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.]

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Readings on tribes and tribalism — #18: Andrew Sullivan, “Can Our Democracy Survive Tribalism” (2017)

Like I was sayin’ … just when I was wondering whether to continue this series urging thinking about tribes and tribalism systematically, not just as a synonym, or move on to something else, along comes this incisive sweeping article by Andrew Sullivan, “Can Our Democracy Survive Tribalism” (2017), that illuminates both the bright and dark sides of the tribal form while recognizing its essential nature. One of the best readings yet in this series — at least that’s my view today. Also worthy are review articles it has stirred up, especially Michael Gershon’s (as I’ve posted in the comments section).

I’m too slow right now to provide a substantial write-up, but here’s an excerpt that will, I hope, spur you to read the full article:
“I mean a new and compounding combination of all these differences into two coherent tribes, eerily balanced in political power, fighting not just to advance their own side but to provoke, condemn, and defeat the other.
“I mean two tribes whose mutual incomprehension and loathing can drown out their love of country, each of whom scans current events almost entirely to see if they advance not so much their country’s interests but their own. I mean two tribes where one contains most racial minorities and the other is disproportionately white; where one tribe lives on the coasts and in the cities and the other is scattered across a rural and exurban expanse; where one tribe holds on to traditional faith and the other is increasingly contemptuous of religion altogether; where one is viscerally nationalist and the other’s outlook is increasingly global; where each dominates a major political party; and, most dangerously, where both are growing in intensity as they move further apart.
“The project of American democracy — to live beyond such tribal identities, to construct a society based on the individual, to see ourselves as citizens of a people’s republic, to place religion off-limits, and even in recent years to embrace a multiracial and post-religious society — was always an extremely precarious endeavor. It rested, from the beginning, on an 18th-century hope that deep divides can be bridged by a culture of compromise, and that emotion can be defeated by reason. It failed once, spectacularly, in the most brutal civil war any Western democracy has experienced in modern times. And here we are, in an equally tribal era, with a deeply divisive president who is suddenly scrambling Washington’s political alignments, about to find out if we can prevent it from failing again. …
“Tribalism, it’s always worth remembering, is not one aspect of human experience. It’s the default human experience. It comes more naturally to us than any other way of life.”


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Sullivan's article stirred up lots of commentary.

Here’s Michael Gerson’s up-beat review, “Tribalism triumphs in America”(2017:

Here’s a down-beat review by Isaac Chotiner, “Andrew Sullivan’s simplistic diagnosis— and unrealistic cure—for what ails us” (2017):

[I posted an earlier write-up of this post on my Facebook page, on Sept 20.]

Monday, October 30, 2017

Molly McKew on Russian information ops and the Gerasimov doctrine:

Molly McKew is a leading analyst of Russian information operations. I’ve posted her writings three times before. Here’s her latest. It illuminates what’s called the Gerasimov Doctrine, which is constructed largely around soft-power measures for dividing and confounding people’s thinking and thus their behavior in a target society — in this case America.

Here’s an excerpt:
“The United States is the latest target. The Russian security state defines America as the primary adversary. The Russians know they can’t compete head-to-head with us—economically, militarily, technologically—so they create new battlefields. They are not aiming to become stronger than us, but to weaken us until we are equivalent.
“Russia might not have hacked American voting machines, but by selectively amplifying targeted disinformation and misinformation on social media—sometimes using materials acquired by hacking—and forging de facto information alliances with certain groups in the United States, it arguably won a significant battle without most Americans realizing it ever took place. The U.S. electoral system is the heart of the world’s most powerful democracy, and now—thanks to Russian actions—we’re locked in a national argument over its legitimacy. We’re at war with ourselves, and the enemy never fired a physical shot. “The information space opens wide asymmetrical possibilities for reducing the fighting potential of the enemy,” Gerasimov writes. (He also writes of using “internal opposition to create a permanently operating front through the entire territory of the enemy state.”)
“Not all Russia-watchers agree on the Gerasimov Doctrine’s importance. Some say this is simply a new and well-articulated version of what Russians have always done, or that Putin is inflated as an all-powerful boogeyman, or that competition among the various oligarchic factions within the Kremlin means there is no central strategic purpose to their activities. But there’s no question that Russian intervention is systematic and multi-layered. This structure challenges us, because we don’t necessarily understand how it has been put into practice; like all guerrilla doctrine, it prioritizes conservation of resources and decentralization, which makes it harder to detect and follow. And strategically, its goals aren’t the ones we’re used to talking about. The Kremlin isn’t picking a winner; it’s weakening the enemy and building an environment in which anyone but the Kremlin loses.
“Herein lies the real power of the Gerasimov-style shadow war: It’s hard to muster resistance to an enemy you can’t see, or aren’t even sure is there. But it’s not an all-powerful approach; the shadowy puppeteering at the heart of the Gerasimov Doctrine also makes it inherently fragile. Its tactics begin to fail when light is thrown onto how they work and what they aim to achieve. This requires leadership and clarity about the threat—which we saw briefly in France, when the government rallied to warn voters about Russian info ops in advance of the presidential election. For now, though, America is still in the dark—not even on defense, let alone offense.”

Here’s the full article:

[I posted an earlier write-up of this post on my Facebook page, on Sept 11.]

Brief blurts about tribes and tribalism — Anne-Marie Slaughter:

Frankly, I’ve never cottoned much to her writings. Yes, she has helped spread new ideas about the importance of information-age network designs. But, her writings about networks have always struck me as more derivative than innovative, years behind the cutting-edge.

However, in this interview she makes an attractive point that fits well with TIMN-type thinking — “we have too many tribes and not enough networks”. But much as I cotton to that pithy quote, what she means is not spelled-out anywhere I can find, and not particularly clear to me. And her point that “we need different networks for different purposes” is sound but very old news

Here's the full quote:
“Knowledge@Wharton: Does the building of networks become even more of a challenge right now because of this fracturing in American society among different people with different backgrounds?
“Slaughter: “Yes, I would say we have way too many tribes and not enough networks. In other words, we’ve got plenty of people who are deeply and closely connected to people who think like them. It is well documented that as we are more segregated into red and blue communities and more segregated by class, we are less likely to come into contact with people who think differently than we do. Some of these more old-fashioned civic networks — Little League, the United Way — brought us together in ways that we were connected to others who were different. We need to rebuild a lot of that. It’s harder now.
“”Again, lots of people will say, “I know I need a network.” But my point is, not just a network — we need different networks for different purposes.””

[Brought over from my Facebook page post, September 5.]

Brief blurts about tribes and tribalism — Charles Blow (twice)

“And, when I say army, I’m not speaking solely of armed militia, although there is a staggering number of guns continuously being put into circulation. As the N.R.A.’s Institute for Legislative Action wrote in June: “Each month of Trump’s presidency has seen over two million firearm-related background checks. Only in 2016, when Americans faced losing their Second Amendment rights forever, did the F.B.I. run more checks during a January to April period.” I’m also talking about the unarmed, but unwavering: the army of zombie zealots.

“How do you raise an army?

“You do that by dividing America into tribes and, as “president,” aligning yourself with the most extreme tribe, all the while promoting militarization among people who support you.”

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“This is the man we have: one who doesn’t want to lead a country but wants to rule a tribe.”

[Brought over from my Facebook page post, September 4.]