Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Making the case for STA:C — #3: insightful quotes about the significance of people’s space, time, and/or action orientations for society and culture

[UDATED Dec 2, to add quote from Edward T. Hall about time.]

Over my years of wondering about STA:C, I’ve collected various scholarly quotes that speak to the elements and ideas behind STA:C. I’m posting a selection here, for they may help convey and clarify STA:C for some readers. Besides, I like reading them again too.

These quotes are mostly pitched at big-think sociological, epistemological, and historical levels. The individual psychological level is equally important, and I hope to provide quotes about it as well someday.

ON SPACE: These three quotes — from Henri Lefebvre, Michel Foucault, and Manuel Castells — speak to the importance of space constructs from sociological standpoints; they help show why postmodern neo-Marxist sociology engaged in the so-called “turn to space”:
• “[E]very society — and hence every mode of production with its subvariants (i.e. all those societies which exemplify the general concept) — produces a space, it's own space. … “The ‘object’ of interest must be expected to shift from things in space to the actual production of space.” (Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, [1974] 1991, pp. 31, 37)

• “The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of simultaneity; we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. … when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersections with its own skein.” (Michel Foucault, “Of Other Space,” in Diacritics, Spring 1986, p. 24)

• “I shall then synthesize the observed tendencies under a new spatial logic that I label space of flows. I shall oppose to such logic the historically rooted spatial organization of our common experience: the space of places.” (Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society, 1996, p. 378)

ON TIME: Here are five quotes about the sociological significance of time orientations — one each from Karl Mannheim, Florence Kluckhon, Fred Polak, Edward T. Hall, and Georges Gurvitch:
• “[T]he innermost structure of the mentality of a group can never be as clearly grasped as when we attempt to understand its conception of time in the light of its hopes, yearning, and purposes. On the basis of these purposes and expectations, a given mentality orders not merely future events, but also the past.” (Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia, 1936, p. 209)

• “Obviously all societies at all times must cope with all three time problems; all must have their conceptions of the Past, the Present, and the Future. Where societies differ is in the rank-order emphasis they give to each, and a very great deal can be told about the particular society being studied, much about the direction of change within it can be predicted, if one knows what that rank order is. Spengler, greatly impressed by the significance of the time orientation, made this statement in his Decline of the West: ‘It is by the meaning that it intuitively attaches to time that one culture is differentiated from another.’” (Florence Kluckhohn, “Some Reflections on the nature of cultural integration and change,” in Tiryakian, ed., 1963, p. 224)

• “[Man's] image of the future is his propelling power. … [T]he rise and fall of images of the future precedes or accompanies the rise and fall of cultures. As long as a society's image is positive and flourishing, the flower of culture is in full bloom. Once the image begins to decay and lose its vitality, however, the culture does not long survive.” (Fred Polak, The Image of the Future, [1955] 1973, p. 5, 19)

• “While we look to the future, our view of it is limited. The future to us is the foreseeable future, not the future of the South Asian that may involve centuries. Indeed, our perspective is so short as to inhibit the operation of a good many practical projects, such as sixty- and one-hundred-year conservation works requiring public support and public funds. Anyone who has worked in industry or in government of the United States has heard the following: "Gentlemen, this is for the long term! Five or ten years." (Edward T. Hall, The Silent Language, 1959, p. 30)

• “Finally, as the eighth and last kind [in his typology] I shall point out explosive time, which dissolves the present as well as the past in the creation of the future immediately transcended. … Such a time is that of collective acts of creation which always play some role in social life but which arise from beneath the surface and become open and dominant during revolutions. … When it is real, explosive time places the global and partial social structures before complicated dilemmas, for it carries the maximum risk and demands the maximum effort to overcome it.” (Georges Gurvitch, “Social Structure and the Multiplicity of Times,” in Tiryakian, ed., 1963, p. 178)

ON ACTION: That people have power to affect things, that progress is feasible, that social action can work — that human agency and efficacy matter — is a separate belief, dependent on but not derived from space-time beliefs. This point shines in the following two quotes — one from Leonard Doob, the other from Alberto Bandura:
• “Basic to all such thinking …. must also be the belief that men themselves — not their ancestors, not fate, not nature, not other men — are able to control their own destinies. … for men everywhere are not likely to seek change unless they believe that change is possible.” (Leonard Doob, Becoming More Civilized, 1960, p. ?)

• “This change in human self-conception and the view of life from supernatural control to personal control ushered in a major shift in causal thinking, and the new enlightenment rapidly expanded the exercise of human power over more and more domains.” (Alberto Bandura, Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, 1997, p. 1)

ON SPACE AND TIME TOGETHER: Of the three STA:C orientations, space and time are the two that usually get discussed in combination. The following quotes — from Emile Durkheim, Lewis Mumford, and Daniel Boorstin — exemplify this:
• “If men … did not have the same conception of time, space, cause, number, etc., all contact between their minds would be impossible, and with that, all life together.” (Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, 1915, p. 17)

• “[N]o two cultures live conceptually in the same kind of time and space. … [E]ach culture believes that every other kind of space and time is an approximation to or perversion of the real space and time in which it lives.” (Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization, 1932, p. 18)

• “[T]he compass provided a worldwide absolute for space comparable to that which the mechanical clock and the uniform hour provided for time. … When you moved any great distance from your home out into the uncharted great oceans, you could not know precisely where you were unless you had a way of finding precisely when you were.” (Daniel Boorstin, The Discoverers, 1983, pp. 219-220)

ON SPACE, TIME, AND ACTION AS A TRIPLEX: Finally, as intimations of STA:C, here are several revelatory quotes — one from Sheldon Wolin, the next from Bruno Latour, and a hint from Rob Shields — that partially imply treating space-time-action as a triad.
• “Every political theory that has aimed at a measure of comprehensiveness has adopted some implicit or explicit proposition about “time,” “space,” “reality,” or “energy.” Although most of these are the traditional categories of metaphysicians, the political theorist does not state his propositions or formulate his concepts in the same manner as a metaphysician. … Rather, the political theorist has used synonyms; instead of political space he may have written about the city, the state, or the nation; instead of time, he may have referred to history or tradition; instead of energy, he may have spoken about power. The complex of these categories we can call a political metaphysic.” (From Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision, 1960, pp. 15-16)

• “Fourth, to talk like the semioticians, there is always simultaneously at work in each account, a shift in space, a shift in time, and a shift in actor or actant, the last of these always forgotten in philosophical or psychological discussions. … We should not speak of time, space, and actant but rather of temporalization, spatialization, actantialization (the words are horrible) or, more elegantly of timing, spacing, acting.” (From Bruno Latour, “Trains of Thought: Piaget, Formalism, and The Fifth Dimension,” in Common Knowledge, Winter 1997, pp. 178–9)

• “Yet conceptions such as space and time are intrinsic to the intellectual ordering of our lives and our everyday notions of causality and with it, agency.” (From Rob Shields, “Genealogies of social space,” in lo Squaderno, no. 39, March 2016, p. 9.)

If you’ve read this far, I’d like to you to know that it will be a while before post #4 is ready. It’s a longish briefing-style post, nearly finished, about how people’s space-time-action perspectives have long been studied in academia and elsewhere, and how they should be studied according to STA:C.


[Posted on both my Google blogspot and Facebook page today.]

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Making a case for STA:C — #2: more about the elements of space-time-action analysis

As I noted in post #1 in this series, cognitive orientations toward space, time, and action — all three — are essential for the mind to work in ways that amount to consciousness. A quasi-“module” — a cognitive nexus — consisting of the three takes shape during childhood and is permanently operative from then on. No mind can work without this module, and most everything people think and do gets processed in and through it. It amounts to requisite cognitive knowledge, because space-time-action orientations lie behind much (all?) human awareness and deliberation, even shaping the directions in which a society’s culture goes.

What follows is a little more elaboration, though still quite sketchy, about each element than I provided in post #1 in this series. More points will be added in future elaborations. And I shall increasingly wonder and question why key scholars and other specialists on each of these elements — be they anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, cognitive scientists, social theorists, cultural historians, whatever — have not yet seen fit to recognize and study them as an interlaced triplex.


Again, this refers to basic beliefs about the identity and significance of actors and other objects in one’s environment, their size and distribution, and their connections and relations. Some spatial orientations, the earliest to form in a child, may concern what lies concentrically outward from the individual, near to far. This includes making distinctions about one’s self, one’s environment, what lies beyond that one can project into, all the way outward to what is recognized as the world at large. Other orientations may entail distinctions about zones, sectors, domains, and realms that different peoples and societies establish — e.g., between mine and yours, us and them, personal and collective, public and private, sacred and secular, state and market, local and global — and about the boundaries, barriers, paths, connections, flows, and influences that exist within and among them. Space orientations may also be about the structure of a system or organization. For example, social space may assume a different shape and significance in a tribal setting where kinship ties and patronage are of paramount concern, compared to an institutional setting where impersonal values and norms and a sense of hierarchy are supposed to prevail.


This refers to basic assumptions and beliefs about the nature of time, especially relations among the past, the present, and the future. They too take shape in childhood, as one acquires a sense of how fast (tempo) and how long (duration) time seems to flow, and how to distinguish and relate past memories and future expectations. As people develop goals and visions, they express orientations about the past, present, and especially the future. How (even whether) people break time into past, present, and future; whether they live mainly in terms of the past, present, or future; and what they see as the horizons and connections, the continuities and discontinuities, among them — these are some basic questions about time orientations. Whether time’s flow seems cyclical, spelling an eternal return, or linear, allowing for open-ended change and progress, are ideas that have shaped entire eras and cultures. Extreme ideas that a new millennium will emerge if the present order is annihilated have defined the perspectives of apocalyptic groups. Also, views may develop that different spaces (e.g., sacred and secular, or home and office) entail different time orientations, not to mention different action orientations.


Many studies of space and/or time orientations lead to implications for action. But the action orientation is not simply a consequence of the other two; it is an equal and separate element that, like the other two, emerges and takes its own course during childhood. It refers to the basic beliefs that people hold about whether and how they can affect and perhaps alter their (space-time) environment, what instruments and alternatives they have for doing so, and what are deemed proper actions — in short, this orientation reflects people's notions about cause-effect and ends-means relations. Perhaps, in particular situations, they cannot be fully abstracted from space and time orientations. Yet, this is a distinct realm of cognition about the abilities and prospects — the power, efficacy, free will, capacity for choice — that an actor thinks he or she has for affecting a situation, independently of one’s space and time orientations. For example, the action orientation may get at differences between two actors who share similar hopes about the future and critiques of the present, but differ over whether and how a system can be changed and their hopes attained, perhaps because they differ as to what actions are legitimate, or because one feels a sense of power and the other does not. Social action orientations are thus about a concern that often arises in philosophy and anthropology: whether people can master and guide their destiny, or whether they are subject to an inevitable, even preordained place and fate about which they can do little to nothing — indeed, whether one's life is the stuff of lawful or random forces.


Vast literatures exist on each orientation; there is nothing novel about urging inquiry into any one of them. My point is that all three are essential, indeed elemental, and that together they form a foundational cognitive bundle in the mind. Deliberate, purposeful behavior requires the existence of explicit space-time-action orientations. That is how our minds work. Thus the three should be studied together, as a triad, or triplex — not singly and separately, as is long the conventional case throughout compartmentalized academia.

While the three orientations exist separately, in some kind of balance, they also appear to coexist and interrelate in ways that have barely been studied. Many varied combinations are possible. But there appear to be some general dynamics.

I’ve barely begun to discern what these may be, but I’d mention noticing the following, tentatively.

Minds that are orderly, and intent on being orderly, in one dimension may tend to be orderly in the others as well. Such minds may work on restoring order if a cognitive disturbance occurs. Thus, a mind that prefers to focus far more on the future than on the past or present, or far more on the self than on the world at large, may prove difficult to shift away from that focus, even if (or unless) something extraordinary occurs.

However, if orientations along one dimension do shift sharply, this may induce a shift in one or both of the other dimensions. For example, a rising sense of powerlessness may have adverse effects on one's future aspirations. Or a sudden expansion of spatial horizons, as may occur when a teenager moves from a small-town high school to a big-city university, may unsettle and wow his or her sense of possibilities along all three dimensions, inducing an availability for radicalization.

Major shifts across all three cognitive elements may be required for conversion to an entirely new mindset or ideology. But this is not an everyday experience; many mindsets seem able to endure a sharp shift in one dimension — e.g., from optimism to pessimism about the future — without being fundamentally dislodged along the other two dimensions.

Anyway, these are just some preliminary observations about possible general dynamics from a STA:C perspective. There are surely many more and better ones to discern, assuming the STA:C framework is fully developed.


If I’m right about STA:C, then eventually the kind of analysis it implies might benefit from having a distinctive name. There’s no rush on this, but here are some preliminary notions:

I’ve been inclined for years to call the analysis of this cognitive triplex “mindframe analysis” or “mindfield analysis.” I first used the former term in 1994. The latter is a sensible term too, but there are better precedents for “mindframe analysis.”

In particular, the term “mindframe analysis” echoes the practice of referring to a person’s “frame of mind.” It harmonizes with Erving Goffman’s (1974) notion of “frame analysis” for looking into how people mentally organize their sense of experience (though his unclear notion says very little about space-time-action orientations). And it resonates with the fact that artificial intelligence (AI) researchers sometimes speak about resolving “the frame problem” so that robots can acquire the “common sense” to sort one item from another, or one situation from another. (I’d speculate that AIs cannot acquire consciousness unless space-time-action cognitions are embedded in them.)

Another alternative is the established term “mindset analysis” — but it has such broad usage it seems less susceptible to being pinned down for STA:C. Analyses of people’s “cosmologies,” “worldviews,” and “operational codes” often have details about people’s space, time, and/or action orientations — but usually in a partial kind of way, mixed up with other attributes. So those terms are not quite appropriate either.

Thus, I may refer at times to mindframe analysis (or mindfield analysis) as my approach to studying people’s space-time-action orientations in the context of trying to build the STA:C framework. As such, mindframe analysis should aim both to dissect the trifold bundle and to assess the whole. By discerning what is going on in the bundle — its elements, and as a whole — an analyst may better understand and anticipate what a person is likely to think and do. Analysts often use standard ideological or psychological approaches for this — e.g., by claiming that a subject corresponds ideologically to a liberal, a conservative, an anarchist, or a fundamentalist, or psychologically to a narcissist, a paranoid, an avenger, or a thrill-seeker. A sound effort at STA:C-based mindframe analysis should enable analysts to improve upon those standard approaches.

[Side comment: Ahem, I wrote most of the above about the term “mindframe analysis” in 2009. It’s still okay. But lately I’ve come up with what may be a better term, “triplex cognition analysis”, as I will elaborate in post #4 in this series. Just letting you know.]


The STA:C module lies behind not only how individual minds think, but also how cultures work and historical eras differ. Some major ideas — like the epochal shift from believing in fate to believing in progress — owe to shifts in the underlying space-time-action beliefs that comprise this module. Entire cultures and civilizations are defined in part by how they mold people’s minds in these three domains of cognitive knowledge. More on that later.

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For an earlier version of this post, go here:

[I posted an abbreviated version of this post on my Facebook page, on Nov 29.]

Monday, November 27, 2017

Making a case for STA:C — #1: Why I’m interested in people’s space-time-action perspectives & their significance for cognition and culture

Imagine anybody and everybody — all kinds of people who have all kinds of beliefs about all kinds of matters. Next, imagine stripping away their high-level ideologies, values, norms, and everyday beliefs, until you get down to their most basic notions that still amount to perceptive cognition about how the world around them looks and works. Stop there, before descending into a quivering mess of raw emotions, impulses, and instincts.

What's there, I contend, is an assemblage — metaphorically, a kind of layer or module — in the mind that consists of people's basic orientations (assumptions, perspectives, perceptions, beliefs) about the nature of social space, social time, and social action. Briefly, by space I refer to how people see their identity positioned in relation to others, and how they perceive other subjects and objects, near and far — how they perceive all this as being structured, arrayed, linked. By time, I refer to how people discern and prioritize the past, present, and future, and what content they give to the past, present, and future. By action, I mean a sense of agency, of efficacy — whether and how people think they can affect matters around them.

In short, how people think and behave depends on the kinds of deep-down space-time-action perspectives they have — not just any one but all three, as a kind of requisite triplex. All three orientations — space, time, and action — are essential for the mind to work in ways that represent social consciousness. A kind of “module” consisting of the three takes shape during infancy and childhood. It's permanently there from then on. No mind can work without it, and most everything people think and do gets processed in and through it. It amounts to requisite cognitive knowledge, because space-time-action orientations lie behind much — all? — human awareness and deliberation.


This idea about how people think — about how a bundle of space-time-action cognitions underlies their thinking — seized me like a personal epiphany during a pensive nap fifty years ago (1966 or 1967). I was in graduate school and had fretted for weeks at my inability to understand a professor’s impressive lectures about the nature of time and its place in political philosophy, with references to Henri Bergson, Immanuel Kant, Karl Mannheim, Sheldon Wolin, and others whose names I’ve forgotten. I was gripped with interest, but flummoxed by despair.

What finally unfolded to me during this nap was that, yes, thinking is based on beliefs about time, but it requires beliefs about space as well. Furthermore, space and time orientations alone are not sufficient for full-fledged cognition of the world. The mind also revolves around an action or agency orientation — a sense of whether and what a person can and cannot affect in the world — and this action orientation is separate from the space and time senses. In sum, our space, time, and action senses are the cardinal elements of cognition, and beyond that, of culture and philosophy; and they should be recognized and studied as an interlaced triplex.

What a simple compelling idea. I wasn’t sure whether it was an entirely new idea (it wasn’t). And it arrived too late to help me with that professor’s class. But it gave me an excited initial conceptual grip on … well, on something

Back then, as a graduate student, I was interested in why people rebel — hey, it was the late 1960s — and I thought that analyzing space-time-action perceptions might be a revealing way to study that. It might even work better than a then-leading explanation, “relative deprivation,” which focused mostly on future expectations, a time orientation. So I proposed to develop the space-time-action idea through dissertation research on peasant unrest in Mexico. However, the people I found for my case study did not like being asked structured questions about their space-time-action orientations. They just wanted to tell me their stories, without interruptions, about why there was so much unrest in their area. So I had to put my idea aside, in favor of doing a more historical, conventional, much less theoretical dissertation.


After that, through with school and intent on fashioning a professional research career, I kept up my hopes for developing the idea. I persistently collected writings that related to it. I made a few wayward efforts to field it in RAND research projects on terrorism. I wrote a few pages outlining it in a RAND study about a dangerous leadership mentality that exhibits a unique set of space-time-action orientations — The Hubris-Nemesis Complex (1994). And I kept making notes and drafting sections for an eventual full write-up. But mostly I dithered while I kept my work focused on other interesting ideas at RAND that stemmed more from TIMN than STA:C.

In my view, STA:C is an easier simpler idea and framework to grasp than is TIMN. STA:C may even be a better idea than TIMN. But shifting to focus on it would have to wait until I retired and turned to blogging.


A lot has happened around the idea these past five decades. Space, time, and action (agency) have each become increasingly prominent concepts in different parts of academia. A new generation of postmodernists in sociology made the “turn to space” for theorizing in new (mostly Marxist?) ways about the nature of society. Seasoned social theorists who better reflect social-science traditions (such as Anthony Giddens and Manuel Castells), along with cutting-edge psychologists, cognitive scientists, and linguists who study how our minds work (e.g., Philip Zimbardo, Steven Pinker, George Lakoff) all provided new takes and insights about space, time, and sometimes space-time perspectives. Journals and blogs also appeared about Society and Space, Space and Culture, and Time & Society. Elsewhere, psychologist Alberto Bandura has advanced the study of social agency and efficacy in ways that related to STA:C’s action element. Indeed, if I were to start elaborating about all these developments, adding more names and numerous quotes, this section would go on for pages.

Along the way, globalization and the information revolution — above all, the growth of the Internet and the Web — have prompted endless commentary from business, government, military, media, civil-society, and academic research leaders about how people’s orientations to social space, time, and action are being altered. Terrorism in particular has jarred people’s space, time, and action perceptions, leading to a plethora of new writings.

Yet, despite all this new thinking, no one else has yet turned to study space, time, and action orientations the way I saw them — as a trifold complex. This is both a surprise and a relief. It means I still have an opportunity (stand a chance) to advance the idea. Yet it may also mean there is some strange resistance to the idea — say because of entrenched specialization or credentialist dynamics in academia — or something else I don’t understand. I can’t tell yet. Onward, anyway!


I’d say all this provides new grist for the STA:C idea. The literatures about its three elements, and the potential audiences for it, have burgeoned. Besides, I believe STA:C can add value, for it insists on the trifold nature of this module in the mind. Most theorists keep focusing on the significance of people’s space OR time concepts, a few on the dual significance of space-time (or time-space) perceptions, and fewer still on the action / agency element. I rarely find a writing that starts to engage all three elements as a bundle. Yet it seems obvious to me that is the way to go. So I must persist, if only to release myself from the lingering spell of that long-ago nap.

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[Identical version posted on my Facebook page today, Nov 27.]

For the original, shorter version of this post, go here: 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Readings about tribes and tribalism — #20: David Brin’s “Our tribal natures, the 'fear effect' and the end of ideologies” (2006)

Until now, all readings in this off-and-on (lately, muddlingly off) series have derived entirely from my interest in TIMN. This reading relates more to the other theoretical framework that interests me — the one about people’s space, time, action orientations and their importance in shaping cognition and culture (acronym STA:C).

In working on STA:C, I’ve noticed that people's space-time-action orientations often get assembled into particular views about “boundaries” and “horizons”. Furthermore, sensitivities about boundaries — about identifying, respecting, and defending boundaries — seem to characterize conservative far more than liberal / progressive thinking. Conservatism seems fundamentally concerned with boundaries of all sorts, especially traditional boundaries, while liberalism and progressivism seem oriented more toward horizons, especially new horizons. Indeed, if a policy or principle is not based on some sense of boundaries, it is questionably conservative.

While I’ve yet to do much with this observation — just a couple blog posts a few years ago — it explains my interest in today’s reading: futurist David Brin’s “Our tribal natures, the 'fear effect' and the end of ideologies” (2006). It’s an old but still-stimulating still-relevant post about how people’s sense of “horizons”, and to a lesser extent “boundaries”, figures in shaping their “tribalism” (and vice-versa).


Brin starts by identifying “tribalism as a deeply motivating force in history” that extends from ancient tribal through modern civilized societies. He is dismayed (as am I) that few social theorists have noticed tribalism’s importance, instead preferring to dwell on other social forces. Yet, wherever “devotion to a group, clan, or nation, has overwhelmed what might otherwise have seemed to be the individual's self-interest”, that’s where tribalism takes hold, deserving recognition from analysts as both cause and consequence.

Thus, Brin writes:
“In fact, while the models of Freud, Marx, and Machiavelli (also Madison, Keynes, Ghandi etc.) have attracted legions of followers, clearly influencing sociological, historical and psychological events, I believe a much stronger case can be made for tribalism as a deeply motivating force in history. After all, should not any theoretical explanation of our nature apply across the long span of time when human nature actually formed? Also, if you can find a pattern or patterns that seem to have held across all continents and almost all pre-metal tribes, isn’t there a much better chance that the trait really is natural? That it is not an artifact of later cultural imposition by contrived societies? …
“So, what might tribalism tell us about human nature, that was missed by Marx and Freud and Rand and all the others, with their post-literacy myopia? What traits seem to be shared BOTH by tribal and “civilized” societies? Are there any deep, ongoing themes?

“Over and over, we see how devotion to a group, clan, or nation, has overwhelmed what might otherwise have seemed to be the individual's self-interest. Nor should this be surprising, since, for most of the last million years, human beings lived in clans. Any man or woman who lost the faith and confidence of his or her tribe was in great danger. Often effectively dead.”


Brin’s theme is that people’s “ambient fear level” is what drives them to cluster into tribes. The higher the fear level, the more people cling to their fellow tribal loyals close to home. The more the fear level declines, the more people become willing to broaden their “tribal boundaries”, even to include strangers. Thus his contention is that there is an “inverse correlation between ambient fear levels and the distance … of the “horizons” maintained by average members of a given culture.”

In his words:
“Human beings can be very flexible defining what is "my tribe." More often than not, the major determining factor is fear.

“When the ambient fear level is high, as in civil war-riven Lebanon, loyalties are kept close to home. Me against my brother. My brother and me against our cousins. We and our cousins against the world. Alliances merge and are broken quickly, along a sliding scale that appears to be remarkably consistent.

“The general trend seems to be this: the lower the ambient fear level declines, the more broadly a human being appears willing to define those tribal boundaries, and the more generous he or she is willing to be toward the stranger. …

“My contention is simple, that there exists an inverse correlation between ambient fear levels and the distance — in terms of space, time and kinship — of the “horizons” maintained by average members of a given culture.”


Brin identifies three kinds of horizons that matter to fearful people: a threat-related “worry horizon”, a future-oriented “time horizon”, and an “otherness horizon” that also correspond to an inclusion horizon “since it is partly about deciding how many people you want to deal with as worthy negotiating partners, and where you draw the line, calling others foes.” The three horizons constantly expand and contract for various reasons, but overall, Brin stresses, they “seem to depend most upon the ambient level of fear.”

In his words:
“1) There is a "Worry Horizon" ... what threats concern you and your neighbors …

“2) There is also a “Time Horizon” having to do with how far into the future you devote your attention … either in dealing with threats or seeking opportunities …

“3) Another horizon might be called the "Otherness Horizon” — where one looks not for danger but for opportunities, adventures, new allies, new mating partners. … This could also be called the “Horizon of Inclusion” since it is partly about deciding how many people you want to deal with as worthy negotiating partners, and where you draw the line, calling others foes.

“What seems clear, examining historical records and a broad range of cultures, is that all of these horizons expand and contract in the manner described above. … But overall, these horizons seem to depend most upon the ambient level of fear.”


Brin lauds America’s “unprecedented society” for having generated so much fear-alleviating prosperity that traditional tribal bonds could relax and allow ever-widening horizons and circles of inclusion. But lately, he says, many Americans have shifted away from inclusion, toward exclusion, hardening into the differences we see between “blue states” and “red states” on issue after issue. Thus, he concludes that his “model” about the movement of horizons (and boundaries) helps explain the growing red-blue differences and may be “the best one, yet … far better than any insipid “left-right political axis” or words such as “conservatism” and “liberalism.””

In his words:
“By these lights, most contemporary Americans live in an unprecedented society, where the vast majority of families have not known starvation or even significant want for so many generations that those kinds of fear are almost abstractions.

“This, in turn, has allowed traditional tribal bounds to relax and spread so far that "tolerance" and "otherness" are words of totemic power in this culture! Indeed, it is interesting to view the expanding circle of citizenship and inclusion as first the American colonies and then the Republic began experiencing unprecedented levels of prosperity and fear-reduction. The battles over inclusion that were fought in each generation (first against class division, then slavery, sexism, religious intolerance, racism...) tend to seem obvious to their children, who grow up within the newly-widened horizon set ... then wrestle with the next stage of the process. Continuing the widening of the circle.”
All to the good so far, but then matters took a turn, Brin observes:
“ … Certainly Timothy McVeigh had very different concepts of "inclusion horizons" than many of the fellow citizens he slew.

“Indeed, might one diagnose some recent phenomena in these terms? Why is it that citizens of New York and Washington DC — direct victims of 9/11 terrorism — remain utterly “blue state” in their fealty to expanded horizons — in time, threat and inclusion — while “red state” attitudes (perhaps oversimplifying) seem to draw closer in: e.g. higher enmity toward non-natives and immigrants, less concern about environmental degradation, more concern over “war” on terror, less interest in science and more in a pending end of the world?”

“Is this model the best one, yet, at explaining such differences? Certainly it is far better than any insipid “left-right political axis” or words such as “conservatism” and “liberalism.””


Brin says his readers should make “No mistake, I approve of this trend toward ever-widening horizons. … I am impatient for it to go much farther.” But he worries whether Americans can keep widening their horizons. More than that, he argues that the “doctrinaire left” is as “loopy” as the right in this regard, in that “One side [the right] resists the widening of horizons while the other [the left] would force it with a patronizing, oversimplifying sledge hammer.” But, for Brin, this is not, and should not be made into, a left-right matter. “Rather, this is about the true “liberal” notion of ever-increasing inclusion within the tent of human decency, while allowing a lot of give and negotiation and bickering and creative competition within the tent!.”

In his words:
“ … It is ironic, though, how few seem to realize that the new era of Omni-Inclusion is based upon prosperity and lack of fear brought on by prosperity, and that our morality of universal tolerance would have been considered terminally sappy and dangerous by every other culture in human history.

“This is — in my view — the deepest smug insanity of the left. Yes, the “right” obviously suffers from shorter horizons. That is their dire craziness. But the doctrinaire left is just as loopy. Because they take expanded horizons as a deeply fundamental ‘given’ of human morality. Like Rousseau, they simply ASSUME, as something basic, a value system that is actually extremely recent and entirely contingent. …

“On the other hand, if one takes history into account and cheerfully accepts the incremental progress that it portrays, then the Modernist Agenda of pragmatic improvement makes a great deal of sense. Face it. Rousseau was a sap. All of this is about Locke. The sooner the “wide-horizons” people realize it, the more effective they will be at pursuing their agenda, of widening horizons ever farther!

“In fact, this process of horizon-widening is not INTRINSICALLY a feature of the left ... though it is intrinsic to liberalism in the older and truer meaning of the word. It is utterly compatible with the four accountability arenas, for example (science, markets, democracy, courts... and the candidate for becoming a fifth arena – the internet. …

“Hence, once again, we see that this is not a matter best handled on a left-right basis. Both dogmatic extremes ignore history and are effectively quite mad! One side resists the widening of horizons while the other would force it with a patronizing, oversimplifying sledge hammer.

“Rather, this is about the true “liberal” notion of ever-increasing inclusion within the tent of human decency, while allowing a lot of give and negotiation and bickering and creative competition within the tent!

“The crucial issue is this — can the long process of expanding human horizons be studied in order to determine crucial narrow points and bottlenecks that inhibit horizon broadening, among both individuals and cultures?”


From STA:C and TIMN standpoints, I am delighted to see Brin recognize that the tribal form is essential and recurs all across history; that people’s orientations toward boundaries and horizons are central to their political (including tribal) views; that conservative thinking tends to be associated more with tight boundaries, liberal thinking more with loose horizons; and that perceptual fluctuations in either boundaries or horizons may cause changes in the other.

Yet, I have two tentative criticisms of his write-up:

(1) It essentially advises conservatives to expand their horizons, when they might be equally-well advised to reconsider their sense of boundaries. How people think about horizons and boundaries should be analyzed and addressed jointly — or so I’m supposing today.

(2) When I first started to read David’s post, I was ready to note that he emphasized horizons to the neglect of boundaries. But as I read deeper, I saw that was not really so. Nonetheless, I’d propose that his “model” would benefit from including as much about boundaries as about horizons, and from drawing sharper distinctions between the two kinds of cognitions and their implications for how people think and act.

To read his post in full, go here:


For more about boundaries and horizons from a STA:C standpoint, browse these two blog posts:


For a later analysis by Brin about the significance of horizons of inclusion — “All of those are epiphenomena of the battle over horizons -- whether we're a culture that looks ahead toward future times, that confidently explores newness in knowledge, technology, goods and services... and one that expands horizons of inclusion.” — go to his blog here:


[I posted an earlier shorter write-up of this post on my Facebook page, on  Nov 24.]

Friday, November 10, 2017

Readings on tribes and tribalism — #19: a series by James Fallows on using the words “tribal,” “tribe,” and “tribalism”

I started this series of readings largely because I’d found, in reactions to my TIMN writings, that people generally do not cotton to language about tribes, tribalism, or tribalization. It doesn’t fit well in American political discourse; nor among social theorists.

Yet, “tribes” remains the best term available for characterizing the oldest form of organization in the TIMN framework about past, present, and future social evolution. Indeed, the tribal form is still what people revert to, when the more advanced TIMN forms fail them. With this series of readings, I have tried to show I am not alone in my thinking about the significance of the T/tribal form.

So it’s most interesting to learn that Atlantic magazine writer James Fallows encountered a similar difficulty using the word “tribal” to describe recent Republican behavior. What ensued resembles what I’ve experienced.

Here’s what happened: Fallows posted “that today’s GOP leaders, notably Mitch McConnell in the Senate and Paul Ryan in the House, had essentially abdicated their constitutional responsibilities and were behaving in a “tribal” sense” — and readers promptly criticized him for using the word “tribal”. Then, instead of letting it pass, Fallows went on to post a series of Notes about his readers’ emailed reactions — about the pros and cons, and rights and wrongs, of using “tribal”, “tribes”, and “tribalism” in today’s American political context, and about what might be more advisable terms.

In the initial offending post, Fallows had criticized Congress’s retreat from established norms, notably the traditional reliance on checks and balances, as follows:
“The boring name for these unwritten rules is “norms.” Boring or not, they’re at the center of the potential crisis over Donald Trump’s performance in office. By the letter of the Constitution, and by the unwritten norms of American separation-of-powers governance, the main restraint on an overreaching, dishonest, or incompetent executive is a resolute legislative branch. But today’s legislative leaders—Mitch McConnell and his slim Republican majority in the Senate, Paul Ryan and his large Republican majority in the House—are ostentatiously refusing to play that check-and-balance function. They are operating as members of a tribe, the Republican tribe, rather than as components of a branch, the checks-and-balances legislative branch. …
“Because the legislative majority is choosing a tribal rather than a governing role, the checks and balances necessary for democracy have fallen to an ad-hoc group of others [generals, judges, the press, the prosecutor].”
Fallows’ subsequent posts presented feedback from a wide variety of readers. Most were quite critical and suggested other terms: e.g., clan, club, faction, sect, clique, cabal, gang, partisan, pack, team, kin-group, affinity group, my kind, even Japanese counter-part terms, and most unusual and unexpected of all, Paretoism. They also brought up in-group vs. out-group and we vs. they dynamics, as well as herd mentality, group think, identitarianism, and even the Parsonian distinction between ascribed and achieved identities.

Quite a pile of suggestions. I’ve run into most of them too. Yet, as his series has progressed, more readers (myself included) recommended he stay with “tribe” words.

Along the way, Fallows extolled two books that bear on his take: Harold Isaacs’ Idols of the Tribe, and Andrew Bard Schmookler’s The Parable of the Tribes. First I’ve heard of Isaacs’ book. Schmookler’s I already have.

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Meanwhile, I sent the following email to Fallows, summing up my view (but he didn’t use it):
Yes, “tribes” is the best term for what you are analyzing. Its usage has problems, including that anthropologists have long disparaged the concept and Americans generally don’t cotton to the term. I know this from experience as a RAND researcher, now retired, who continues to have an interest in reading and writing about theories of social evolution.

What I’ve found is that, over the ages, people have come up with four cardinal forms of organization for constructing their societies: tribes (i.e. kinships), hierarchical institutions, markets, and information-age networks. Each form has different purposes and uses, along with different philosophical and strategic implications. Each form also has both bright and dark sides, and can be used for good or ill; societies can get them wrong as well as right, in ways that affect their usage of the other forms.

For various reasons, these forms have arisen and matured at different rates — tribes took shape first, hierarchical institutions were next, then markets, and now networks are on the rise. Societies progress according to their abilities to add and combine these forms (and their resulting sectors of activity). How people manage to use and combine the forms, their bright and dark sides, pretty much determines what kind of society they end up with. Advanced societies depend on their people’s abilities to use all four forms in a coherent, well-balanced, well-functioning whole.

Thus, when matters go well, societies advance by adopting and using these forms progressively and properly. But when matters do not go well — for example, if leaders make a mess of the institutional (i.e., government) and market forms, or if people cannot find places for themselves in the institutional, market, or emerging network sectors — then people revert to organizing and behaving in terms of the tribal form, often in dark ways. That’s what’s happening now here in America.

No society can do well without the tribal form evolving well. Its main dynamic is kinship, which gives people a distinct sense of identity and belonging. It is initially expressed best in families, clans, and classic tribes; later in community spirit, civic clubs, and patriotic nationalism; as well as in positive group identities about religion, ideology, ethnicity, and even regarding sports teams and commercial brands. Thus, tribes and tribalism per se are not a bad thing; some is good and necessary.

But dark sides — malignant tribalism — may show up too, as in urban youth gangs, criminal gangs, sectarian militias, partisan cliques, millenarian movements, charismatic cults, etc. Most worrisome now is the tribalization of our partisan politics, especially on the Republican/conservative side.

For when people turn darkly tribal, they exhibit similar patterns of thought and action, no matter their religious, political, or other identity: They boldly tout their unique identity. They exalt “us” and demonize “them. They express sensitive narratives about respect, honor, pride, and dignity for themselves — but call for revenge and retribution for transgressors. All very ugly, and often violent.

Even though the term “tribes” is problematic, I’ve found no better term. Terms such as kinships or kindreds might be alternatives, but aren’t quite adequate either. Clans is too narrow. Bands, gangs, and the like are too small to qualify. Affinity groups is too academic.

So I’d stick with “tribes” — it’s the first and forever form that no society can do without, for better or worse.
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Here’s the first in Fallows’ series, the post that triggered reaction to his using the word “tribal”: “Congress: The Broken Check and Balance”
Here’s the second post, where reader feedback kicks in:  “On the Many Connotations of ‘Tribalism’”
Here’s the third:  “‘The Parable of the Tribes’”
Here’s the fourth in his series:  “‘Scorn for Tribalism Is an American Tradition’”
And the fifth: “The Uses of 'Tribalism' in American Politics” or “A Nation of Tribes, and Members of the Tribe”
Finally, the sixth, which appears to be the last in Fallows’ series: “Tribalism, Before and After the Virginia Vote”

[I posted an earlier write-up of this post on my Facebook page, during Nov 3-9]

Friday, November 3, 2017

A TIMN-ish article by George Monbiot

Guardian columnist George Monbiot makes TIMN-ish points in this analysis of how to think about a society’s economic spheres. He criticizes that most people, especially our leaders, act as though there are only two: the state sphere, and the market sphere — i.e., the public and private sectors. Not so, says Monbiot, for there are really “four major economic sectors: the market, the state, the household and the commons.”

This maps perfectly well with TIMN’s four evolutionary forms: tribes, institutions, markets, and networks. The household sector, first recognized by Aristotle, took shape, mostly around families, ages ago as the T/tribal form arose. Monbiot notes that this sector goes unrecognized these days, yet its activities (e.g., home health care) greatly subsidize the next two sectors. The state and market sectors fit respectively with TIMN’s +I/institutional form and the later +M/market form. As for the commons sector, Monbiot observes that it emerged ages ago, then got mostly enclosed and disregarded by political and economic elites, and is only now making a comeback. As for TIMN, it expects the rise of the +N/network form to generate a separate new sector in the decades ahead, most likely a commons sector. Today, recognition of its importance, distinctiveness, and future potential is growing anew, thanks partly to writings by Elinor Ostrom and to theory-and-practice efforts by activist outfits like The P2P Foundation and the Commons Strategies Group.

So, Monbiot’s four sectors map well with TIMN. But that’s not all that is TIMN-ish here. He further argues that all four are so valuable that they should be kept in “balance” — a strategic dynamic in TIMN theory — by working to strengthen the weaker two, namely households and commons. Finally, while he doesn’t offer an explicitly evolutionary viewpoint à la TIMN, he hints that a proper recognition of all four sectors could induce “the social and environmental transformation for which so many of us have been waiting.” TIMN foresees that as well.

Here are some eye-catching passages:
“Both sides seem to agree that state and market are the only sectors worth discussing: politics should move one way or the other along this linear scale. In fact, there are four major economic sectors: the market, the state, the household and the commons. The neglect of the last two by both neoliberals and social democrats has created many of the monstrosities of our times.” …

“I’m not proposing we abandon either market or state, but that we balance them by defending and expanding the two neglected sectors.” …

“I hope such parties can take the obvious step, and recognise that the economy has four sectors, not two. That’s the point at which it can begin: the social and environmental transformation for which so many of us have been waiting.”
How far Monbiot can/will continue to move in this direction, I’ve no idea, for his writings are fairly new to me. He is somewhere on the Left. But that’s fine with me, for now I can add his name to the few other writers, all on the Left, who are also developing frameworks that have much in common with TIMN, notably Michel Bauwens and Kojin Karatani. I’m still waiting and hoping for thinkers on the Right to become more TIMN-ish.

A step I wish Monbiot had taken — it’s somewhat implied but not stated explicitly — is to point out that his four-part design would make a sound basis for crafting a new political narrative that reorients how people think about current trends and also looks far ahead to a brighter future. He does write appealingly about the importance of political narratives in a prior article (I’ll point to it in the first comment below), but he has yet to put it all together. I want to do likewise with (and for) TIMN, but I’m moving and maneuvering awfully slowly these days.



As noted above, here’s the article (and book) where Monbiot provides a stirring analysis of the importance of “powerful political narratives”, in which he observes that:

“The first observation is the least original. It is the realisation that it is not strong leaders or parties that dominate politics as much as powerful political narratives. The political history of the second half of the 20th century could be summarised as the conflict between its two great narratives: the stories told by Keynesian social democracy and by neoliberalism.” …

“But because we have failed to understand what is possible, and above all failed to replace our tired political stories with a compelling narrative of transformation and restoration, we have failed to realise this potential. As we rekindle our imagination, we discover our power to act. And that is the point at which we become unstoppable.”


[I posted an earlier write-up of this post on my Facebook page, on Oct 17.]

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The NRA in light of STA:C and TIMN: libertine and tribal — not truly conservative:

An excerpt from an old 2016 post, prompted in part by seeing reactions by the NRA and its cohorts to the recent mass-murder shooting in Las Vegas:

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My work on people’s space-time-action orientations and their import for cognition and culture (STA:C) indicates that conservatives think largely in terms of boundaries, far more so than progressives (they think more in terms of horizons). The NRA and its Republican cohorts claim to be highly conservative. Yet their views about guns are so lacking in boundaries as to mean they are not truly conservative — instead, they seem virtually libertine.

There are only a few issue areas where Republican conservatives favor largely unbounded policies. Guns is one such area, perhaps the major one. Here, their alignment with the NRA’s policies and positions is said to express conservatism. Yet, from what I’ve seen, the NRA and its fans have little sense of boundaries regarding gun production, technology, marketing, and ownership. They evidently believe that the more guns and the fewer the boundaries, the better for themselves and for American society and culture. Thus, if I look at the cognitive underpinnings from a STA:C perspective, the NRA’s positions are so unbounded that they contradict true conservatism.

Meanwhile, I gather some NRA proponents argue that the NRA is more a libertarian than a conservative actor. Some libertarians in particular seem to believe this. But the NRA has not embraced this view. Besides, a thorough libertarian would surely favor letting people acquire “smart guns” if that’s what they wanted, and wouldn’t necessarily oppose research on gun-related violence.

From all this, it seems reasonable to conclude, from a STA:C standpoint, that the NRA and its cohorts are not so conservative as they claim. Nor are they liberal in an old-fashioned pro-freedoms sense. And they’re not thoroughly libertarian either. Instead, when it comes to guns, their positions are essentially libertine — not quite in a dictionary-definition way, but close enough. For the NRA and its Republican cohorts espouse a kind of boundless “free love” for guns that seems a functional equivalent of the libertine “free love” for groins that Hippies used to tout in the 1960s. All self-servingly in the name of individualism, freedom, self-expression, and tribal identity — yet so lacking in boundaries as to contradict traditional conservatism.

Meanwhile, the NRA and its Republican cohorts have generated a significant boundary that is in keeping with today’s conservatism: a tribal boundary. The NRA and its cohorts seem to have evolved collectively much like a tribal identity movement built around “identity politics”, in ways that work to keep allies in line and outsiders at bay. The tribal boundary is the most important boundary I can find involving the NRA and its conservative Republican cohorts. (Tribalism has been evident among Republicans for years, as I once tried to lay out here.)

And how does this manifest itself? Extreme tribalists divide the world between “us” and “them”. They stress group identity, loyalty, and solidarity — kinships, brotherhoods, sisterhoods. They constantly talk about honor, pride, dignity, and respect. They flash totems and slogans. They claim tradition and purity for their side. They vilify and demonize opponents. They believe it’s morally okay — maybe not politically-correct, but tribally-correct for sure — to lie to and about outsiders. They readily turn combative and uncompromising. They force people to take sides, to become tribal. They shun moderates once on their side. They engage in magical and conspiratorial thinking about their prospects. Et cetera. And of course they accuse the other side — in this case, gun-control advocates — of tribalism.

This overall pattern of thought and action is common wherever people become susceptible to an excessive malignant tribalism. And it looks to me that the NRA has become bound up in it, partly as a way to advance its own institutional interests, but also as a way to claim a mantle of conservatism that, according to my understanding of STA:C, is questionable, if not in error.

I have no particular interest in the NRA. I’m fine with the Second Amendment and with owning some guns. I’m not steeped in gun policy matters, pro or con. I’ve no policy recommendations to push. And I suppose I’d be wiser to stay focused on other matters about STA:C and TIMN. But the NRA sure is an interesting creature from both STA:C and TIMN standpoints.

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Here’s a blog post from last year that elaborates on what I say above. I’d meant to go do a second post about how the NRA may correspond to what Jane Jacobs called “monstrous moral hybrids”, because of the ways the NRA mixes TIMN’s tribal, institutional, market, and network dynamics. Plus a third speculative post proposing that, if/as TIMN’s +N form takes hold in the decades ahead, creating a new commons sector that will subsume some of the resources and activities currently in the grip of our aging public and private sectors, then it may make sense to regard the Second Amendment as an assurance commons, having quite an effect on gun policy. But I’m not there yet…

[I posted an earlier write-up of this post on my Facebook page, on Oct 4.]