Monday, October 29, 2012

Q’s & A’s about “TIMN in 20 minutes” (4th of 7): creation of a new sector?

As explained in the introduction to the first post in this series, it logs comments on my video about TIMN. The introduction also explains how the posts are arranged, and how I’ve approached using commenters’ remarks. Readers should be mindful of caveats I offered there about my presentation of those remarks and my replies.

This post logs the few remarks by commenters who emphasized issues about the rise of networked non-state and non-market actors that represent civil society, and about TIMN’s prediction that this will lead to creation of a new (+N) sector, distinct from the existing public (+I) and private (+M) sectors.

At the time, I was unable to offer much of a response to these welcome comments. So I’ll take this opportunity to add at the end some additional remarks about TIMN’s implications.

TIMN and the expanding roles of sub-state actors

An information-age analyst and strategist — Itamara Lochard — observed that:
“Your comments [that] these new networks / movements such as Occupy Wall Street, Anonymous or the Arab Spring will most likely evolve to a point where they too provide goods is really interesting. Most of what I’ve seen on it has identified them as simply e-protests or e-graffiti… But I’ve wondered whether they are simply that; if and to what extent they reflect either the precipitant or precondition of conflict; and now whether they are indeed a third category as you posit.
“My interest in sub-state actors started by looking at how indigenous religious groups organically provided to the populace in Latin America and Africa what colonial governments couldn’t or wouldn’t; then developed into how societies organized and reacted to totalitarian regimes during the Cold War.
“Your predictions/hunches that these new civic actors must evolve into / provide something more however made me wonder if they could indeed be a modern variant of this old pattern of sub-state actors, or something new altogether in parallel to this other set that still exists…?”
My reply at the time: I quite agree that there has been phenomenal growth in sub-state groups, and that many develop para-state roles. What that may mean for TIMN-type analysis is still full of questions for me. Some sub-state groups seem to resemble or partake of one TIMN form or another. And networking seems to benefit all types. But the extent to which some of this means a new network-based sector is taking shape, as I think it is, is still speculative. If such a sector emerges, it’s origins may well still rest on what you refer to.

Rethinking the education system

A graduate student interested in education and e-learning — James Hobson — commented that he’d “had a few thoughts about TIMN with relation to the UK education system, which I’ve put on my own blog”:
“The reason that this model has such resonance for me is that I see links with the current situation for the education system in the UK. We are currently organised by a mixture of institutional control and market suppliers. The government and its agencies ensure consistency of standards, whilst acknowledging the need for freedom of choice in exactly how services supporting that education are to be provided. Recent events have brought to light the potential for corruption (Garner, 2011; Orr, 2011), and weakened faith in our education system. In particular the accusations tend to rest on how market forces are undermining the integrity of education. The natural reaction of our society is to demand tighter institutional control, and yet this runs contrary to the progression that Ronfeldt describes.”
“It would follow logically from the TIMN framework that allowing networks to play an increased role in our education system could repair the damage and allow new efficiencies to be realised. These networks are yet to be realised, and the future is uncertain, but it is an avenue that might free our education system from the current conflict between institutional control and the undesirable effects of market-based education. As global citizens, we must take it upon ourselves to go forward into this new territory. For my own part I intend to build on this line of enquiry as a subject for my dissertation, in the hope that it might provide a piece in a much larger and evolving puzzle.”
At the time, I replied only briefly: A delight to read. Excellent summary of key points. And I welcome your ideas for exploring TIMN’s potential implications for education. They’re on track with my own sense of TIMN’s implications.

Toward a “commonwealth of networks”

An expert on information technology — Wally Baer — noted that “TIMN doesn’t really come out trippingly on the tongue. How about something like “Toward a commonwealth of networks”?

My quick reply back then said just that “I like the word “commonwealth” and the phrase you suggest. We’ll discuss when I rebound.”  Today, I’m thinking that a rephrasing — “Toward a commonswealth sector” — might also be appropriate. Putting an “s” in the middle would be consistent with what is broached in the coda below: the rise of a commons sector.

Meanwhile, for the past several years I’ve had hopes that the Obama administration would start to move in +N directions. I even thought I’d located, thanks to a blog post by Marcia Stepanek, an office in the White House that would provide impetus: the small Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. Creation of a “social innovation fund” and “social impact bonds” also appeared to be small steps in +N directions. But my hopes have since faded — and they’ll turn into doubts if a Romney administration is next. The lure of patrimonial corporatism is too strong to leave many openings for truly +N innovation.

[UPDATE — OCTOBER 30, 2012:  I’m pleased to see that Stephen Downes took a liking to Wally’s phrase and offered some additional pertinent comments about TIMN at his own blog:
“One thing that's useful about the TIMN model (tribes, hierarchical institutions, markets, and networks) is that it makes it clear that markets are not networks. This isn't always clear in discussions of network mechanics; often people represent network effects as market effects, and confuse (say) the 'invisible hand of the marketplace' with 'the wisdom of crowds'. But the former is a mathematical principle, while the latter is a relational principle. The former counts while the latter associates. The marketplace embodies a logic of competeition, but a network emplodies a logic of cooperation (not, note, collaboration, which is an artifact of institutional organization). That's why a 'commonwealth of networks' makes sense, while a 'commonwealth of markets' is an oxymoron.” (source)]

* * * * *

Coda: Will a +N sector be a commons sector?

Beyond those brief replies, I’d now offer additional clarifications about the little I said in the video on this topic: TIMN does indeed augur that a new sector will gradually emerge. And whether it emerges will be one of the key tests for verifying and validating TIMN.

TIMN heralds, as do many analyses these days, that new network forms of organization are taking hold, altering all that has gone before in so many areas. Yet TIMN remains unique (except for nearly-parallel versions of P2P theory) in arguing that a new +N sector will emerge that will be quite distinct from the established public (+I) and private (+M) sectors.

This new +N sector is as inchoate today as the +I and +M sectors were, in turn, during their emergences centuries ago. And it will surely be decades before the nature of this new sector — its key purposes, priorities, fields of endeavor — become clear and well defined. It has no settled name yet, but thinkers who have sensed its emergence have offered various tries: e.g., third sector, social sector, commons sector, etc.

In keeping with the evolution of such names, notions about this potential sector initially emphasized, beginning a few decades ago, that it would grow around networks of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) representing civil society, independently of state and market actors. And that is still a valid, tractionable notion. But earlier optimisms about such NGOs has given way to increasing doubt and criticism, as many NGOs have turned out to be quite unaccountable and even unethical and disreputable, with some proving to be dependent creations of obscure behind-the-scenes actors. An additional, ideological aspect is that activists on the Left who were initially enthused about NGOs have become discouraged that forces on the Right have gained as much if not more traction from the networked-NGO phenomenon.

As trust in the NGO phenomenon has declined, proponents of developing a new sector that would have strong ethical bases have turned increasingly to the concept of “the commons.” Indeed, the most interesting and auspicious activity in favor of a new sector is developing around this concept (and growing reality?). It has been around for centuries — recall, for example, “the enclosure of the commons” in English history as capitalism took hold. Now the concept is gaining renewed life and new dimensions as a result of the information revolution. This revolution is creating new kinds of commons — e.g., a knowledge commons, potentially a sensor commons — and enabling new ways of organization and governance that appeal to “commoners”. Elinor Ostrom’s winning the Nobel prize in economics for her work on the management of common-pool resources has enthused commoners that they’re on a sensible track. Of further importance, the concept of the commons has great ethical appeal for people who believe in collaborative sharing and openness, among other ideals.

The rise of the commons is being articulated especially on the Left, mostly by proponents of peer-to-peer (P2P) theory. They are taken with proposals for developing a commons sector as an alternative to state and market sectors. So far I see nothing comparable on the Right, though some forward-looking conservatives espouse a related concept that also has appeal on the Left: “stewardship”. From a different but still motivating angle, the commons is also acquiring new impetus in national security and military circles — particularly where “cyber” is treated as a new domain that should be protected along with the traditional air and sea commons.

For all parties and proponents, it remains unclear just exactly what is the commons, what belongs in it, and how and why to develop it. Even so, the concept continues to gain ground, and in my view it is very pertinent to the prospects for a +N sector.

Yet, from a TIMN viewpoint I doubt that the concept is being headed in the most suitable directions by its proponents on the Left. Yes, as they observe, the future potential of the commons is very much about network forms of organization and governance — for me in a +N sense, for them mostly in a P2P sense. And they are producing insightful writings (such as a new book from The Commons Strategy Group, The Wealth of the Commons: A world beyond market & state). However, they keep focusing on the commons mainly in economic terms — as a largely economic endeavor, as a matter of political economy, as a new mode of production “beyond market and state” that can serve as a peer-powered alternative to capitalism. Thus a lot of theorizing on the Left about the commons is quite neo-Marxist. That in itself does not bother me. Nor am I bothered by the anti-capitalist tone; TIMN is entirely pro-market but not entirely pro-capitalist. Rather, what’s puzzling is the intensive emphasis on economic matters — including in treating the rise of the commons as a new way to revive old battles against capitalism, and this time against statism as well.

That kind of emphasis is at odds with TIMN. TIMN means that the +I (state) and +M (market) realms are here to stay, albeit more limitedly, and that futurist thinking about the +N (network-based) realm should be done by figuring out its own nature on its own terms, not by reapplying old ones. The rise of +N depends above all on its capacity to define its own realm, and far less on its capacity to combine with or counter the other forms.

I’ve intended to address this for over a year — initially in a part-2 post for my three-part series on Michel Bauwens’s concept of the partner state, and later in a part-IV post for my four-part series on the Occupy movements. But those posts remain unfinished, absent. So I do not have a lot of backup material handy for my critical remarks. But I leave them above anyway, holding them subject to future revision and refinement.

According to TIMN (as I understand it so far), a new +N sector — and it may well be largely a commons sector — will be focused on addressing issues and offering options that the older forms / sectors are not doing well at. It will help address inefficiencies and externalities that that those older forms / sectors have exacerbated and failed to resolve. It will grow alongside and in balance with those older forms / sectors. It may modify them, and be modified by them; but it will not overwhelm them, nor be overwhelmed by them. Moreover, it will be focused on distinctive issues — and my sense of TIMN remains that these will be mainly social (and only secondarily economic) issues: possibly health, education, welfare, and environmental issues in particular. The networked ways they will be addressed will be largely non-profit, cooperative, for social benefit, and in the common interest (much in keeping with the values and ethics behind P2P theory). And these dynamics will define the new sector, not make it a derivative of the older sectors.

In my view, then, TIMN would raise questions about the intense economic orientation — including the emphasis on new kinds of business-like, socially-entrepreneurial enterprises (e.g., “phyles”) — that dominates some current writings from the Left about the potential for a distinct commons sector. There may well be a future for these kinds of commons-oriented actors and activities; but TIMN implies that they will not form the core of a new +N sector. They may pertain better to a transformed +M sector. Something else is emerging for +N.  I'm not sure exactly what, but notions about developing a “sensor commons” and “monitory democracy” around a new swarm of networked civil-society actors may turn out to be more on track and in tune with TIMN.

If that is one good track to be on, there is already evidence it has appeal across the political spectrum. Note the following quotes, the first from a P2P-oriented anarchist, the second from a conservative blogger — both well-known in their respective circles:
“Networked consumer, environmental and labor activism, with its ability to subject corporate malefactors to boycotts or tort actions, and to expose them to humiliating scrutiny, offers the potential to control and punish bad corporate behavior at least as well as did the regulatory state or the traditional press, and — insofar as they are not prone to the same sorts of cross-institutional collusion — to do an even better job of it. . . It incorporates a large element of what John Keane calls “monitory democracy.” (source)
“My dream is of a Tea Party so large and well funded it can serve as a perpetual monitor of the leviathan. Transparency and crowdsourcing will help.” (source)
A final musing: I keep seeing information-age manifestos by forward-looking thinkers: e.g., The Hacker Manifesto, The Telekommunist Manifesto, The P2P Manifesto, The Open-Source Everything Manifesto, etc. They incline me to think that there should be a TIMN manifesto. Perhaps call it The Quadraformist Manifesto. Meanwhile, whenever I’m asked whether I’m a liberal or a conservative these disturbed and disturbing days, I find it best to reply: “Neither. I’m a quadriformist. And someday you may be too.” Indeed, the question for the future is not how to be a better liberal or conservative in today’s triformist terms, but rather how to become a quadriformist first, and later a new kind of progressive or conservative.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Q’s & A’s about “TIMN in 20 minutes” (3rd of 7): past, present, and future of democracy

As explained in the introduction to the first post in this series, it logs comments on my video about TIMN. The introduction also explains how the posts are arranged, and how I’ve approached using commenters’ remarks. Readers should be mindful of the caveats I offered there about my presentation of those remarks and my replies.

This particular post logs remarks by commenters who raised issues focused on the past, present, and future of democracy.

TIMN and the challenge of democracy

A strategic planner with The Challenge Network — Oliver Sparrow — put TIMN to use in a post at its website, as follows:
“Our group has also been thinking about the nature of power and influence. Societies which leave a mark on history generally develop from a state of simplicity to complexity. As they progress, they go through characteristic phases. Arrangements of families, small communities and tribes usually give way to stratified, hierarchical and often urbanised societies. These, in their turn, become too complex to manage top-down — as demonstrated by the totalitarian experiments of the early Twentieth century — and successful societies move on to market mechanisms, whereby resource allocation and choice are delegated solely to the agents making those choices.
“This, in turn, seems to be leading us into a fourth stage: organisation through networks. This has two characteristics. These are:
  • First, that groups independent of the state and the economic agents feel free to monitor, criticise and attempt to influence other actors directly.
  • Second, that the communities from which these voices emerge are not primarily focused at national level - being both extremely local and frequently transnational.
“The nature of these networks vary with the problem and its perceived solution, Some, like supply chains, are highly pragmatic, whilst others, such as political or lobby interests, operate in less tangible ways. They are usually tightly linked in further networks with other interests, and people spread their membership amongst these, by no means confining themselves to any one community.
“This progression has been called the TIMN model (Tribe, Institutional, Market, Network.) It has been developed and proven by RAND social scientist David Ronfeldt.
“Democracy, in whatever of its many forms, does not match innately to any of these stages. It is a particular way of operating, not a style that is intrinsically limited to a given stage. You can have more or less democratic tribal systems and more or less democratic market-based ones. What defines democracy is the social filtration that is applied to two separate elements of government: that is, to policy formation and to executive competence.”
An excellent summary. I’d never claim that I have “proven” TIMN, but I welcome the nod. What I particularly appreciate about the above take on TIMN is its noticing that “democracy” may be found, to varying degrees, in many historical expressions of the forms. Indeed, each TIMN form may be associated with a different type of democracy (as I elaborated about a third of the way down in a prior blog post about future prospects for “monitory democracy” here).

Yet, much as I remain optimistic that TIMN implies newer, bigger, better kinds of democracy for the advanced societies, it also implies new kinds of authoritarianism. We should even expect new kinds of technologically-advanced hybrids of democracy and authoritarianism (perhaps as discussed under the concept of cyberocracy here).

TIMN in 1848 and 2011

An historian — Mike Rapport — made some remarks about TIMN in a presentation I heard about that analyzed the causes, conduct, and consequences of Europe’s 1848 revolutions, which he then compared to the Arab upheavals of 2011. According to a rapporteur’s write-up, “the speaker detects all four TIMN forms in 1848”:
“Tribes: Revolutions failed partly because they created openings for airing ethnic grievances, allowing conservative regimes to play ethnicities against one another.
“Institutions: 1848 revolutionaries focused on constitutions, parliaments and elections to the exclusion of the armed forces and state bureaucracies. This allowed organs such as the civil service and the military to rally or resist further change (as in the cases of Bismarck and Radetzky).
“Markets: Revolutionaries demanded the regulation of markets to alleviate desperate poverty and improve working conditions.
“Networks: Underground organizations predated the revolutions, whose disruption of censorship and policing allowed an explosion of writing and culture.
“In addition, the speaker wondered how far commonalities between the 1848 nations mattered as opposed to their differences, carrying this question forward to the 2011 Arab uprisings with a caution against exaggerating their similarities.”

In my TIMN-oriented reading of the presentation, I saw some support for my notion (here) that the 1848 revolutions were “caused” by the rise of the market form, much as the 2011 revolutions are “caused” by the rise of the network form. Or, to reword it the way I did (here) after reading John Keane’s book, 2011 may well be to the future of “monitory democracy” as 1848 was to representative democracy.

I agree with Rapport's’s point that TIMN would benefit from better methods for visualization. I’d not thought of a quadrant table he proposed. Yet I’d still like to see something a bit clearer for depicting the relative strengths of each form and the relations among them. A better “mathematical” or graphic depiction may yet be discerned. I’ve some exploratory notes about this somewhere, but I’ve not yet turned them into a post.

I also agree with his point that revolutionary upheavals may go through various stages, each of them involving somewhat different TIMN forces and dynamics. His effort to articulate and depict that in TIMN terms is helpful, suggestive.

His point about the prevalence of networks in Medieval eras is one I’ve come across before. It’s a challenging point, and I remain uncertain how best to treat it in TIMN terms. But here are my preliminary thoughts: TIMN allows for all the forms to crop up at all times across history. Network-type formations were evidently more rife in Medieval eras than I once supposed. Yet I still wonder whether they were more like pan-clan formations than modern network formations. Besides, rife though they may have been, and much as they may have enlivened civil society back then, they still didn’t add up to the kind of sector that TIMN presumes will emerge. Moreover, I’ve yet to see philosophic arguments from back then that argue for preferring this form. Edmund Burke’s “little platoons” notion stepped in the right direction, as did some other praises of civil-society associations. But so far, I regard them as precursors to what may be evolving now.

TIMN and Christian Democracy

A scholar who focuses on Constitutions — Elliot Bulmer — inquired:
Would it be reasonable to consider TIMN as essentially an updated and secular application of Christian Democratic principles?
I ask because it seems to me that Christian Democratic concepts such as personalism, sphere sovereignty and subsidiarity seem, at least at first glance, to map very well onto the TIMN framework. The quadraform society appears to reflect the traditional Christian Democratic ideal of a harmonious balance between the family, the state, the market and civic society / voluntary sector, with each of these pillars having distinct but mutually supporting functions and responsibilities in the realisation of the common-weal.
My tentative reply: I’m not particularly familiar with Christian Democratic (or any other political party’s) principles and platforms. But it looks as though TIMN maps well with what you describe. And I rather like what you describe. Perhaps I’m a kind of a Christian Democrat and haven’t know it. The little exposure I once had to Christian Democratic parties was when I used to work on Latin American issues long ago.

Meanwhile, and in a somewhat related vein, I appreciated an op-ed some months ago in the New York Times by David Brooks that called for new efforts to include “family policy” in our political agendas. That resonated with my sense of TIMN, whose “tribal” bases seem quite out of whack in my country.

Applying TIMN to American partisan politics

Another information-age strategist “had a fleeting thought and wanted to run it by you. This is a question as much as an assertion.”
“Can you imagine that networks and monitory democracy align better with elected democrats (party members) and how they identify themselves, the range of possibilities in policy formation, the range of actors involved, and comfort with the technology and loosening of control? Whereas the republicans feel culturally more comfortable with tighter control over policy formation, message, narrative, and want more an "I" approach than an "N" approach? Does that make any sense to you?”
That’s an astute application of TIMN. I quite agree.

From a TIMN perspective, as I view it, the current crop of Republican and related conservative partisans do seem to be dedicated to party discipline and message unification in very “I”-like ways. They are also thinking and acting in ways that are strongly “T”. Indeed, their allied media arms in radio and TV seem led by tribalists who aim to tribalize. Need I mention names? Moreover, these pro-Republican circles are not as “M” oriented as they claim. Republicans tend to be pro-business, but I don’t see a marketplace of ideas functioning in current partisan circles. Indeed, much of the above is embodied in the anti-tax pledge so many have signed — it’s a tribal, hierarchical, anti-market device.

In contrast, the Democrats and related liberal partisans do seem to be thinking and acting in far more “N”-like ways, both organizationally and in terms of their tolerance of openness and variance, though this makes them seem disorganized. Moreover, at least some Democrats seem to sense — though they’ve not quite grasped — that the network form may lead to new kinds of policy options. The Democrats have their partisan tribal (“T”) aspects too, but not to the degree I see among Republicans.

Overall, neither party or its leaders seem presently capable of heading us toward “monitory democracy” and the innovation of a quadriform (T+I+M+N) system. I’ll have more to say about this in the next post in this series. For this post, I’d mainly note that both the Republicans and the Democrats — especially today’s Republicans — seem mired in aging triform (T+I+M) logics. They are particularly mired in biform debates about whether government (I) or business (M) should prevail. And their divisive polarizing approaches run contrary to TIMN principles about balancing and limiting all the forms, about making them work together, and about creating appropriate regulatory interfaces.*

Maybe the excessive tribalism I see is partly a result of their thinking and behaving in so many ways that run contrary to sound TIMN principles. Tribalism becomes a refuge of the wrong and the wronged. And when its proponents gain power, it is conducive to patrimonial corporatism, more than to liberal democracy.

* A note about my reference to regulatory interfaces: In an earlier post at this blog, I identified a set of principles and propositions about TIMN’s system dynamics. One of them is that “Successful combination depends on the development of regulatory interfaces.” Another reads that “Balanced combination is imperative.” A corollary to either or both might be that the type and degree of regulation should be roughly comparable between any and all forms. If so, today’s Republicans and related conservatives appear to be inconsistent regarding this TIMN principle too, in that many keep calling for extreme deregulation of relations between government (I) and business (M) sectors, but heavy new regulation of marriage, reproduction, immigration, and other social (T) criteria.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Q’s & A’s about “TIMN in 20 minutes” (2nd of 7): nature of the forms and their relationships

As I explained in the introduction to the first post in this series, it is about comments on my video about TIMN. The introduction also explains how the posts are arranged, and how I’ve approached using commenters’ remarks.

This particular post assembles remarks by commenters who raised issues regarding the number and nature of the forms, and relations among them. The post is quite theory-oriented.

But before continuing, I’d reiterate some caveats I noted in the series’ introduction: In some instances, my replies at the time are reprinted verbatim here, but in other instances I’ve modified my reply a bit, usually to cut excess verbiage, or to expand and clarify further. In all instances, the comments and my replies should be regarded as rough drafts. Indeed, some of the commenters might have written their comments differently if they’d known in advance that I’d be putting them in a blog post. I might have done so with my initial replies as well.

As for identifying the commenters, I will have to feel my way as this blog posting progresses. I will clear in advance whether they are willing to be identified by name, or prefer anonymity. If the latter, I will hope they at least approve my including the content of their comments here. While most comments are from personal emails, a few were made anonymously at a Highlands Forum conference I could not attend, but I heard about them afterwards and am able to reference their content here (h/t Dick O’Neill).

Finally, here’s another caveat: In some instances I do not make a full effort to reply to a question or comment. But I do make a full effort to display the question or comment. That’s partly because I think it is more important to show the questions than to assert my answers about TIMN. Over the long run, TIMN’s vitality and prospects may well depend more on the nature of the questions it prompts than on the lucidity of my answers at this time.

Questions about TIMN’s development as theory

An information-age strategist wrote me to point out that, despite his general interest in my efforts, TIMN still needs a lot of work to become a theory:
“To develop the theory, it would help to define more clearly what the nature of the links are between the nodes. Are they transactions? Trust relationships? Communication lines? Agreement on mutual support? It seems important, because these links go on to define the nature of the social organization. Defining them more precisely would offer greater insight as you go along, and facilitate testable hypotheses.
“You refer to “bad guys” and “good guys” employing each form of organization, and that bad guys tend to be early adopters. What do you mean by “good” and “bad”? Is this a normative or an empirical definition? It’s worth dwelling on, because it begs the question of why “bad” guys would be early adopters. (Perhaps it’s because they are seeking an advantage by playing outside the rules of the existing dominant form of organization, which the good guys are trying to preserve or maintain.) ...
“It would help to make clear whether you are trying to predict which form of organization will prevail, or trying to prescribe which form works better. The two approaches are related, but if you addressed this more precisely, we would, again, be better able to test the model (e.g., Do we expect one form of organization or another to be more efficient, which can be empirically evaluated? Or do we expect one form or another to predominate over others because it represents an equilibrium, that is, a state toward which events move?)
“Finally, if you were to be more precise about the nature of the links between the nodes, it might be possible that one would find that the first three forms (tribes, institutions, markets) are really sub-sets of networks, where a particular kind of transaction, or a particular kind of equilibrium, has become predominant. For example, tribes may reflect a state in which inherited trust relationships predominate, which hierarchical institutions reflect a state in which a single actor or set of actors have been able to impose a set of relationships on others, or one in which actors accept this for the sake of efficiency. One trend seems to be that, as society and technology evolve, the range of possible relationships expands, but then the question is whether these relationships settle into one configuration or another, and why.”
That’s an impressive thoughtful set of points and questions — all oriented to helping with theory-building, and far larger than I can address in this blog post. The email about it arrived at a time when I was ailing, so I’ve postponed replying until now. And I’m limiting my reply to the following for now:

I agree with most all those points. TIMN would benefit from further clarifications about the nature of the forms and their relationships, about what “good” and “bad” mean in different settings, and about what may determine which (if any) form prevails under what circumstances and to what effect. Yet, these are not new concerns for me; I’ve had them all in mind as I’ve gone along. The video may be sketchy, but it’s based on fuller written elaborations (notably here, but also here in this precursor analysis which I should update someday). If all goes well, I will gradually continue to clarify all of them as matters progress, perhaps as follows:
  • As to the first point, what may be the best way to theorize about each form — use transaction analysis, which appears to be a default mode these days? try to revive structural-functional analysis, though it has a bad reputation these days? emphasize that all the forms are based on some kind of trust, though nowadays many analysts identify only the network form with trust? stick with emphasizing topology? — is still up in the air for me.
  • As for the point about “good” and “bad” actors using the forms, my definitions (or lack thereof) may well remain fuzzy for a while; but my sense remains that further inquiry will keep showing what you suggest: that “bad” actors are keen and flexible about finding organizational as well as technological innovations that provide asymmetrical advantages.
  • As to the point about whether TIMN is meant to be predictive or prescriptive, I view it as having the potential to be both — and I’d thought I’d been explicit or at least clearly implicit about that. It would help if I got around to applying TIMN to the analysis of specific societies. For example, TIMN would seem to make it predictable that societies across the MENA region will continue to revolve largely around the tribal form — yet TIMN also means that that their long-term evolution would benefit, prescriptively, from finding ways to disentangle tribal dynamics in those areas where TIMN claims that professional institutional and/or market systems are better. Of course, that sentence contains loaded notions — e.g., evolution, better — but I hope it makes my point okay for now. Each form has attractive efficiency aspects, and balanced equilibrium of some kind does seem advisable according to TIMN — but TIMN may also be used to identify, and expect, disequilibria in societies that are highly tribalized to begin with, not to mention in societies that are further along in TIMN evolution but then suffer crises that lead to a retribaliization of their politics or other affairs.
But I must disagree with the final point about the forms being sub-sets of networks, if that means there are really only three forms, not four. I’ve already written about this (esp. 2006, pp. 22-26) — not enough to settle the matter, yet enough to stake out my position: I started on this track about social evolution by sensing that the network form was on the rise, in a general sense and relative to two other forms: hierarchies and markets — resulting in what I initially called the IMN framework. It did not seem adequate, so I did more research and learned about the earlier tribal form — resulting in the expansion of IMN into the TIMN framework. And despite similarities between the tribal and network forms, I still see them as different enough to be viewed as distinct forms.

Of course, experts in the growing fields of network science and social network analysis have increasingly insisted that all forms of organization — tribes, hierarchies, markets, my bounded notion of networks, whatever — are just sub-sets or variants of those fields’ rather unbounded notion of networks. Perhaps that is what your point reflects; and I’m not saying those fields are wrong, only that I am using “networks” in a much more bounded organizational sense. The contrast may well take a long time to shake out. Odds are, what I am calling networks will end up needing — and eventually breeding — a distinctive new name as their parameters and functions become clear in the decades ahead. Assuming of course that TIMN is valid.

Even so, I shall remain open to a possibility — expressed mainly in episodic footnotes — that the +N form is some kind of upgraded futurized version of the T form, and thus that there really are only three cardinal forms of organization. I’ll discuss that and some implications later in this very post; but it’s not my favorite possibility. I’d rather keep theorizing in the directions laid out above.

More about numbers, levels, and interactions

A futurist best known for his science-fiction novels — David Brin — referred me to a briefing he’d done about future threat potentials. Then, in what led to a somewhat confusing exchange, I reacted to a slide (#14 here) that depicted information flows “among society’s three levels” — said to be “Formal / hierarchical institutions”, “Arena-Markets for creative competition”, and “The People” — that appeared to be somewhat TIMNish in design:
Me: “Yes, there is some overlap between your three-part and my four-part scheme. Actually, I’ve seen a lot more three-part than four-part schemes in my wanderings. You refer to “the people” while others tend to refer to “civil society” as the third part. And whether the parts are “levels” or something else also varies from analyst to analyst. In any case, there is still a lot to be wondered about in these regards.”
Brin: “David, the distinction is not between 3 and 4 [forms]. It is between linear and parallel. You seem to be saying that these structures evolve into each other as a progression, leaving the old structure behind. I see them all co-existing, with the new ones layering OVER the older ones... in much the same way that the mammalian cortex laid upon the fish-reptile lower brain, and the primate cortex on top of that and our prefrontals on top... Emergent properties do not always eliminate the old. Hence, 4 becomes 3 when you realize that both tribal and networked interactions involve the People. Networks do not emerge easily out of hierarchies or lateral competition arenas, but they do emerge when tribal beings are unleashed to associate at will.”
Me: “But my writings about TIMN have never said that the old structures are left behind or eliminated, or that older forms evolve just into the newer. That should be evident even in the briefing-style video. Co-existent layering is an aspect of my view, and I regard “layering” as a better term than “levels” if that term implies levels of analysis.”
He agreed that “your slides did say that”, and thus ended our minor differences. Yet, I value the exchange for reasons that are not so minor. It speaks to the continuing challenge of whether to opt for a three- or four-fold design — and the related challenge of distinguishing between tribes and networks. It also speaks to the significance of regarding TIMN as being more about layers than levels — and his metaphor about layering in the human brain seems quite apt to me.

Today, I’d add an afterthought. Why not say that all the TIMN forms arise out of “the people” — the tribal form included. That way “the people” are not necessarily defined in terms of any particular form of organization.

Yet another trifold distinction — and even Bismarck comes up

Another commenter who is generally supportive of TIMN — blogfriend L.C. Rees — tried to expand my historical horizons by bringing up the trifold nature of “classical republicanism” in ancient Greece, and then by noting Bismarck’s dedication to having a strong central state:
“Your discussion of balancing the forms reminded me of classical republicanism (res publica can be translated “the public thing” or “common wealth”) and the idea of the mixed constitution as advanced by Plato and popularized by Polybius where the orders or estates (generally the monarch, aristocracy, (upper end) commoners, with the priests sometimes having their own body) were ideally kept in balance. Some have wildly speculated that this three (or four) part division of society echoes the “primordial” structure of proto-Indo-European society:
“I’m reminded on the sharp divide between Otto von Bismarck and his advisors over the design of the first welfare state. Many of Bismarck’s advisors wanted to strengthen local charities and associations that already provided a proto-safety net in some parts of the newly reunified Germany. Bismarck wanted to create loyalty to the Second Reich by establishing a direct payment mechanism that linked worker to state. Bismarck won that debate.”
My reply: I’m leaving open a possibility that TIMN could yet turn out to be a three-fold system, if the +N part turns out to be a recasting of the ancient T part to suit our times. I gather some people on the Left would prefer that. But if so, then the +I and +M parts will get recast in the distant future too, in a kind of spiral, which those same people on the Left would not appreciate. But for now, I’m sticking with the four-part view I have, and shoving the above possibility into occasional footnotes.

The point about Bismarck is interesting. But it also reminds me that I’m remiss, and may always be, at bringing historical examples into play in the elaboration of TIMN — much as I appreciate having the examples pointed out.

After this exchange, he sent some clarifications that were further in support of TIMN, but also showed how complicated its application to history might become:
"Just to clarify, my remarks are not an endorsement of the triform form of the theory (TIM?). I find the quadriform version a better balance ...
"Networks may have features that they strongly share with tribes but each of the four forms share characteristics with the others and in reality are hopelessly intermixed. But examining networks as a distinct manifestation of human society seems to me to be a more promising approach.
"... classical republicanism and the "trifunctional hypothesis" (the latter being psuedoscience), were examples of overall societal balancing in general but not specifically of TIMNish balancing since most of the balancing bodies would be institutions (and their constituent tribes) balancing against other institutions (and their constituent tribes).
"The last example, that of Bismarck, was cited because it is clearly TIMNish in that Bismarck was explicitly trying to loosen local ties to other forms in favor of tightening the ties between individuals and a larger, less localized institution. It's not cleanly TIMNish though since the local ties Bismarck was trying to weaken could simultaneously be ties to local German tribes, institutions, markets, and even networks left over from before German unification."
He is not the only one who commented about the intermixing of forms, and about leaders trying to balance institutional actors that depend on embedded tribal actors.

Penetrations of one form by another

Another information-age strategist figured, in keeping with a newspaper report, that efforts at nation-building in the Palestinian city Jenin provided “an interesting example of how the TIMN forms interact; and in this case, I think the best word to characterize the interaction is "interpenetration." ... Notice that clan/criminal relationships operated inside of the formal hierarchical “I” structure of the Palestinian Authority; I think this is quite a different relationship than the types of “I” - “T” interactions we discussed at the Forum.”

My response: What’s reported in the article looks like standard TIMN dynamics to me, as I understand them. This case is about the persistence of the tribal/clan form and its dynamics in ways that hinder the proper professional construction and performance of state (and other hierarchical) institutions. It’s going on all over the place still. (And Washington is reverting too.)

Though I may misread, “interpenetration” is mentioned as though it might be a difficulty for TIMN. Not at all. Some interpenetration is bound to occur; it should be manageable, and may even be helpful (e.g., old-boy networks, when positive). The Jenin case looks like it amounts to excessive penetration (not really interpenetration?) by clan actors into the efforts to build a modern institutional field. It used to be the case in Europe too, centuries ago. Getting the institutional form right is hard work and takes ages.

On a broader note, this kind of situation helps explain why I remain cautious and dubious about so many U.S. efforts to advance liberal democracy around the world. Our narrative, if not our strategy, is designed around modern notions about economic development and related matters, but we seem to lack clear emphatic ways to grasp and address the persistence of tribal / clan actors in settings where their power is embedded. Moreover, we often call them criminals (and many indeed are), but in their view they are not at all criminals — they’re just doing things in their customary patrimonial corporatist ways.

TIMN as implying various types of leadership

Elsewhere, I heard that participants at a Highlands Forum session where the TIMN video was shown raised issues about its implications for leadership. One participant wondered whether different kinds of leadership might correspond to the different TIMN forms, adding that, even though leaders may prefer a networked type of leadership in some contexts, it may still be necessary to use an old-fashioned hierarchical form, if only so people know leadership is occurring. Another participant proposed that all leaders — perhaps especially in Asia with its heterogeneous peoples — may have to dig back into tribal leadership styles in many situations. Yet another participant questioned how leaders are chosen under each of the TIMN forms.

Again, while I was not there, I think these are all worthy points that cut across all four TIMN forms. Yes, each form does imply a different kind of leadership. (And in light of comments above, I can sense new questions about how tribal and network styles of leadership — not to mention followership — may differ.) Such points often arise in regard to modern management models and schemes, some of which I have discussed in a prior blog post (here). That such points arise in connection with TIMN too is, in my view, to its credit. I’ve even mused at times that TIMN could be turned into a kind of management consulting device that’d be just as sound as some established schemes. But going in that direction is not for me; I’d rather stick with trying to be a theorist.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Q’s & A’s about “TIMN in 20 minutes” (1st of 7): TIMN as a set of narratives

My video presentation “TIMN in 20 minutes” (located here and here) prompted a range of comments and questions, mostly via email but also at a few blogs and other sites. This post assembles those comments and my replies, as a way to keep advancing TIMN.

Here’s a list of blogs and other sites that showed interest in the video:
Highlands Forum (h/t Dick O’Neill)

The P2P Foundation (h/t Michel Bauwens)

Spinuzzi (h/t Clay Spinuzzi)

ZenPundit (h/t Charles Cameron)

Intercontinental Cry (h/t Jay Taber)

Contrary Brin (h/t David Brin)

The Challenge Network

Harold Jarche (and again)

Thinking and Learning in the Digital Age

Gael Van Weyenbergh (aka stroombank)

Charles van der Haegen

Chemoton & Vitorino Ramos’ research notebook
KeySo Global Blog
Ann Pendleton-Jullian at TEDxGeorgetown

This series of posts about the video does not cover all discussions I heard about. In particular, I missed a discussion at the Facebook site of The P2P foundation, because I’ve avoided joining Facebook. The overlaps between TIMN and P2P theory, as well as some differences between them, are so pronounced (as noted at the end of a prior blog post here) that I’ll hope to say more about them in the future. Meanwhile, if I missed any other discussions, please inform me.

After collating the comments, I felt they could be arranged thematically into seven parts for this series of posts, as follows:
1. TIMN as a set of narratives

2. Nature of the forms and their relationships

3. Past, present, and future of democracy

4. Creation of a new sector?

5. Significance of information technology

6. Space-time-action aspects

7. Toward a mathematics of TIMN?

In some instances, my replies at the time are reprinted verbatim here, but in other instances I’ve modified my reply a bit, usually to cut excess verbiage, or to expand and clarify further. In all instances, the comments and my replies should be regarded as rough drafts. Indeed, some of the commenters might have written their comments differently if they’d known in advance that I’d be putting them in a blog post. I might have done so with my initial replies as well.

As for identifying the commenters, I will have to feel my way as this blog posting progresses. I will clear in advance whether they are willing to be identified by name, or prefer anonymity. If the latter, I will hope they at least approve my including the content of their comments here. While most comments are from personal emails, a few were made anonymously at a Highlands Forum conference I could not attend, but I heard about them afterwards and am able to reference their content here (h/t Dick O’Neill).

Finally, here’s another caveat: In some instances I do not make a full effort to reply to a question or comment. But I do make a full effort to display the question or comment. That’s partly because I think it is more important to show the questions than to assert my answers about TIMN. Over the long run, TIMN’s vitality and prospects may well depend more on the nature of the questions it prompts than on the lucidity of my answers at this time.

TIMN as a set of strategic narratives

An expert on strategic narratives — Amy Zalman — “wondered whether there are particular narrative forms that might be associated with each” TIMN form. She even speculated that the possibilities extended into “different ways of telling” whereby different art forms might be used to express different TIMN forms.

I replied: Yes, I’ve long thought that TIMN can be viewed as a strategic narrative. The whole thing can be treated as a strategic narrative, and so can each form by itself. TIMN thus becomes a narrative that’s not only about the past and future; it can also be used to support other current narratives (e.g., about the wisdom of developing proper market systems), as well as to assail and undercut still other narratives (e.g., extremist religious narratives that seem more about virulent tribalism than true religion).

I’ll just mention some points I conveyed, sketchily, all preceded by “in my view”:
Tribal narratives are mostly about the origin and nature of a people, their identity and place. Tribal narratives tend to emphasize how to live in mutual solidarity, with honor, pride, respect, and dignity. They demonize outsiders who tread and dishonor.

Institutional narratives tend to be about order and hierarchy, why they exist (e.g., God and King), why people should abide and obey.

Market narratives recognize the value of the individual and his/her rights to pursue opportunities and develop capabilities. Freedom becomes key. Competition is valued. It’s not that the tribal and institutional forms fail to “explain the self”, but rather that the rise of the market form helps enable a new kind of explanation.

Network narratives go even farther to value the self, and to allow for augmenting the self. They also recognize “collective individualism” (or “networked individualism”). At the same time, the current crop of network narratives seem to be more about how networks may serve to modify and/or counter narratives associated with the preceding forms. It’s still far from clear what a mature network narrative will look like. It’s early for that.
To that, I added a comment about religious narratives: There are lots of expressions that reflect the tribal form, including many sects. The Papacy epitomizes the hierarchical institutional form; Protestantism the market form. I’m not sure about what religious expressions go with the network form yet, but I hope it’s more than the new-age stuff, and eventually becomes something more ecumenical, associative, and combinatorial.

As for artistic expressions that might attend each form, our exchange was too brief to be conclusive. Associating heroic poetry and folk music with the tribal form seemed to make sense, as did associating classical masses with the institutional form, jazz and rock-and-roll with the market form, and perhaps ambient electronica with the network form (à la Brian Eno’s music). But we remained uncertain about where to place the novel and the symphony. In any case, our exchange implied that it might well be interesting to consider how various art forms do (or do not) reflect the roles of TIMN forms in particular times and cultures. (And I might add, although I did not say so in our exchange, I wondered some years ago about proposing to an art museum to do a study about the historical evolution of painting from a TIMN perspective.)

Elsewhere, at a Highlands Forum session I was unable to attend, she observed that narratives represent a kind of power, including about how life should be regulated. Quite so, I’d say. What I’d add now is that, important as narratives are about each TIMN form, TIMN also implies narratives about relations among the forms — in the case of advanced societies, narratives about taking all the forms into account, elevating their bright sides over their dark sides, making all four work together, keeping them in balance, recognizing not only the strengths but also the limits of each form, and realizing that proper regulation is essential, including via regulatory interfaces. In other words, it seems to me, TIMN implies the kinds of narrative lines that get abused every day by political ideologues on Fox News, as well as by religious extremists in the Middle East, who seek to purify, polarize, and tribalize in ways that violate TIMN’s relational principles.

TIMN’s implications for diplomacy and “soft power”

After viewing the video, a diplomatic historian — Alan Henrikson — wondered “what this might mean for the understanding of Diplomacy, which now seems to operate in all four domains simultaneously. Even in the tribal, in some parts of the world.” As a result, “Diplomacy is a very difficult subject to teach now.” He mused whether TIMN’s “concepts are much clearer, more structured, and deeper than concepts(?) such as “soft power” or “smart power.” Those terms, in my view, conceal rather than reveal.”

Much as I agreed with his points, and much as I’ve long had my own critique of the “soft power” concept, I refrained from saying much at the time. But then I spotted a critique that Amy Zalman had just posted online (here). It was not about TIMN, but it prompted me to revisit points I’d wanted to make since first hearing from Henrikson.

So I noted the following: The “soft-power” concept deserves critical review, the “smart-power” concept even more so. I have had major reservations about how soft power has been defined — it is too identified with being attractive, benignly so, when in fact it may (and sometimes should) be used to shun or repel or deceive. Yet, that definitional matter ought to be correctable. What I find more objectionable is “smart power” — it’s just a clever stand-in for sound strategy, not a new way to think about power, for sound strategy has always combined hard and soft elements. It’s fine to ask what would be a smart strategy or a smart way to use power; but the term “smart power” is pretentious hype, if not bogus.

As you indicate, analysis of the shifting nature of power should include something about narratives — narrative or narrational power. When what’s being fought over are resources, colonies, routes, and other hard geopolitical stuff, hard power and realpolitik may matter most. But when religion, ideology, and culture are at stake, when lots of people must be influenced, when media play a big role, and when efforts revolve around who can relate to whom, then soft power (and “noopolitik” — whose story wins) may matter decisively. As you emphasize, it’s the mix that may matter most; soft and hard power are not as inseparable as touted.

Thus struggles for power become struggles involving competing narratives. And I have a criticism to offer about how these get framed. Standard discussions about narratives and counter-narratives repeatedly claim that Al Qaeda (or some other protagonist) has an effective narrative, and that we must come up with a better counter-narrative. This is ahistorical analysis that misses a key point: what is said to be AQ’s narrative is in fact its counter-narrative, reacting to the narratives that Western powers used to gain positions in the Middle East long ago. Many so-called narratives may actually already be counter-narratives, at least in part. So, what we need is not so much a counter-narrative, but a corrected narrative. I suppose I’m arguing a somewhat fine point, but I still think something is amiss with the narrative / counter-narrative frame as it has been presented so far.

While I did not mention TIMN in these remarks, it was always in the back of my mind. In my view, TIMN not only has correct narrative lines embedded in it; it also offers a way — potentially a methodology, even a forensic narratology — for deconstructing and reassessing rival narratives.