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.

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