David Ronfeldt has written a thoughtful reaction to one of last year’s most popular blogposts, “Neotribal Emergence“. Read the original if you haven’t already and come back for David’s reactions below.

David Ronfeldt: While most readings in this series are about the malignant forms of tribalism polarizing America, this one is about an attempt to foster a positive transnational form called “neo-tribes”. The reading is by a collective named NeoTribes, writing “NeoTribal Emergence” (2016).

NeoTribes draws its inspiration from philosopher Daniel Quinn’s writings recommending “new tribalism” as a way for people to move beyond the ruinous effects of modern civilization and chart a course to a better life. NeoTribes is also associated with the pro-commons P2P (peer-to-peer) movement. The neo-tribal orientation is thus on the Left — but an innovative kind of Left that combines classic tribal and new information-age network types of ideas. And while classic tribes were built around ethnic identities and sought to maximize pride, these neo-tribes are being built around work and lifestyle identities and seek to maximize purpose.

NeoTribes agree that tribes were our earliest form of organization, and that “human beings have evolved to live in tribal society as opposed to mass society.” They also believe that, because modern civilization has resulted in such untenable waste and destruction, “we’re in the throes of a re-tribalizing moment.” So their motto is “The future is tribal”. As they see it, “”In many ways the “neo-tribal” moment is being ushered in by a deep longing to escape cultures that belong to a bygone era.” In a sense, this means starting societies over by reverting back to the tribal form — but NeoTribes is future-oriented, and it means to accomplish more than that.

At present, NeoTribes consists of five cutting-edge transnational collectives: OuiShare, Wisdom Hackers, Agora, Sistema B, and Perestroika. But they are just getting going, and will campaign to expand this year.

Here’re a few passages about the above:

“We are a transnational collective of community builders, facilitators, strategists, entrepreneurs, provocateurs, researchers, experience designers and social architects from diverse tribes, serving an emerging paradigm. We delve into different forms of community, networks and subcultures to reveal best practices, tools and experiential knowledge; to “re-mix”, share and apply within modern ways of living and organizing. At our core is an effort to create visibility, shared learning and relationship between emerging pockets of insurgency.”

“We as NeoTribes, an emerging collective of neo-tribal communities, have come together to ask some timely questions and create a frame through which we all may continue to develop common language, wisdom and practical know-how. We are experimental communities searching for viable alternative forms of living in an era of deep transition. We are digital natives yearning for an analogue reality that is marked by the physicality of existence. We strive to align our pace of life with natural rhythms that make space for love, trust, belonging and solidarity – values too often absent from mass society. Since September 2015, we’ve been gathering in digital meeting rooms as well as face-to-face for learning journeys in Brazil, Berlin and Costa Rica, forging bonds of trust between our communities, and making space for reflecting on who we are, where we are heading and why we feel the way we do about the present moment.” “Over the course of the next 6-months we will embark on a learning journey, crafting and curating a cookbook of practical “how to” wisdom from over 50+ neo-tribes around key themes related to community design, group practices and rituals, methods of self-organization and facilitation, and tools for governance, financing, and mutualism.”

One quality I like about NeoTribes is their insistence on combining individualism and collectivism (or mutualism). This is consistent not only with P2P theory’s concept of “collective individualism”, but also with TIMN theory’s view that all four of TIMN’s cardinal forms of organization (tribes, institutions, markets, networks) and thus societies as a whole involve both individualism and collectivism — often different kinds and in different ways at different times, but always a combination nonetheless.

Here are a few quotes showing this:

“[We] aren’t naïvely cocooning ourselves in “Cumbaya collectivism.” We recognize the human need for a community where one can pursue belonging in the context of a collective, while also remaining autonomous, self-expressive and unique. We affirm that each individual should be witnessed and understood, without being pressured to disappear into group identity or camouflage her authenticity. We believe in the power of individual autonomy, and also in the power of mutualism. Many of our tribes are finding new ways to mutualize resources and build commons in the forms of shared operational infrastructure, housing, work spaces, food, and so on – without demanding that anyone martyr themselves for a higher cause.”

“In constructing our communities, many of us think about how to create a place of shared identity, while also maintaining inclusivity. Traditional tribes are often very closed. You inherit an identity based on kinship and the place you were born. But neo-tribes most often represent your “chosen tribe.” You opt in, and can have multiple tribal allegiances or cycle through different tribes in a lifetime.”

This insistence by NeoTribes on being for both individualized and mutualist approaches contrasts with the canard I’ve heard from tribalized conservatives that they are for individualism while liberals /progressives are for collectivism. This canard has awful problems: First, all the liberals I know are for individualism too. Second, conservatives may oppose the collectivism they see in big government and the welfare state, but they like other kinds of collectivism — e.g., family, community, patriotism, etc., not to mention that their tribalism is itself a kind of collectivism. Third, as I noted above, all progress-oriented societies require mixtures of individualism and collectivism, otherwise they cease progressing. This is another area of doctrinal thinking where the tribalization of conservatism has led to a defective defense of a false dichotomy (not to mention that it provides further evidence that conservatives think mainly in terms of boundaries, liberals mainly in terms of horizons).

But to get back to the NeoTribes’ initiative, here’s what else I appreciate: They are for openness, in transnational networked ways, not isolation and exclusivity. They recognize a need for “alternative forms of governance”, suited to a next phase of social evolution, “without delusions of separateness to entirely “escape the system”.” Indeed, they recognize “the interdependence of personal well-being and structural forces”.

Furthermore, they prefer to focus on local matters, yet feel part of a global consciousness. In their words, “We long to root down in local contexts, and often find more pride in the cities that we contribute to than the stale rhetoric of participation offered at a national level. At the same time, our digital infrastructure and social media has imparted to us a global consciousness.”

I see some overlap in all this with TIMN theory about past, present, and future social evolution — but I shall note three points only lightly: First, by combining tribal and network impulses, NeoTribes reflects the TIMN dynamic that each new form starts its rise with a tribal impulse, before it matures and professionalizes around its own distinctive principles. Second, NeoTribes reflects a TIMN dynamic that says efforts will be made to adapt prior forms to new needs — and the neo-tribes movement surely is such an adaptation, suited to the Information age. Third, TIMN is partly and ultimately about the rise of the +N network form and the creation of a new sector based around it. This may be a commons sector, but I think it’s still too early to tell. NeoTribes has aspects that fit this, but I don’t see that it corresponds fully to +N.

Thus, I find the neo-tribes concept quite positive and appealing. Yet, as a TIMN quadriformist, I should temper and qualify my interest. Even so, it’s good to read about a tribalism that isn’t bitter and vengeful, bad for society.

I shall hope that Michel Bauwens and other P2P and NeoTribes proponents eventually take a look at this post.

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