Friday, February 26, 2010

Incidentals (2nd of 5): apropos tribes vis à vis the other TIMN forms

The prior post concerned definitions of tribes as such. This post — serving, like all the posts in this five-part series, as a kind of scrapbook for bringing together comments I’d scattered elsewhere — conveys remarks about tribes in relation to the other TIMN forms. These remarks contain no new TIMN propositions, but they serve as reminders: that the TIMN forms have deep histories; that it is easy to conflate tribes and networks, but in TIMN they are distinct; and that societies benefit most from developing the forms in ways that keep their realms largely separate from and in balance with each other. This post also recalls the positive influence of Alvin Toffler’s writings.

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A set of interesting posts appeared at the P2P Foundation blog — one of my favorite blogs — in August 2009 comparing the histories of Maghrebi and Genovese traders in the Middle Ages. The posts concerned a view, raised at another blog, that the Maghrebis exhibited an early kind of P2P/network approach to organization, the Genoveses a more market-like approach — and that this might explain why the latter proved more durable and successful as traders.

To quote P2P blog author Michel Bauwens: “Ignacio de Castro has written a fine trilogy on medieval p2p-like practices, that is somehow framed as a challenge to our p2p approach. It describes the practices of jewish maghrebi traders in the Middle Ages and their international support network, and wonders why they ultimately lost against their Genovese more ‘capitalist’ competitors. Ignacio asks: could the same defeat happen to contemporary P2P practices and communities?”

Bauwens voiced his doubts, and so did I. My point was that the Maghrebis were less an expression of the p2p/network form than of the tribal form — and that’s what explained the differing outcomes:
The Maghrebis do exhibit some P2P relationships. But it’s one thing to exhibit some relationships, quite another for those relationships to add up to a full, distinct system of thought and action. The key systems of organization that have developed across the ages so far — tribes, hierarchical institutions (like states), and markets — all contain some P2P relationships in varying respects and degrees. But we have yet to see a full-fledged, distinct P2P /network system emerge to take its place alongside those systems. That still lies ahead.

The Maghrebis appear to correspond far more to an innovative tribal system than to a P2P system. This is particularly so given the exclusionary behavior that accompanied their ethnic orientations. And it’s this tribal nature that ultimately limits them. The Genovese appear to have been less tribal. Thus, perhaps it remains an open question as to whether and how much it’s the tribal, the market, or the P2P orientations that explain the differing outcomes.
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Plenty else is going on these days that warrants commentary about modern expressions of the tribal form and its mixture with the other TIMN forms. But in comments left elsewhere, I only got exercised about the rise of the “tippie” movement (my term for referring to the tea-party and town-hall activism, along with associated Truthers, Tenthers, Nine-Twelvers, and anti-tax activists — so many words starting with the letter T).

This occurred at the Spinuzzi blog — another favorite — in an October 2009 post titled “Some tentative thoughts about a networked rhetoric.” Clay Spinuzzi is an expert on rhetoric, and in this post he wonders whether TIMN “has given us a starter framework for understanding types of rationality in different societies, and by extension, a way to conceive of effective logic within each.” With references to everything from Stephen Toulmin to the town-hall protests, Spinuzzi proposes, among other ideas about the evolving nature of rhetoric, that “institutions expect a woven argument; networks deliver spliced arguments.”

My comment:
I quite agree that each of the four TIMN forms may be associated with a different type of rationality and thus logic and rhetoric. It’s a point worth continued development. . . .

What I’ve seen at the town-hall meetings looks more like a pro-tribal than a pro-network (or pro-institutional or pro-market) rhetoric, as I use those terms. The people I’ve seen speak out seem to be longing more for tribal than for information-age network answers. Nonetheless, at the same time I think you are quite right, and are saying something interesting, to observe that the town-hall participants, in voicing their tribalism, reflect a “networked rhetoric,” as distinguished from a classical, more linear, logic-oriented rhetoric that stems from its institutional origins.

What I would suggest you consider is the following: relate the underlying structure of this kind of rhetoric to the kinds of concepts found in social network analysis. Maybe the rhetoric and its ingredients could be depicted in terms of a network map showing nodes and links, with some hubs. This would result in quite a different depiction from a classical, more linear, even pyramidal logical layout, I’m supposing.

A couple of possible insights from going in this direction: It may help explain why, if counter-arguments seem to take out a few nodes and links in a raging rant, it doesn’t matter much to the ranter. He/she just shifts to another node/link in his wide-ranging rhetoric. Whatever sticks, works. Better to spray than to take narrow aim.
For additional commentary, see Spinuzzi’s reply at his blog, as well as our exchanges in the comments section of my October post here on implications of TIMN for political philosophy and ideology (which I have yet to finish).

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Clay Spinuzzi has also posted a series of worthwhile book reviews at his blog. A review in November 2009 was about a favorite book of mine, Alvin Toffler’s The Third Wave. Spinuzzi noted the overlap with TIMN. So I remarked that:
It’s good to be reminded of Toffler’s inspiring early work. He’s partly the reason why, staring at the wall in my office in the late 1970s and wondering what I really should be doing, I decided I should work on implications of the information revolution. It took me another ten years to get moving, but I kept reading Toffler the whole way.

As for my TIMN efforts, along the way I found no academic literature on social evolution that anticipated the future rise of a network-based realm. But such anticipation was widespread in other literatures. TIMN coincides with ideas like Peter Drucker’s (1993) and Jeremy Rifkin’s (1995) that a third, “social” sector is emerging alongside the established public and private sectors. Futurist Alvin Toffler’s (1970, 1990) “waves” — a First Wave when hunter-gatherer societies gave way to agrarian societies, a Second Wave that led next to industrial societies, and now a Third Wave of information-based societies — fit like transitional phases in the TIMN progression. Similarly, Japanese futurist Shumpei Kumon’s (1992) analysis posits that modern society has evolved from first creating a state and then a market system, to now creating a system of network organizations. In addition, some complexity theorists, like Yaneer Bar-yam (2000), offered interesting studies on the historical evolution of hierarchies, the prospects for networks, and the emergence of a current transitional phase of organizational hybrids.

So, yes, I’m an admirer of Toffler and pleased that his work can be fit into my own. Yet, as I recall, he hardly if ever used the term “network” in his writings about waves? He preferred “adhocracy” as I recall.
Later, in a January 2010, Spinuzzi posted about books he would review next, including two others by Alvin Toffler and his wife Heidi. So I added, with another take on the tippie movement, that:
Your series on the Tofflers' writings keeps reminding me how much of their work I liked. One point they made, as you note, was that the growing divide in America was not between Left and Right, but between Second and Third Wavers. Perhaps this applies to the "tippies" (tea-party, town-hall, etc. folks).
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Meanwhile, Joseph Fouche’s blog The Committee of Public Safety offered an insightful post titled “Scope and the Tribal Mind” in December 2009 that ranged across all the TIMN forms. In his essay-like analysis — drawing on ideas from Friedrich von Hayek, Jared Diamond, and Nassim Nicholas Taleb — Fouche observes, to my delight, that: “Many of the contortions produced in modern life in the West [are] caused when one TIMN form is imposed upon another. Marxism produced a massive imposition of the Institution on Market and Tribe (and nascent Networks). Neo-liberalism compounded this imposition by extending the reach of the Market back into the Institution and Tribe. The result has been a compounded weakening of both Institutions and Markets, leading to the rise of a revaunchist Tribalism of the most negative sort. . . . Defining the proper scope of each TIMN form is becoming ever more necessary.”

My observation — only the final part is excerpted here — was as follows:
Good job, throughout your post, of considering the interactions among the TIMN forms, and the needs to separate and balance them so that they reinforce each other in positive ways. To add a couple points, I’d note that professionalization is/was supposed to reduce the role of tribes inside institutions. Markets may seem less prone to tribalism than institutions; but markets do turn tribal when corporations push for brand identity and people fall for consumer fads.

I laud your conclusions that “Many of the contortions produced in modern life in the West is caused when one TIMN form is imposed upon another. . . It may be that stricter demarcations should be drawn between the different TIMN forms. . . Defining the proper scope of each TIMN form is becoming ever more necessary.” I keep wondering how best to clarify this myself, though I’ve tried a bit -- and will continue trying -- in some postings at my own experiment with blogging.
Fouche’s points about tribalism pertain to comments above regarding the tippie movement and next about the market form.

[UPDATE — February 27, 2009: In a new blogpost, titled “Death by tactics,” Fouche warns today, with reference to TIMN, about tame and wicked social problems leading to “Institutional collapse, often accompanied by decreasing exposure and even wholesale withdrawal from Markets and Networks. Complex Institutions collapse into simpler Institutions and even Tribes. The wait is then on for a political formula that will produce a new Institution that can successfully meet the current combination of internal and external demand.”]

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I’ve yet to write much about the market form from a TIMN perspective. But my sense is that its application has deteriorated in America in part because of excessive penetration by and fusion with deleterious, self-aggrandizing tribal forces — e.g., crony capitalists, compromised politicians, hyperlibertarians. And I blurted as much at Mark Safranski’s ZenPundit blog — another favorite — when it posted an enthusiastic guest review in November 2009 of Howard Bloom’s new book The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Revision of Capitalism:
. . . Bloom’s take on capitalism seems quite millenarian, in keeping with the original nature of the concept of progress.

But I’d like to ask whether Bloom distinguishes between the market system on the one hand, and its expression through capitalism on the other hand. My own view is that the market system rocks, but capitalism often sucks. This is especially the case where capitalism is rigged to favor particular elites and practices in ways that depart from the ideals (or at least best practices) of the market system.

That Bloom may not make such a distinction is indicated by his point that “Meanness is punished in the long run by the capitalist system.” I’d say that isn't right. Meanness gets punished not by the capitalist system per se, but by efforts to return it toward a market system.
Unfortunately, I was told, the book contains no such distinction. I continue to seek writings that do.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Incidentals (1st of 5): apropos definitions of “tribes” (and TIMN)

While I’ve been remiss at advancing TIMN and STA here for several months, I was more active than usual posting incidental comments elsewhere. This “incidental” post begins a belated set of five semi-organized catch-up posts — reprises — to log some of those comments left elsewhere, in case I want to re-use them for advancing STA or TIMN here in the future, and/or in case they can help others think better about TIMN and STA.

A few of the comments — like the first one below — reflect new reading or other research on my part. Most just reiterate points I’ve made before, mainly in other posts here, but sometimes a new angle is added.

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I remain a fan of Steve Pressfield’s blog It’s the Tribes, Stupid!”, and of Jim Gant’s paper posted there on “One Tribe at a Time.” Pressfield’s blog and Gant’s paper comprise a singularly significant effort to urge attention to the enduring, strategic significance of the tribal form of organization — in their case, regarding the conflict in Afghanistan. I’m pleased and proud that my past writings have assisted their efforts.

Gant’s paper (not to mention Pressfield’s blog) has been controversial. It advocates a bottom-up, pro-tribal strategy in Afghanistan, whereas many mainstream analysts prefer a top-down or a middle-out strategy, or else a different kind of bottom-up strategy. A large part of the controversy has revolved around competing views about the definition and significance of “tribes” in the region.

Renown for Gant’s vision has spread through write-ups in the New York Times and Washington Post. Pros and cons have been debated in various posts and comments at the Small Wars Journal (SWJ) blog, as well as in scattered posts at other blogs, e.g., Combined Arms Center, Free Range International, Captains Journal, Blackfive, and Al Sahwa. Relentless criticisms have arisen at such blogs as, Ghosts of Alexander, and The Security Crank. Gant has fielded effective, thoughtful replies to many issues in comments he has fielded in posts at Pressfield’s blog as well as at the Small Wars Journal blog.

Interesting as all this is from a TIMN perspective, I have kept my distance. However, a Small Wars Journal post praising Gant’s paper prompted a critic to recommend an interesting counterpoint paper — “My Cousin’s Enemy Is My Friend: A Study of Pashtun Tribes” — issued by an Army-related research center in the Human Terrain System (HTS) at Fort Leavenworth. That and other matters eventually led me to leave the following TIMN-related points in a December 2009 comment in the SWJ post noted above:
By now, I’ve read both Major Gant’s paper and the Leavenworth/HTS paper noted above. As one who has tried to learn a lot about tribal forms of organization, ancient and modern, I think Gant’s paper is on the right track, aiming in the right direction.

The HTS paper makes useful points too. But do they truly contradict or counter Gant’s?

The HTS paper finds that “‘tribal engagement’ should not be pursued in Afghanistan like it was in Iraq, mainly because tribes in Afghanistan are quite different from those in Iraq.” That’s surely true, but to my knowledge no one (Gant included) is perceiving or calling for an exact replication.

The HTS paper also finds that “tribe” is an inadequate concept for analyzing Afghanistan, and that terms that emphasize what’s “local” would be better. This may be true to an extent in some areas. But exclusion of the term “tribe” and its complete replacement by “local” is entirely inadvisable.

The seeming disparity between the two papers derives partly from the fact that the HTS paper uses a narrower definition of “tribe” than does Gant’s. In the HTS paper, the term refers to a group of kinfolk who espouse a shared identity, have a chief, act as a unified group, and have informal but reliable modes of governance, as in Iraq. As the HTS authors point out, much of this does not apply in Afghanistan. But that shouldn’t be the key point.

There are many tribal areas around the world, including in Afghanistan, that do not exhibit such tight, structured solidarity. Yet, they are still rife with tribal dynamics. Kinship bonds, codes of honor, ancient narratives, ties to the land, respect for elders, and collective longings and identities still matter to a significant degree. And people caught up in such dynamics often shift their ties flexibly and pragmatically, alternating between fusion and fission. This may mean that, compared to Iraq, Afghanistan is loosely, qualifiedly tribal -- but it’s still rife with tribal kinds of patterns and dynamics. The HTS paper repeatedly substantiates this, even as it denies that Afghanistan reflects an idealized tribalism.

The HTS paper identifies alternative terms that it deems more appropriate than “tribe”: e.g., “qawm” (an Afghan term), “faction,” “solidarity group,” and “patronage network.” Yet, these are still tribe-like concepts. And the discussion about these alternatives still shows that large parts of Afghanistan remain fraught with classic tribal dynamics, albeit of a rather fractured, tempestuous sort that may not be unusual in high-conflict zones.

Gant may have been fortunate as to the specific tribe and chief that he got to work with. But even so, his paper is keenly attuned to the nature of tribal patterns and dynamics, in terms of both theory and practice.
With this in mind, I remain convinced that selectively, sensibly working with and through “tribes” should be made into a strength of U.S. strategy there. Seeking to repair and restore positive tribal patterns should be helpful.

(As an aside, I note, apropos the two sentences on p. 5 relating to fns. 3 and 4 of the HTS paper, that the authors misread my 2007 Rand paper on tribes. It does observe that tribes precede states in the long sweep of social evolution, but I never claim that tribes per se are primitive. The authors also appear to prefer a questionable view that tribes arise historically often only after states intrude into a region. Thus the HTS report seems to reflect a bias in current anthropology to disavow tribes as a general concept.)

* * *

While wondering about such matters earlier in November 2009, I spotted a post at an unfamiliar blog, Strategic Social, that aspired to define a “tribe” as “any group of people united by their recognition of organizational hierarchy within their group, who share a cultural identity and make up a unique speech community.” At least this blog was trying to raise attention to the significance of tribes in various areas of society. But this definition of the concept seemed misguided, and I blurted as much:
As one who’s interested in concepts about tribes, occasionally scouts the Net to see what others are saying, and finds myself here for a change, I’d like to offer a quick passing comment:

I like the fact you recognize that tribes are a modern as well as ancient form of organization. But in my view, it’s not wise to start a definition of tribes with a reference to organizational hierarchy. That’s not what’s most important about tribes. Tribes may or may not have much hierarchy; hierarchical institutions are a later form to arise from social evolution. I’d suggest moving the other parts of your definition up front. I’d also suggest broadening the “speech” part, maybe make it “symbolic” instead.
After this led to a defensive rejoinder, indicating my comment would have little to no effect, I tried to elaborate:
It often makes a difference what is placed up front in a definition, especially when there is no statement about the weights of different components. But even if you fix that, I’d still propose that it’s inadvisable to define tribes in a way that leads the eye first to hierarchy. The consideration you gave to another pattern — consensus — may apply better to the nature of classic tribes.

According to your definition, with its lead-off emphasis on “organizational hierarchy,” wouldn’t the Catholic Church or a Special Forces unit qualify as a “tribe”? Do you mean for that to be the case? Also, one of your examples of a tribe with a hierarchy — Survival International — isn’t really a tribe; it’s an NGO that represents tribes, not a tribe itself. Its own web pages offer a definition of “tribes” that says nothing about requiring a hierarchy. I would suggest opting for a definition that can identify the tribal qualities that may persist in such organizations . . . but that does not allow for turning all such organizations into examples of tribes.

The “power structure” of a tribe resides less in a hierarchy it may have than in the codes of honor and other codes of conduct that are embedded in the tribe. A tribe’s people are not primarily “united by their recognition of organizational hierarchy” but rather by their sense of identity, kinship and solidarity (as in the second, far-more-essential part of your definition). Furthermore, your definition of hierarchy posits “a decision making apparatus that creates rules members must adhere to in order to remain in good standing with their tribe.” But that’s more like a definition of an administrative, judicial, or bureaucratic hierarchy than a tribal hierarchy. For everyday matters, classic tribes have a cultural apparatus (the best term?) that sets codes and rules, more than a political decision-making apparatus. If issues arise that require a tribal council, then some hierarchy may well come into play — but so do norms for consensus.

Apropos this, you note that you “would be interested in any examples you or anyone else had of people organizing independent of leadership/hierarchy.” I presume you mean in reference to tribes. But is that really a key question? Instances of leadership or hierarchy normally crop up sometime somewhere in most all forms of organization, tribes included. and it’s conventional for modern analysts and strategists to go looking for leaders and hierarchies in all organizations. But according to the literatures I’ve scoured, classic tribes may not even have full-time chiefs, just the episodic “big man” depending on the matter at hand. And chiefs, when present, may not wield much hierarchical power. Where tribal chiefs do exist, it’s crucial to recognize them (as in conflict zones in Iraq and Afghanistan); but it’s also crucial to recognize what lies behind them (e.g., Pashtunwali codes). Beyond that, the more a hierarchical chiefdom is present and enforced atop a tribe, the more that society lies somewhere between being a tribe and becoming a state or element of a state.

I’m reminded of a documentary about a bad-ass low-life motorcycle gang in a city back East that was organized as a club and had an elected president who ran meetings and organized club activities. True to classic tribal dynamics persisting into the modern era, the president noted that he really didn’t run anything and couldn’t enforce anything on his own; anybody could do pretty much as he or she pleased, as long as they remained true to the club. So much for the importance of organizational hierarchy; it’s there, but not in the way or to the degree your definition presently poses. Tribes tend to be anti-hierarchical as much as, if not more than, pro-hierarchical. Indeed, your definition may fit a warlord and his clan better than a classic tribe.
I hope this helps clarify aspects of the tribal form for other possible readers.

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In this post and others in this series, I have corrected capitalization and other orthographic errors that exist in my comments as originally posted elsewhere. Also, in many instances I abridge or excerpt only part of my comment.