’s behest. Or analysts have emphasized the sprawling network designs that ISIS and its affiliates increasingly exhibit. Or they have applied social movement theory. All these analytical approaches make sense and should continue. But they end up making ISIS look like a work of dauntless, modern, forward–looking genius, when it isn’t. Its design looks backward more than it looks forward; it reiterates as much as it innovates — and that’s because of its enduring tribalness.

The tribal paradigm — and a case that ISIS is like a global tribe waging segmental warfare — shows up across five analytic dimensions: narrative content, social appeal, leadership style, organizational design, doctrine and strategy, and the use of information technology. Below is a look at each.

Narrative content: Many themes in ISIS’s and other jihadist statements fit the tribal paradigm. The world is divided between good–hearted believers — the worldwide umma (kindred community) of Muslim brothers and sisters — and evil non–believers (infidels, apostates, heretics). Arab lands and peoples have suffered far too much injury, insult, and humiliation — their honor has been trampled, their families disrespected — by arrogant, self–aggrandizing intruders (America, Israel). Muslims have a sacred duty to defend themselves: to fight back, wreak vengeance, seek retribution, and oust the foreign invaders. They must be made to pay; no mercy should be shown — no matter if civilians die, even women and children. They deserve every punishment, every catastrophe, every tit–for–tat that can be heaped upon them. Defensive warfare is a necessary duty to restore honor and pride. This story–line is made to sound Islamic, and it has Islamic aspects that are not necessarily tribal — for example, requiring that an enemy be warned. But overall, it is tribal to the core. Indeed, similar story–lines have cropped up among virulently tribal Jewish, Christian, and other religious extremists as well, all across history.

Social appeal: Among Muslims, the jihad narrative is not alien, academic, or bizarre. It requires little indoctrination, for it arouses both the heart and mind. Recruits willingly come from militants who fought in Afghanistan, Chechnya, or the Balkans; immigrants in Europe and refugees in Jordan and Palestine who are leading alienated, unsettled lives; youths leading comfortable but constricted lives in Saudi Arabia; and Sunnis whose lives have been shattered by the warring in Iraq. What drives them, according to many analyses, are shared sensibilities about loss, alienation, humiliation, powerlessness, and disaster. Such analyses may also note, more in passing than in depth, that joining ISIS or an affiliate provides a family–like fellowship. However, this should not be given short shrift; participation may appeal largely because it binds members in such a fellowship — in mosques, training camps, militant cells, etc. And it may do so not simply because many members share the social–psychological sensibilities noted above, but because they come from cultures that are deeply, longingly tribal and clannish. For the lost and the adrift, joining ISIS recreates the tribal milieu. This may even apply to the attraction of nomadic loners from faraway cultures who convert to Islam while seeking a more meaningful identity and sense of belonging for themselves.

Leadership style: [Left blank for a reason explained later — but partly because I do not know enough about Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.]

Organizational design: ISIS and its affiliates are organized as a (multi–hub? core/periphery?) network of dispersed nodes, cells, and units, all campaigning in a similar direction without a precise central command. This looks like an information–age network, but it is equally a tribal–age network. It is bound together by kinship ties of blood and especially brotherhood. What look like nodes and cells from a modern perspective correspond to segments from a tribal perspective. Some segments come from true tribes and families; others are patched together in terms of "fictive kinship" by jihadist clerics, recruiters, and trainers. Yet all who join get to feel like they belong to segments of an extended family/tribe that reaches around the world.

Doctrine and strategy: ISIS and its affiliates fight in the field much like tribes and clans: as decentralized, dispersed, semi–autonomous segments that engage in hit–and–run (and hit–and–die) tactics. These segments vary in size and make–up. Some are small, and fit the notion of terrorist cells. Others (as in Iraq) are larger, more like platoons with commanders. Some may resemble close–knit, exclusive brotherhoods; others may keep shifting in membership. Meanwhile, they fight like modern terrorists and insurgents, but do so in the tradition of tribal warriors, relying on stealth, surprise, treachery, and savagery, while avoiding pitched battles. And they are comfortable with temporary marriages of convenience. Thus, while ISIS’s underlying doctrine and strategy have been acquiring the sophistication of modern notions of asymmetrical warfare (e.g., for netwar and swarming), its tribalness endures within that modern frame.

Technology usage: ISIS and its affiliates have an extensive, growing presence on the Internet. Their statements, speeches, and videos are posted on myriad Web sites around the world that advocate, sympathize with, and report on jihad. As many analysts have noted, the new information media are enabling terrorists and insurgents to augment their own communication and coordination, as well as reach outside audiences. The online media also suit the oral traditions that tribal peoples prefer. What merits pointing out here is that the jihadis are using the Internet and the Web to inspire the creation of a virtual global tribe of Islamic radicals — an online umma with kinship segments around the world. This can help a member keep in touch with a segment, or re–attach to a new segment in another part of the world as he or she moves around. Thus the information revolution, not to mention broader aspects of globalization, can facilitate a resurgence of intractable tribalism around the world. ISIS and its ilk are a leading example of this.

In other words, ISIS is like a global tribe, waging a modernized kind of segmental (or segmented) warfare; we are fighting against virulent tribalism as much as Islamic fundamentalism. Salafi and Wahhabi teachings urging jihad against infidels, fatwas issued by Islamic sheiks to justify murdering even non–combatants, and stony ultimatums from Sunni insurgents who behead captives are all manifestations of extreme tribalism, more than of Islam. In Islam, jihad is a religious duty. But the interpretation of jihad that Al Qaeda practices is rooted less in religion than in the (narcissistic?) appeal of virulent tribalism in some highly disturbed contexts.

In short, ISIS and its affiliates have formed a hybrid of the tribal and network designs: a tribalized network or networked tribe, so to speak, with bits of hierarchy and market–like dynamics too. The tribal paradigm has a striking advantage over the network, hierarchy, and other organizational paradigms. The latter point to organizational design first, and then to leadership, doctrine, and strategy matters. But they have nothing clearly embedded in them about religion. As voiced in terrorism discussions, they are secular paradigms; religion is grafted on, as a separate matter. In contrast, the tribal paradigm is inherently fraught with dynamics that turn into religious matters, such as altruism toward kin, delineations between "us" and "them," and codes of revenge. And that is another valuable reason to include it.

* * * * *

Does the above make sense? Pretty much, I’d say — though it underplays mentioning the creation of a caliphate by ISIS. But there’s a reason for that.

Everything I just stated about ISIS is excerpted verbatim from a paper I wrote ten years ago about Al Qaeda: “Al Qaeda and its affiliates: a global tribe waging segmental warfare?” (2005 — see source note at end). All I did was substitute “ISIS” for “Al Qaeda” in the title and the text (plus omit a few place names, and make a few little punctuation changes).

To keep it short for blogging purposes, I omitted mostly the two long sections about the dynamics of classic tribes — but they’re still there in the original if you want to peruse. I also left blank the leadership-style bullet above, because the 2005 paper focused on Bin Laden, and it didn’t work to simply substitute al-Baghdadi’s name — but even so, the point stands that leadership style appropriate to a tribe is different from what is appropriate to a hierarchical institution.

Why do this post this way? Because I keep trying to raise attention to the tribal form and its implications for analysis and strategy. And this seemed a handy, relatively easy way to do so.

* * * * *

A key difference between Al Qaeda and ISIS is that the latter has created an Islamic caliphate — an organizational design that is more advanced than a tribe, for it is a state-like institution. If I were to rewrite the 2005 paper today, focusing it on ISIS, I’d have to say more about this caliphate from a TIMN perspective. Nonetheless, while the 2005 paper was about Al Qaeda, it closed with a warning, drawn from TIMN, about the possible eventual formation of a caliphate with proto-fascist tendencies stemming from its tribalized nature — thereby anticipating something like ISIS:
The tribal paradigm may be useful for rethinking not only how to counter Al Qaeda, but also what may lie ahead if Al Qaeda or an affiliate ever succeeds in seizing power and installing an Islamic caliphate somewhere. Then, neither the tribal nor network paradigms would continue to be so central. Hierarchy would move to the fore, as a caliphate is imposed. Over the ages, people have come up with four major forms of organization for constructing their societies: tribes, hierarchical institutions, markets, and networks. How people use and combine these forms, both their bright and dark sides, pretty much determines what kind of society they have. Were an Al Qaeda–inspired caliphate to take root, we can be pretty sure that it would combine hyper–hierarchy and hyper–tribalism, while leaving marginal, subordinate spaces for economic markets and little if any space for autonomous civil–society networks. When this has occurred in the past, the result is normally fascism.
Isn’t that what’s happening now? If so, we better learn more about the dynamics of tribalism and fascism, and not focus so much on Islamism. For that reason, the 2005 paper also closed with the following advice, which still holds today in 2015:
The United States is not at war with Islam. Our fight is with terrorists and insurgents who are operating in the manner of networked tribes and clans. U.S. military forces are learning this the hard way — on the ground. But policymakers and strategists in Washington still lag in catching on. …
U.S. counterinsurgency and counterterrorism methods — for interrogations, intelligence assessments, information operations, strategic communications, and public diplomacy, indeed for the whole "war of ideas" — would benefit from our upgrading our understanding of tribal and clan dynamics. ... [W]e must learn to separate better our strategies toward Islam from our strategies toward tribalized extremists who ultimately cannot endure such a separation. Whose story wins may well depend largely on just that.

* * * * *

In this spirit, a Postscript I added in 2006 about information strategy seems worth repeating today — again if ISIS were substituted for references to Al Qaeda:
What troubles the world today is far more a turmoil of tribalisms than a clash of civilizations. …
In short, Islam, a civilizing force, has fallen under the spell of Islamists who are a tribalizing force. In the war of ideas, as well as in the battles on the ground, whose story wins may depend largely on addressing this brand of tribalization.
Shifting to a turmoil-of-tribalisms perspective would have to be carefully thought out. The point is not to condemn all tribal ways. Many people around the world appreciate (indeed prefer) this communal way of life and will defend it from insult. Moreover, even the most modern societies retain tribal tendencies at their core – as expressed, for example, in nationalism, cultural pride, and all sorts of civic groups and fan clubs that express social identities. That must be upheld; it is not always uncivilized to be tribal. Instead, the point is to strike at the awful effects that extreme tribalization can have – to oppose not the ISIS and its affiliates terrorist’s or insurgent’s religion but rather the reduction of that religion to raw tribalist tenets.
This approach could help rally moderates to resist clannish, sectarian extremists. Western leaders have put Muslim leaders everywhere under pressure to denounce terrorism as barbaric and uncivilized. But this approach to the “war of ideas,” along with counterpressures from sectarian Islamists, has put moderate Muslims on the defensive, often inhibiting them from speaking out. An approach that focuses instead on questioning extreme tribalism, particularly the tribalization of religion, may be more effective in freeing up dialogue and inviting a search for common ecumenical ground.
This is a domain – and a task – for information strategy. It involves knowing the enemy, shaping public consciousness, and crafting persuasive messages for friend and foe alike. It involves getting the content of those messages right and finding the best conduits for them. It is about winning the battle of the story. And it involves doing all this in such a way that soft power works as well as hard power, and information-age noopolitik outperforms traditional realpolitik. (2007, pp. 50-51)

For a somewhat different view I offered about ISIS — and about the difficulty analysts and strategists may face in trying to heed the above in a media environment heavily influenced by the “religion industry”, I’d refer you to my February 2015 post on preternatural tribalism (here).


Sources: “Al Qaeda and its affiliates: a global tribe waging segmental warfare?”, First Monday, vol. 10, no. 3, March 7, 2005, unpaginated (download here). Republished with slight editing and a 2006 postscript as “Al Qaeda and its affiliates: a global tribe waging segmental warfare”, in John Arquilla and Douglas Borer, eds., Information Strategy and Warfare: A Guide to Theory and Practice, Routledge, 2007, chap. 2, pp. 34-55 (download here).

UPDATE — December 17, 2015: I just listened to a panel discussion about Islam and Countering Radical Ideology, aired by C-SPAN on Dec 11, 2015. At about the 1:10:30 mark, Irshad Manji proposed, with some back-up analysis, that “At the end of the day we have to separate culture from religion.” In her opening talk, she argued that the Arab world should focus on cultural reform, more than religious reform. This seems close to what I argue above.

UPDATE — December 23, 2015: Nibras Kazimi, posting about “Where is the ‘Strategic Depth’ of the ‘Islamic State’?” at his blog Talisman Gate, Again, observes that
“The jihadists fight as if they were pirates, with the desert being their sea. … Nowadays, they field various types of forces, but their elite and most successful ones, not to mention their best-equipped ones, are small, disparate mobile desert units that converge on a target when needed (for example, the inghimasiyeen forces). They treat the cities and towns they have captured as ports of call, for booty and resupply. When challenged by superior forces attempting to retake these ports, the jihadists dissolve away into the desert, leaving small and determined bands of fighters to deflect and bleed-out the invading force. Their best fighters are not garrisoned in those cities; they live in the skiffs that carry them around the desert, such as the ubiquitous Toyota pick-up trucks they favor. There may be several mother ships in the desert that steam towards a target around which the skiffs gather. They exercise strict force conservation, especially after the military debacle at Kobani. They have to do this either because the numbers of fighting men they have are too few (far less than intelligence estimates) or because they are holding them in reserve for big strategic pushes when the time is right. The instinctual individualism of piracy is mitigated by having a cohesive ideology. One may understand the perplexing nature of the Paris targets as that of a jihadist skiff sailing further afield.” (source)
This helps substantiate what I posit above. I'm also pleased that he cited Arquilla’s and my study Swarming and the Future of Conflict. (h/t John Michael Greer for highlighting Kazimi’s post.)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Brief blog update

Well, that didn't work — i.e., those last two posts, the Part I post about whither TIMN, and the Part I post about ideological boundary perceptions à la STA:C. They were supposed to enable me to generate new momentum. Instead, they left me feeling required to do their Parts II and III before moving on to other topics. Which left me stalled when I couldn’t readily complete them.

So, I’ve drastically trimmed August’s whither-TIMN post. If interested, see the explanation I added at the end as an update there.

I’m leaving September’s STA:C boundary post alone for now, but I may well rewrite and move it later, if/when I complete Parts II and III. Meanwhile, a recent derivative comment for a Zenpundit post (here) offers a few new points, and generated interesting follow-up remarks. Here’s the text:
Regarding gun matters: My theoretical interests in people’s space-time-action orientations has led me to observe that sensitivities about boundaries — about identifying, respecting, and protecting them — characterizes conservative more than liberal / progressive mentalities.
For example, it is far more likely a sign of conservatism to tell someone they should not marry (nor even make friends) outside their clan, tribe, race, nationality, religion, or culture, not to mention gender. Conservatives often seem more intent on marking differences between sexes, races, religions, and nations, etc. And these sensitivities often extend to sectorial differences: e.g., boundaries between church and state, government and market, public and private, foreign and domestic, legal and illegal, right and wrong — and even between life and death (not to mention between liberal and conservative).
It’s easy to find instances: Conservative Republicans criticizing President Obama for drawing a “red line” about Syria’s use of chemical weapons, then not enforcing it. Social conservatives upset about same-sex marriage. Conservative politicians advocating walls to halt immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border. Exclusionary conservatives who want to limit who can vote. Conservative “warriors” who claim that conservatives are for individualism, progressives for collectivism — as though a dichotomous separation exists (it doesn’t). Plus, conservatives who constantly carp about government exceeding its boundaries.
This cogni-cultural sensitivity to boundaries appears to reinforce (or at least be associated with) some key conservative philosophical values and political strategies. It may help explain why conservatives value order and tradition so highly, compared to liberals who value progress and innovation more highly (particularly if it’s a disruptive innovation that crosses and redefines prior boundaries). A predilection for boundaries also seems to undergird the high value that conservatives place on individualism, and perhaps related to that, their tendencies to be exclusive rather than inclusive, and to be less in favor of social diversity and multiculturalism — again, compared to the predilections of liberals / progressives (though I can think of important exceptions, especially among libertarians).
Yet, there are a few issue areas — e.g., gun ownership, free trade, campaign financing — where my observation may seem at odds with the fact that, in those areas, conservatives today pursue more unbounded policies than do liberals. These may look like exceptions or contradictions that weaken my observation. But there is another possibility: that Republican policies in those area are not truly conservative — they’re liberal, even libertine.
Republicans seem to lack a sense of boundaries particularly regarding gun ownership — the fewer the boundaries in this area, the better. So, I suggest, that means their views and policies in this area are not truly conservative. Indeed, on this issue, their disposition is more than liberal; it is libertine. True conservatives always have a sense of boundaries.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

“Boundaries” (Part 1): a spatial predilection that distinguishes conservative from progressive mentalities?

This post observes that sensitivities about boundaries — about identifying, respecting, and protecting them — characterizes conservative more than liberal / progressive mentalities. If valid, this point helps further develop the STA:C framework about people’s space-time-action orientations. It also provides a prelude to a series of post (three or four) about the roles that “boundaries” play in other kinds of political mindsets, as well as in some social-science theories.

* * * * *

I’ve long wondered what makes conservative and liberal / progressive mentalities so different. Many others have wondered the same. Some have focused on value dispositions — notably, Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012) — while other studies have analyzed psychological underpinnings (I’ve misplaced my sources). Meanwhile, I have wondered whether STA:C could offer insights.

Space, time, and action orientations thread throughout both conservative and progressive mentalities, and characterizations are easy to find. For example, it is often observed that conservatives are oriented mainly to the past and it's traditions, liberals and progressives to the future and it's possibilities — a difference in time perspectives. It’s also said that liberals / progressives tend to be more action-oriented, for they’re optimistic about people’s capacities to make and accept social changes; whereas conservatives, being more pessimistic, cautious, and dubious about human nature, tend to be less change-oriented, less activist — making for differences in STA:C’s action orientation.

But contrasts between conservative and progressive space orientations are less definite. Sure, conservatives generally object to big government — but rarely to big business. In contrast, progressives tend to distrust big business — but often want a big government that serves “little people”. Thus, size matters in both mentalities, as do other spatial sensitivities. But not in ways that contrast so sharply and consistently as their time and action orientations are said to differ.

Or so it seemed to me, until I dwelled on a common conservative plaint about “government exceeding its boundaries” in all sorts of policy areas.

Boundaries! Now there’s a criterion I’d not explicitly considered (nor seen considered) in discussions about political mindsets. Indeed, it’s barely implied in an old post where I noted some preliminary criteria for analyzing people’s spatial perspectives:
“My reading of the literature indicates that the basics include, or should include, as a minimum, an identification of the following:
  • The actors, objects, and structures — their identity, distribution, scope, and strength — defining the space.
  • Connections and pathways that link them.
  • Layout in terms of centers, distances, and horizons.
  • Divisions, or partitions, into realms, domains, and layers.
  • Organization of the above into whole systems.” (source)
Boundaries are slightly implied in that bullet about “Divisions …” — but I now propose that boundaries are very significant as a mindset attribute.

* * * * *

Boundaries is the key term for this post. Yet lots of terms that are conceptually related to boundaries — e.g., bounds, borders, divides, separations, walls, fences, limits, lines, frontiers, barriers, bulwarks — also figure. For conservatives keep referring to their sensitivities in terms of all these cognates, more than I see liberals and/or progressives doing.

This also means keeping an eye out for sensitivities, be they metaphorical or factual, to the likes of gateways and doorways, ceilings and floors, insides and outsides, scopes and jurisdictions, inclusions and exclusions, crossroads, horizons, even bubbles, black holes, and loopholes — whatever implies a boundary. It also means noticing references to the likes of guarding, protecting, preserving, tightening, or securing a boundary — or to loosening, blurring, fuzzy-ing up, or dissolving a “fine line between” — or to thoughts and actions that mean crossing, stepping over, reaching over, transgressing, tearing down, moving, ignoring, or operating outside a boundary line or the like.

A few additional points: Boundaries and boundary conditions look so significant that I found it helpful when a visitor (h/t Ann Pendleton-Jullian) remarked that many worldviews amount to “a distributed system of boundaries” — and if a problem arises, sometimes the way to change it is by “changing the boundary conditions”. Those are interesting notions. Furthermore, I’d add apropos STA:C, while many boundaries that people draw are spatial (my emphasis in this post), some may be temporal (e.g., between the idyllic and the recent past) and still others action-related (e.g., between legal and illegal actions). Finally, remember that my proposition is, for now, a matter of degree. It does not mean that liberals / progressives are insensitive when it comes to boundaries — just that they seem to be disposed differently toward them, and this difference seems significant.

* * * * *

What observations lead to postulating that conservatives are more sensitive about boundaries than are liberals or progressives?

To begin with, historically, it is far more likely a sign of conservatism to tell someone they should not marry (nor even make friends) outside their clan, tribe, race, nationality, religion, or culture, not to mention gender. Indeed, conservatives often seem more intent on marking differences between sexes, races, religions, and nations, etc. And these sensitivities extend to sectorial differences as well: e.g., boundaries between church and state, government and market, public and private, foreign and domestic, legal and illegal, right and wrong — and even between life and death (not to mention between liberal and conservative).

It’s easy to find instances in recent news: Conservative Republicans criticizing President Obama for drawing a “red line” regarding Syria’s use of chemical weapons, then not enforcing it. Social conservatives upset about same-sex marriage. Conservative politicians advocating a wall to halt immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border. Exclusionary conservatives who want to limit who can vote (not to mention a classic stereotype: who can join a country club). Self-styled conservative “warriors” who claim that conservatives are for individualism, progressives for collectivism — as though a sharp dichotomous separation exists (it doesn’t). Plus, as I noted up front, conservatives who constantly carp about government exceeding its boundaries. And I’m sure there’s much more, as I hope to show in a Part-2 post.

More to the point, this cogni-cultural sensitivity to boundaries appears to reinforce (or at least be associated with) some key conservative philosophical values and political strategies. It may help explain why conservatives value order and tradition so highly, compared to liberals who value progress and innovation more highly (particularly when it’s a disruptive innovation that crosses and redefines prior boundaries). A predilection for boundaries also seems to undergird the high value that conservatives place on individualism, and perhaps related to that, their tendencies to be exclusive rather than inclusive, and to be less in favor of social diversity and multiculturalism — again, compared to the predilections of liberals / progressives (though I can think of important exceptions, especially among libertarians).

And here are some other implications I wonder about: Over the past year or two, I’ve seen conservatives question the worthiness of altruism, doubt that “we are all connected”, oppose engaging in middle-of-the-road compromises, and trust living in a media bubble (Fox News?). Could it be that today’s sharp sensitivities about boundaries help incline conservatives in these philosophical and tactical directions? I now think that’s a pertinent question for STA:C.

* * * * *

Confirming my observation — that conservatives are more sensitive about boundaries than are liberals / progressives — would require more research than I can undertake. But I am going to proceed as though it is valid in a few follow-up posts. They will offer anecdotal evidence and illustrations. The purpose of today’s preliminary post is just to field the basic observation.

I will also try to clarify a few issue areas — e.g., gun ownership, free trade, campaign financing — where my observation may seem at odds with the fact that, in those areas, conservatives today pursue more unbounded policies than do liberals. These may look like exceptions or contradictions that weaken my observation. But there is another possibility: that Republican policies in those area are not truly conservative — they’re liberal, even libertine.

Caveats: I’m trying to field an analytical observation for STA:C’s sake. I’m not opposed to the idea of boundaries per se. And I’m not trying to pick on conservatism (though maybe some of its tribalized practitioners). In general, people of all kinds need and benefit from having some sense of boundaries. It’s an essential spatial cognition. I doubt there is an ideal sense; but the sense people display looks like a revealing criterion.

Also, my interest in boundaries derives from the fact that TIMN — my other concern besides STA:C — requires recognizing that boundaries and limits are involved in each TIMN form. To my knowledge, TIMN is not inherently a Right- or Left-leaning framework. It is adaptable to both conservative and progressive interpretations. How that is accomplished may depend on the kinds of boundary conditions that are applied. Hence my interest not only in illuminating the importance of boundary conditions, but also in assuring that they are left open to a range of possibilities, not just a supposedly-optimal single point.


Monday, August 31, 2015

Whither TIMN: an update in bits and pieces (Revised)

Despite another prolonged abeyance, not to mention the digression about cars, this blog is still functional, still poised to provide new materials for developing TIMN and STA:C as theoretical frameworks that have practical implications. Even though my productivity keeps faltering, my responsibility remains to keep presenting materials here, on grounds that TIMN and/or STA:C (or something like them, even if by someone else) will ultimately prove a valuable way to go.

This post provides an update about what is currently on my mind for new posts about TIMN. I’ll try to do likewise for STA:C in a subsequent post.

A few months ago, visitors graciously stopped by my home to chat about TIMN. So I drafted a one-page outline summarizing what I’ve had in mind. Our conversations gave little heed to the outline, but with some annotations it can serve here to update interested readers, as follows. It lists topics for posts I hope to do in the months ahead.

Notes For An Update About TIMN (April 2015)

Proximate concerns (likely blog-post topics)

• Understanding reversions to preternatural tribalism
— usage / meaning of term: synonymic vs. systematic; comparative + evolutionary form
— ISIS as more about tribalism than religion; more about “reactionizing” than radicalizing
— American conservatives gone tribal

• Explaining corruption: when forms not shielded, T & M forces penetrate +I (Mexico, Russia); U.S. gov. protected by Madisonian checks and balances, but not immune; studies by others

• Exporting U.S.-style democracy and market systems problematic: we foster agents, but not systems (Cuba next?); how learn to constrain T, get +M right; Carnegie studies pertinent

• Awaiting +N: Right ignores, Left errs (but commons idea good) — long slow unfolding

Broader challenges for building TIMN (slow-going but still on-track)

• Getting TIMN forms right / wrong
— Arab world full of chronic problems
— defining limits of forms, plus boundaries and balances between forms
— military-business hybrids distort: Egypt, Iran (gov.-bus. hybrids distort too: U.S., Japan)

• Rethinking complexity, collapse, and progress
— convention that social evolution goes from simple to complex
— Tainter’s view about collapse of complexity (complicatedness) vs. TIMN

• Designing grand strategy with social evolution in mind (and TIMN)

• Comparing TIMN to other frameworks / models: Fukuyama; P2P; Darwinists at SEF blog

Prospects for big-picture endeavors (too much for me at this point)

• Book not likely — blogging to remain my key outlet for TIMN (not to mention STA-C)

• Focus should be on building model and applying it, visually as well as quantitatively
— specifying indicators (of each form, their interactions, bright and dark influences)
— identifying outputs and uses (TIMN statuses? rankings? potentials? problems? fixes?)
— wishing for RISE (RAND Index of Social Evolution)

UPDATE — December 15, 2015: In case any readers notice, what’s above is a trimmed version of the post I originally put here in August. What I thought I was going to do back then hasn’t worked out — i.e., issuing this post in sequential parts, with each part providing a paragraph or two about each item in the outline above. Thus, in August, this was a longish Part I post, creating a requirement for me to do longish Parts II and III posts. But the way life has unfolded, that has not worked out. So I have trimmed this effort back to this single post, leaving just the bare outline and cutting out the several pages of elaboration that were once here. I intend to still use them, but now for stand-alone single short posts, as life allows.

Addendum (December 2015)

While most items in the above outline are likely to result in their own posts, I don’t foresee doing a post just about the second to last item: the unlikeliness of a book about TIMN. So I might as well leave my basic thoughts about that item here:

Blogging will remain my key outlet for TIMN. I will not be able to write a book. But my sense of what a TIMN book’s table of contents would look like remains the same as I noted in a comment years ago (here):
Chapter 1. How Societies Progress: The Basic Story
Chapter 2. Rethinking Social Evolution
Chapter 3. Evolution of Tribes and Clans
Chapter 4. Modern Manifestations of the Tribal Form
Chapter 5. Evolution of the Hierarchical Institutional Form
Chapter 6. Evolution of the Market Form
Chapter 7. Evolution of the Information-Age Network Form
Chapter 8. Assembling the TIMN Framework: From Monoform to Quadriform Societies
Chapter 9. Structure and Dynamics of TIMN Evolution
Chapter 10. Future Implications
Much of Chapters 1-4 already exist in draft form in my RAND paper about tribes as the first and forever form. Ingredients for Chapter 7 on the +N form exist in scattered pieces, mostly in my writings with John Arquilla. Meanwhile, I'm using this blog to field materials that pertain to prospective Chapters 8-10. That means Chapter 5 on the +I form, and 6 on the +M form, are far from getting done. I'd want them to be comparable to what I wrote about tribes, and that would require much more new reading and writing than I can imagine undertaking as I slow down. At least I'm fielding some of the ideas here at the blog.