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.

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