The Coming Together of the Tribes

The media hath spoken: 2004 was the “year of the blog.” As we all know, whenever a broadcast and print media come to a consensus, a truth is born. Thus, we can relax. There is no need to put any further thought into the matter. Unfortunately, I have a bad habit of thinking. And as a result of my nasty habit, I believe the media has completely misunderstood what the blog represents: the first significant manifestation of much larger trend.

This powerful trend is two-fold:

  • the rise of the network as a form of social organization.
  • the freeing information from the constraints and limitations of the physical world.

In the first post of this series, we will explore the rise of the network through the lenses of history, and the social sciences.

In 1996, David Ronfeld of the Rand Corporation(1) developed the “TIMN” (tribes, institutions, markets, and networks) framework as a way to understand the historical patterns of social organization. The four forms emerged gradually throughout history. While societies that embrace new forms tend to excel, those that don’t tend to die. Each form in the TIMN framework serves a specific purpose, and compliments the other forms. If one imagines our society as a human body; tribalism is the skin; institutions are the skeletal system; markets are the circulatory system; and networks, the newest form of social organization, appear to be a nervous system (2).

The first form of the TIMN forms was the tribal society. It first emerged during the Neolithic era. Initially, tribal bonds were based on kinship; though in today’s world tribalism is best represented by nationalism, extended family, and even the so-called “old boy’s clubs”. Tribal organization gives the members of a society a sense of belonging, and identity as part of a group. Its evolutionary purpose seems to be to encourage individuals to band together, thereby strengthening their collective ability to survive. However, the tribe, as understood here, is egalitarian (i.e. no chief, all members are equal). As a result, the tribal societies (“T” societies) are not able to advance far. In order to manage complex tasks such as the building of cities, the raising of armies, and agricultural production, a society must adopt the next form: the institution.

The poster children of the institutional form are the catholic church, the army, large corporations, and governments. Key features of institutions are chains of command, and enforcement of authority by coercion. In the words of philosopher Jürgen Habermas, as a result of institutions supplanting tribes, “Collective identity was no longer represented in the figure of a common ancestor but in that of a common ruler.” Though institutions (T+I societies) excel at certain tasks; namely waging war; enforcing the rule of law; imposing religions; and insuring successions. Their pyramidal structure of response is unable to cope with complex systems of exchange and information. It takes the next form of social organization to achieve that task: the free market.

Under the good conditions, free markets foster innovation in a society by encouraging competition among actors. Unlike mercantilism, free markets appear to mirror Darwinistic principles. Nation states that adopted free markets early on (i.e. England and the United States) have reaped enormous benefits. Where as countries that suppressed markets societies (i.e the USSR) were left behind. Markets effectively checked the states monopoly on power by dominating the economic realm. However, markets are unable to exist without a state to maintain order.

The network form has only recently come to rise. At the moment, power and influence is rapidly shifting to people who are skilled at weaving complex networks. Though networks have always existed (to some extent) it is only with the rise of a new communication medium that the network form came of age. Never before, has their been a tool that allowed independent and small groups to cooperate and act in unison over long distances. When MSM called 2004 ‘the year of the blog’, they meant to say: “In 2004, we witnessed the first whiffs of what will become one of the most unpredictable, and dramatic transitional periods in human history.”

Next Wednesday, we will continue this discussion with an exploration of how the first many-to-many communications medium will likely effect our individual sense of identity, social structures, and societal values. In addition, we will explorethe historical effects of new communication mediums.

(Cross posted at The American Street and The Progressive Blog Alliance HQ)

Notes: 1. The Rand Corporation could very well argue that it “invented” the internet. 2. Google the word “Holons”. Consider this note a riddle.