Neo-Tribalism

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Neo-Tribalism in the narrow sense is the ideology that human beings have evolved to live in a tribal, as opposed to a modern, society, and thus cannot achieve genuine happiness until some semblance of archaic lifestyles has been re-created or re-embraced.

It is also used in a more broad sense, i.e. that internet technology creates a mode of social organization that is 'like tribalism'.


Definition

From Neotribes [1]:

"a sociological concept which postulates that human beings have evolved to live in tribal society, as opposed to mass society". [2]


Discussion

"Neotribalism is a sociological concept that postulates that human beings have evolved to live in tribal society, as opposed to mass society, and thus will naturally form social networks constituting new tribes.

In the book Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure, acclaimed author Daniel Quinn presents this "New Personal World Order" that would allow people to assert control over their own destiny and grant them the freedom to create their own way of life right now and not in some distant utopian future.

In a practical sense, you might have read news, or even know people, that are “abandoning everything”, deserting the Western lifestyle to engage in small community building activities, living off the land or following the path of the digital nomad. You may also know people struggling to transform cultures within established organizations or working to bring intimacy and community to the anonymity of mega-cities." (http://www.neotribes.co/en#!/about)


Discussion 1: Neo-tribal ideology

Dave Pollard on the successfull Tribal Tradition in the past

Dave Pollard at http://blogs.salon.com/0002007/2006/05/30.html#a1542

"In gatherer-hunter communities, there was lots of space for community members to get away from each other temporarily, and lots of space between communities. Evidence suggests that such communities or clans consisted of about 150 individuals (depending on the ecosystem) which operated via a 'fission/fusion' social system, where the group continually split up into smaller, constantly changing (likely to vary and optimize individual learning) 'foraging parties' or bands of 30-50, and then re-formed as a cohesive group. The theory is that 150 is the maximum number of individuals you can get to know well enough for meaningful social interaction, and beyond that the group starts to splinter into a more self-manageable size.

Tribes consisted in turn of several clans, and comprised 1000-2000 individuals. Bands were the optimal size for short-term collective action, clans for mutual knowledge and learning, and tribes for buffering (to optimize inter-tribal physical and cultural diversity and to minimize inter-tribal conflict, both Darwinian advantages). Interestingly, early villages and early professional armies were usually the same size as gatherer-hunter clans, and military platoons the same size as gatherer-hunter bands. The clan defined the boundaries of both collective intellectual (recognition and distinction) and physical (mutual grooming and love) behaviour.

Today we find ourselves born into societies that have no band, clan, or tribal cohesion. Instead, at the micro-level, we have substituted the nuclear family, much smaller than a band and too small to comprise a self-sufficient functional unit. And at the macro-level, we have substituted the state and corporation, hierarchical and multi-tiered constructs much larger than a tribe, and too large to function as an integral unit.

One could cynically surmise that the nuclear family was devised deliberately to be inadequate for self-sufficiency, so families were dependent on and non-threatening to the inherently dysfunctional corporation/state. One could also cynically surmise that the corporation/state is a purely cultural construct designed to organize, suppress and keep individuals from seeking more natural and effective forms of organization, by presenting them with a simple, monolithic pyramid scheme and promising them the moon and stars (fame, fortune, sex, salvation, happiness) if they dedicated their lives to climbing the pyramid.

It has been suggested, for example, that the Great Wall of China was built not to keep Mongol Hordes out, but rather to keep stooped and malnourished rice-paddy slave-families from fleeing back to the more natural life and tribal social organization of Mongolia. Once you mess with the natural band/clan/tribe cohesion, it seems, you need a brutal, hierarchical, inherently undemocratic political and economic machine to keep individuals divided and in line.

The history of our civilization has been largely one of pioneers fleeing the ghastly tyranny of the hierarchical corporation/state, slaughtering gatherer-hunter societies in the 'unincorporated' lands they fled to, and then, as their numbers grew, replicating the hierarchical corporation/state themselves, and then constantly warring with other corporation/states. Now we have run out of places to flee to, and, thanks to immigration laws, we do not even have a choice of which hierarchical corporation/state to 'belong' to. Our resultant anger, frustration and impotence is acted out with distressing frequency in both family violence and corporation/state violence." (http://blogs.salon.com/0002007/2006/05/30.html#a1542)

Daniel Quinn: Tribalism has been tested for 3 million years

Daniel Quinn:

"People will sometimes charge me with just being in love with tribalism. They say to me in effect, "If you love it so much, why don't you just go do it and leave the rest of us alone?" Those who understand me in this way totally misunderstand what I'm saying. The tribal lifestyle isn't precious because it's beautiful or lovable or because it's "close to nature." It isn't even precious because it's "the natural way for people to live." To me, this is gibberish. The tribal life is precious because it is tested out. For 3,000,000 years it worked for people. It worked for people the way nests work for birds, the way webs work for spiders, the way burrows work for moles. That doesn't make it lovable, it makes it viable.

People will also say to me, "Well, if it was so wonderful, why didn't it last?" The answer is that it did last -- it has lasted right up to the present moment. It continues to work, but the fact that something works doesn't make it invulnerable. Burrows and nests and webs can all be destroyed, but that doesn't change the fact that they work. Tribalism can be destroyed and indeed has largely been destroyed, but that doesn't change the fact that it worked for 3,000,000 years and still works today as well as it ever did.

And the fact that tribalism works doesn't mean that something else can't work.. The trouble is that our particular something else isn't working -- doesn't work and can't work. It bears with it its own seeds of destruction. It's fundamentally unstable. And unfortunately it had to reach global proportions before the nature of its instability could be recognized.

It's important to realize that ours wasn't the only lifestyle experiment going on at this time. Birds experiment with nests -- that's how nests evolved in the first place and how they continue to evolve. We can't know what experiments in human culture were made in the Old World -- they were all obliterated by the Taker experiment -- but we know a lot about experiments that were made elsewhere. What's fascinating about them is that these cultural variants were being tested just the way variants within a species are tested. What worked survived, what didn't work perished, leaving behind its fossilized remains -- irrigation ditches, roads, cities, temples, pyramids. People everywhere were looking for alternatives to the traditional tribal way of making a living -- hunting and gathering. They were looking at full-time agriculture and settlement, but if their particular experiment didn't work, they were prepared to let it go -- and they did so again and again. It used to be considered a great mystery. What became of these ancient builders who carved strange cities out of the jungles and deserts? Were they whisked away into another dimension? No, they just quit. They just went back to something they could count on to work." (http://www.davidsheen.com/b/b5.htm)


Quinn’s Basic Tenets

1. There have been two basic modes of social existence in the history of our species: the tribal mode and the civilizational mode.

2. The tribal mode of social existence was developed by a process of natural selection over tens of thousands of years and it worked well for all that vast time. It still works well wherever it is given room to operate and is competently applied.

3. The civilizational mode of social existence, in spite of all its great powers, has had, from the beginning, basic flaws. Now after less that 10,000 years of development, these basic flaws have come into full flower and are destroying the planet as a viable habitat for humanity. As an option for the future, civilization is a failed system of social organization.

4. In order to survive and to enjoy a maximally prosperous and humane life, we must walk away, one by one and region by region, from the civilizational mode of earning our living from this planet.

5. We must walk toward a third mode of social organization, not a return to ethnic tribalism, but an advance toward a new sort of tribal society. “Tribal” here means a way of earning our living from the planet that is not hierarchically organized, not founded on the centralization of wealth and power, not creating wealth and privilege for the few and a prison of work-slavery for the rest. Only such a post-civilization tribalism can resolve the current ecological crisis as well as restrain the exploding human population.

6. Agricultural food production is a core cause of our population explosion and the ecological ruination of the planet. Civilization began not with the invention of gardening but with the ownership of stored food. Once food surpluses are stored, they must be guarded by their owners and policing forces. This brings into being a hierarchical order. On the top are the owners and their hired guards. Below are the producers who must work not only for their own living but to support the food storage system and its owners and protectors. This basic structure may seem innocent and practical at first glance, for it provides a solution for leveling out the times of plenty with the times of famine. But not all the consequences of this new structure are beneficial. The owners, who might wish everyone to think of them as useful servants of the social whole, actually become persons of privilege and of excesses that seem to have no limits. Meanwhile the actual producers of this seemingly unlimited wealth are turned into prisoners of a system that requires of them more and more work and less and less participation in deciding what work is worth doing. In addition, these workers become, for the owners, a part of their wealth. It is to the owners’ advantage for there to be more workers.

Civilization, and thus the wealth of the owners, grows by having more food to feed more workers who produce more food to feed more workers who produce more food to feed more workers who produce more food to feed more workers. . . . This is the core dynamic beneath the population explosion. Tribal society did not produce more food than they could eat nor an exponentially expanding population of eaters.

7. We tend to be blind to the full implications of our historical dilemma because we are accustomed to thinking of civilization as synonymous with “good society.” We feel that civilization is at least a necessary evil for which there is no viable option. Furthermore, tribal life has been given a derogatory billing in the taken-for-granted perspectives of civilized people. Tribal society has been seen as obsolete, groveling, and even savage.

But actually tribal life, though imperfect like all human institutions, provided for its members very well. Except in times of extreme catastrophe, there was no poverty for anyone. And while tribal life had a few wealthier folk and a few strong leaders, no one was given the excessive prerogatives that have been standard for the wealthy and powerful in every civilization. In tribal society, everyone, including women and children, participated in various decision-making processes. And no one was excessively overworked. Usually, a few hours a day of meaningful, survival-necessitated work sufficed, leaving ample time for celebration and storytelling and art and dancing and family life for everyone. Even our most advanced, industrialized forms of civilization cannot boast of such accomplishments. It is true that ancient tribalism did not provide anyone with the wealth enjoyed by modern civilization’s upper classes. But a next form of tribal society could easily provide everyone (assuming a reducing global population and appropriate technologies) with a modest prosperity and time to enjoy it. And as for being savage, ancient tribal life was peace-loving compared to the perpetual war-making of almost every civilization. Tribal warfare was, in comparison with civilization’s massive killing sprees, a quite limited ritual of warrior sacrifices employed essentially for practical purposes like negotiating tribal hunting grounds.

8. The way forward to a post-civilization form of tribalism is not attacking civilization with a frontal attack, but simply withdrawing our support. The way forward is simply walking away from civilization toward the next social form of earning our living from the planet. Civilization is prepared to defend itself from any attacks from below. It has been successfully doing that for at least 6,000 years. Also, if our attacks from below win, we are stuck with running the civilization we have conquered. This accomplishes nothing in the way of lasting effective change. We must simply walk away. Against this strategy, no civilization has an adequate defense. This, Quinn claims, is what happened to Mayan and other early civilizations on the northern and southern American continents. People became fed up with their civilization and simply walked away, reestablishing some form of tribal society. The Mayan people have not disappeared, only the Mayan civilizations. Quinn is clear that today we do not have the luxury of adequate forests to walk away into. Reestablishing ethnic tribal societies planet-wide is not possible. But we can, Quinn claims, still walk away from civilization toward something new, toward social experiments that are more tribal than civilizational in nature.

9. There is no right way of doing human society. Uniformity is one of the flaws of the civilizational mode of thinking. The very idea that there is one right way of doing society has become an obsolete notion. Let every group create whatever tribal type of life they find appropriate in their place given their opportunities, needs, talents, etc." (http://www.realisticliving.org/koob/AWEIII05/3A3-12BeyondQuinn405.pdf)

Dave Pollard on the failing contemporary tribal experiments

From: http://blogs.salon.com/0002007/2006/05/30.html#a1542

"theoretically, the modern equivalent of the clan should be the Intentional Community, a cohesive group of about 150 people comprising several bands, who love each other (you can't spend 15-20% of your life physically grooming people you don't love) and live together, their society cemented by rites and shared principles.

But most entrepreneurial businesses strive (either for ego reasons, or because their flawed organizational structure requires them to) to grow far beyond band size, without limit. And most intentional communities fail to sustain membership of much more than a dozen, far below clan size. Why might this be? Have the instinctive social dynamics that governed us for three million years been forgotten, or do they no longer apply? After three million years of making a living with 30-50 cohorts and living with and loving 150, why are humans suddenly so incapable of making a living in a small group and loving a large one?

Maybe it's a lack of practice. Working in groups of 30-50 and living and loving in groups of 150 may be instinctive, but we lose our instincts if we don't practice them.

Maybe it's because we're brainwashed, culturally conditioned by peers and media who say small business can't compete until and unless it gets big, and by religions and politicians who say it's wrong to physically love more than your family and wrong not to intellectually love your state.

Maybe it's because civilization is now the only life we know, and like Lucky the dog, we keep returning to an abusive and unnatural way of life because we can't imagine anything better.

Or maybe it's because there is no longer space and time for pioneers to rediscover our natural social ways, and hence there are no natural models for others to emulate. Even modern gatherer-hunter cultures, now so astonishingly different from our monolithic culture that we can't conceive of ourselves living that way, are so compromised by civilization's encroachment on their land and depletion of their resources that their culture has been altered and pushed to the edge of extinction. There are no natural models left. There is no 'unincorporated' land left, clean, undeveloped land with good soils that pioneers can move to and take the time to evolve intentional communities in. In our ubiquitous globalized civilization, we must live every day with the fear of not having enough, so there is no time to imagine a better way to live.

I've read everything I can get my hands on on intentional communities, and what strikes me most is that their failure, just like the failure of so many new-age business models, is a failure of imagination. The intentions are good. They invest a lot of time and energy in research, and in trying to make it work. But when they run into difficulties, they keep falling back on 'conventional wisdom': we need a council, and committees, and voting and non-voting shares, and strategic plans, and legal agreements, and to borrow lots of money; we need to work harder, and to wait until conditions are exactly right. I appreciate that creating a new community is scary, but the social, political and economic failings of the old system are exactly what got us into this mess, and incorporating them into the new models is just asking for the same terrible results." (http://blogs.salon.com/0002007/2006/05/30.html#a1542)


Dave Pollard on how to create successfull tribal communities today

From: http://blogs.salon.com/0002007/2006/05/30.html#a1542

Some guiding principles for the new models. These might include:


  • Reject all the practices that have made the old models for community and enterprise oppressive and dysfunctional: There will be no voting, no shares, no political hierarchies, no work assignments, no lawyers, no laws, no titles, no delegating, no private property, no regularly scheduled meetings, no money changing hands. If you feel you have to have some of these things, don't even start.
  • Do lots of research, and have lots of conversations, but don't plan, improvise instead. One step at a time, taking things as they come, finding creative workarounds without compromising, without stopping.
  • Trust your instincts. If you're troubled about something, talk it out, figure out why, get it out there. Don't suck it up. Life is too short for stress. Discharge it.
  • We are all equal. The value of our ideas and opinions is all equal. The value of our time is all equal. If you can't accept that, get out.
  • Never compromise with The Man. Once you prostitute your principles to get something accomplished, you're hooked, and you're no different from the billions caught in the old model.
  • Don't grow too big. Beyond 150 people, the community needs to self-restrict membership. Members who don't like that should leave and start other new communities.
  • Stay sustainable. No degrading of the land. No expansion of development. No taking more than you give back.
  • Be a part. The community must be within a natural ecosystem and intensely aware of and respectful in its 'part'-nership in that ecosystem. You can't learn to live a natural life unless you have natural life all around you to learn from.
  • Learn about and use Open Space. This is how non-hierarchical, gatherer-hunter cultures have always self-managed. Invite. Open yourself to possibilities. Listen. Learn. Converse. Share. Let understanding emerge. Then just go and do what you've learned needs to be done.
  • When you're stuck, get together with others you love and trust and imagine possibilities. Think outside that horrific, stifling box. Study and imitate nature. Create your way out."

(http://blogs.salon.com/0002007/2006/05/30.html#a1542)


Discussion 2: on e-enabled neotribalism

Marshall McLuhan

"The electronically induced technological extensions of our central nervous systems, which I spoke of earlier, are immersing us in a world-pool of information movement and are thus enabling man to incorporate within himself the whole of mankind. The aloof and dissociated role of the literate man of the Western world is succumbing to the new, intense depth participation engendered by the electronic media and bringing us back in touch with ourselves as well as with one another. But the instant nature of electric-information movement is decentralizing--rather than enlarging--the family of man into a new state of multitudinous tribal existences. Particularly in countries where literate values are deeply institutionalized, this is a highly traumatic process, since the clash of the old segmented visual culture and the new integral electronic culture creates a crisis of identity, a vacuum of the self, which generates tremendous violence--violence that is simply an identity quest, private or corporate, social or commercial." (http://www.digitallantern.net/mcluhan/mcluhanplayboy.htm)


Commentary by Samuel Rose: "So, McLuhan also used the metaphor of "tribal" to describe what he saw emerging in our time. He was really accurate on his prediction of the direction of technology. But he saw new types of tribes. his tribes were "electronic culture" tribes. McLuhan knew, even before there was anything like the internet, that the direction of technology as an "extension of man" was going towards what he called a "global village". What he meant by a global village was that people in our time were going to become highly connected to the point that distance between us would eventually be largely erased. We are now headed towards that direction. So, McLuhan guessed that people connected in this global village would start to "retribalize" into new groups.

But these new types of "tribes" will not be like the tribes of pre-history.

They will instead be "Global-local" tribes. Some of them will organize around a place, or around concepts or ideas or technology. Some people will be part of many of these groups."


More Information

See the excellent Wikipedia article, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-Tribalism

Daniel Quinn's book Beyond Civilization and podcast Beyond Civilization - The New Tribalism

John Zerzan's key essay, Future Primitive, at http://www.primitivism.com/future-primitive.htm