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.
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Notes For An Update About TIMN (Revised & Expanded)
Here are previews for blog posts for which I have been collecting materials for months.
Proximate concerns (likely blog-post topics before too long)
• Understanding reversions to tribalism: This remains a keen interest and purpose, and I am pleased to see that usage of the terms tribe, tribal, and tribalism has increased and improved. Analysts, journalists, and columnists recognize better today than a decade ago that T-type concepts apply not only in preternaturally tribal societies, like Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in postmodern societies, including here in America.
The usage I used to see most often for matters here at home was synonymic — as substitutes for words like partisan, faction, incivility, polarizing, and divisive. Over the past year or two, however, the usage has become more systematic — as writers recognize, notably in opinion columns in the New York Times, that a distinct form of organization and behavior is at work. This ongoing improvement — from synonymic to systematic usage — is significant. It would be even better if this improved recognition of the tribal form were based on a comparative and evolutionary sense of all four TIMN forms. For TIMN to gain traction, people must understand the T form correctly.
In particular, recognition is growing that American society is becoming more tribalized (good blogs tracking this on the Right and Left include Contrary Brin and Fabius Maximus). As I’ve noted before (here), the conservative movement is rife with tribalists; and the Republican party is increasingly split between tribalists and institutionalists (the Establishment). As marks of their tribalism, the former constantly dwell on the nature of their identity — what it means to be a conservative, what conservatism stands for — even as they deride liberals / progressives for playing identity politics. Moreover, many litmus-test issues that conservative politicians and pundits keep bringing to the fore — such as immigration, marriage, abortion, gun ownership, religious freedom — pertain more to the T than to any other TIMN form. Donald Trump’s rise as a kind of charismatic warlord with tribal appeal speaks to this. I can’t regard all this angry unraveling as positive, but it does fit a key TIMN proposition: When people feel disconnected and distressed about what’s happening with the +I and +M forms, many revert to the T form; and some turn into extreme tribalists, bitter and nasty in all sorts of ways I’ve pointed out many times before.
It has been easier to observe (lately here) that Al Qaeda, ISIS, and associated ilk are tribal phenomena — bent on creating a global tribe waging segmental warfare. But this observation never seems to gain much sure-footed traction, analytically or strategically. Religion remains the decisive optic in most discussions. I shall keep urging, nonetheless, that radical Islam’s appeal derives more from its tribal than its religious content. Thus, much of what is discussed as religious content is preternaturally tribal (e.g., taqiyya, or lying to non-Muslims). Much of what is discussed as Islamization is only partly that — it’s mostly a tribalization. And much of what is discussed as efforts to create young Islamic radicals — i.e., youth radicalization — is also a distortion; what are mostly being created are reactionaries — it’s not radicalization but “reactionization” that is going on.
If the tribal optic were to gain primacy over the religion optic, all sorts of implications might ensue for designing strategic narratives, engagement strategies, media programs, etc. But this shift remains so unlikely that I’ve wondered why. Here are two explanations I’ve come up with tentatively (and have noted before):
(1) It’s a matter of expertise. There is abundant expertise — indeed, a veritable industry — on religion to help sustain analysis and feed the media. In contrast, expertise on the tribal form is sorely lacking. Anthropology has preferred to disavow the concept, even helping put the Army’s once-promising Human Terrain System in tatters. Moreover, the expertise that exists is focused on preternaturally tribal zones in far-off places, and isn’t suited to cross-analyzing postmodern expressions (e.g., by New York police unionists, or by Fox News or MSNBC commentators).
(2) It’s a matter of cognitive boundaries. The resistance to applying tribal analytics to ISIS et al. may stem, indirectly, from a resistance to viewing U.S. politics in tribal terms (or to viewing Christian Evangelical or Jewish/Israeli behaviors in such terms). Applying tribal analytics in broad terms, as TIMN implies, might have discomforting implications for lots of people. They might have a tribal reaction to seeing tribal analytics applied so broadly, if it would affect them as well.• Explaining corruption: Corruption remains a world-wide problem. It normally distorts political, economic, and social development, in ways that undermine U.S. policies and strategies abroad. It’s devilish to trace and oppose. While good studies have appeared, TIMN offers a newish way to analyze corruption that may add to our understanding: Basically, corruption derives from the strength of the tribal (T) form — e.g., via ethnocentricity, patrimonialism, cronyism, bureaucratic feudalism, etc. — in societies where the TIMN forms are not properly separated and shielded from each other. The more tribalized a people and their culture, the more corrupt will be their institutional hierarchies (+I) and market systems (+M), and the harder it will be to assure strictly professional standards.
This is most noticeable in societies where T-oriented actors and forces pervade the +I and +M sectors (e.g., Egypt, Mexico, Russia, Syria). Indeed, as +M takes hold in a society fraught with clannish T-type actors and forces, the nature of its party system and its business sector will tend to evolve similarly; if one is corrupt and monopolistic, so will be the other. The U.S. system is not immune, but Madisonian checks and balances, plus professional constraints on T-type clannishness, help explain the lower degrees of corruption in our system. So does our ability to de-tribalize and Americanize immigrants and refugees from places riven by T-type forces. Singapore provides another model of how to keep T-type forces from corroding +I and +M. How +N fits into all this — whether it will lessen or just complicate corruption — will be interesting to watch.
• Cautioning about exporting U.S.-style democracy and capitalism: I broached this in a post about grand strategy and social evolution. But for TIMN’s sake, I need to elaborate better. One country after another — most obviously, Iraq and Afghanistan — provide growing evidence that we are not good at fostering democracy abroad, not even at knowing whether conditions are suitable for it. Excellent new writings by increasingly cautious experts on pro-democracy programs — e.g., Thomas Carothers’s Democracy Aid at 25: Time to Choose (2015) — attest to our difficulties. So do new writings that warn about trends favoring authoritarianism — e.g., John Keane’s The New Despotisms of the 21st Century (2014). I’m less aware of analyses of U.S. efforts to promote free-enterprise market systems abroad, but I gather we are not doing so well at that either.
Can TIMN help with analyzing this? TIMN instructs looking first at the T form, including how it may penetrate +I and +M. It also instructs looking into how +I and +M may penetrate each other. Accordingly, the more actors remain beholden to the T/tribal form in a society, the more they are likely to interfere with the +I/institutional and +M/market forms, in ways that are bound to be counterproductive for the proper growth of liberal democracy and a genuine market system. Another problem is that U.S. policy seems to know how to foster change agents, but not whole systems. Yes, U.S. policy may work to create new political parties and supervised elections, as well as economic openings that benefit some business enterprises in a foreign country. But then such steps, even where marginally successful, often get stuck, and don’t lead toward a democratic political system and/or a free-market system. Cuba looks to be a looming recursion.
In short, TIMN seems to imply being more cautious and less evangelical abroad than we have been. It may also imply re-focusing our efforts; for example, focusing as much as we have on electoral matters may not be so advisable, when a society’s main T, +I, and +M (not to mention nascent +N) dynamics need reforming first.
Meanwhile, I am reminded of an interview (or was it an article) by a prominent strategist early this year (or was it last year) regarding what to do in Iraq against ISIS. He recommended a familiar progression that involved sending some U.S. troops and advisers back in, while also making renewed efforts to strengthen Iraq’s military, reduce corruption, and install democratic government. His litany sounded so realistic, so pragmatic, so sensible — so early 2000s. But today, this view strikes me as delusional. TIMN could help put delusional pragmatism behind us.
• Awaiting the rise of +N: I continue to track this implication of TIMN, in which +N leads to quadriform societies. As for what a +N sector might be called and consist of, I’ve tracked the following, all of whom say a new sector is needed alongside the established public and private sectors, and that it will consist largely of non-profit NGOs from civil society: Peter Drucker (1993) proposed an autonomous “social sector”. Lester Salamon (1994), Jeremy Rifkin (1995), and Ann Florini (2000) prefer “third sector”. William Drayton used “citizen sector” (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”. Henry Mintzberg (2014) proposed “plural sector”. Ina Praetorius ” (2015) suggests “care sector”. Other terms include “public-interest sector” and “civic sector” (but “nonprofit sector” and “voluntary sector” seem too narrow). Drayton and Light, not to mention others, emphasize that actors defining the sector are mostly “social entrepreneurs”, some manifesting as “benefit corporations” (“B Corps”). Meanwhile, John Keane (2008) says “monitory democracy” is a key implication. My evolutionary hypothesis remains this: Aging contentions that “government” or “the market” is the solution to particular public-policy issues will eventually give way to new ideas that “the network” is the optimal solution.
As for who is thinking about these slowly-unfolding matters across the political spectrum, my sense is that mainstream conservatives generally ignore +N, and liberals don’t know what to make of it. The cutting-edge interest is mostly located farther on the Left, especially among theorists and activists grouped around P2P and commons ideas. Some of their ideas look good (e.g., “platform cooperativism”), as do some of their critiques (e.g., of so-called “conscious capitalism”, and the “sharing economy”). But from a TIMN perspective, I think they are off-course strategically. They are on-course from a Marxist perspective, for most such writings are about +N’s likely economic effects and implications, especially for generating alternatives to capitalism and the market system. But if I’m right about TIMN, that is a side show; capitalism will indeed be radically modified, but the market system (i.e., +M) is here to stay. The main show for +N will be about other matters that are more social than economic in nature.
One proving ground may be what develops organizationally around the vast new sensory apparatuses that are being created. Another prospective proving ground may be efforts to create new chambers of commons that can rival the influence of the chambers of commerce.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PARTS 2 AND 3