•October 23, 2010 • Leave a Comment

One week ago, the US government blocked the electronic funds transfer host for Wikileaks in retaliation for its expose on the Afghan war. Yesterday, with the release of The Iraq War Logs, Wikileaks now offers five new ways to donate to its investigative journalism. That ought to keep the Pentagon, State Department and White House busy.



•July 26, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Swedish scholar Therese Ornberg Berglund has made a significant contribution to the field of linguistics. Her website Multitalking is a valuable resource for anyone serious about communication, learning and knowledge in the digital age.

Growing Pains

•July 23, 2010 • Leave a Comment

[Note: This 2006 rumination by Paul de Armond is from Metachat. Emphasis is mine.]

It seems a bit of a tautology; this insight into manipulative culture and Empire. Society has serially evolved forms of social/political/economic organization that reflect larger and larger scales. Tribes, institutions, markets and networks. They represent a continuum of increasing scale of population, land area, energy consumption, communication bandwidth, etc

The earliest, smallest scale, most localized form of society is the tribe or clan (T): bound by kinship and personal relationships that connect all members of the society in very direct ways. Limited in scale, tribes tend to fission and migration when population grows so that the personal relationships are not able to be maintained across the geography of the food-bearing area. They are highly egalitarian, in the sense that political power is broadly distributed; frequently reflected in consensual and consultative group decision-making.

The institutional (I) form of society arose when agriculture made it possible to have populations spread over much greater geographic areas. Institutional societies contain and retain much of characteristics of tribal/clan organization on a local scale, but on the full societal scale, there is a division of labor (so to speak) in communication and political power, through a hierarchical organization and stratification of power relationships.

The oldest extent institutions (religions like the Catholic Church for example; educational forms like the university in Western culture and those surviving heritary monarchies such as the Saudis or the British royal family) tend towards a climax form that combines tribal (i.e. heriditary) and institutional (i.e. hierarchical) forms in a highly homeostatic society. The Egyptian and Chinese empires were exemplars of the “dynastic water empire” climax form of T+I society. They tend to be very durable and yet ultimately slowly decay and collapse from within.

In a tribal society, power is based in individual competence, prestige and the depth of the network of kinship ties connected to an individual. This favors elders over youngers. Institutions, on the other hand, vest power in position and “place” in society — frequently passing power along herititary lines such as aristocracies. Feudalism is a transitional form of tribal individual political power coalescing into the structurally imbalanced power of hierarchical institutions.

Empires are not solely instituions, however, there is another, more atomistic form of social organization: the market (M). Markets are driven by zero-sum games of directional flows of resources and wealth. Like institutions, they tend towards concentrating wealth, power and access to resources. Predatory monopoly capitalism is one of the most polarized forms of market organization, one where society resolves into monopolies of supply and rate bases of demand, where simply to exist on the demand side automatically makes one not a participant in trade, but simply a consumer who becomes a resource for the monopoly and cartel actors who control the market.

So the climax form of market organization ends up looking like the sort of “natural” monopolies that predominate in utilities, the energy cartels that have unified the global petroleum market or the “regulated” cartels that dominate finance — highly centralized and self-reinforcing imbalances of economic power. It should also be noted that markets exist at higher scales of resources, populations, wealth, etc. The climax form of M societies is highly dependent on institutions to make and enforce the rules and laws which perpetuate the economic imbalances.

In a truely free market (“black” markets in drugs, weapons, slaves, finance are the only examples of truely “free” markets), the ossification and predatory nature of monopolies always opens opportunities for competitors to emerge and displace the dominant actors. Therefore, the coercive power of the state must be enlisted to supress competition — thereby distorting the market even further and hastening the change from below by more efficient competitors. The current attempts to legislate intellectual property laws to maintain entertainment monopolies are an exemplar of this corrupt and ultimately self-destructive tendency of monopolies.

The most recent form of social organization to emerge is the network (N) — a loosely linked meshwork of tribal, instutional and market organizations that act through flows of information and political power rather than material resources, wealth or stratified position. The network form is not historically new. Tribal confederations, Ghengis Khan’s horde, revolutionary and subversive groups and most particularly social movements have all embodied networks as their exemplary form of organization.Indeed, social movement theorists like Wallace and Gerlach have postulated that networks and movements are the primary mechanism of social change in cultures that already have assimilated the tribal, institutional and market (TIM) forms of social organization.

Networks have very high communication costs and insufficient communication capacity is the most important limiting factor for the scale of a social network. The current turmoil in global civil and uncivil society is due to the “growing pains” of transition from an TIM to a TIMN society. That the most powerful actors on the world stage are the oil cartel (a market actor) and Muslim revitalization movement (a network/movement) goes a long way toward explaining why institutions like states or confederations like the EU or the United Nations are reacting, not leading the situation so inaccurately described as the “Global War On Terror.”

We are seeing the conflict between the disproportionate power of the most powerful market actor (the oil cartel) and the emerging power of the most dynamic network actor (Muslim revitalization.) The US is an institution struggling through the extension of military and political power to retain its centrality on the world stage. It’s not about “Freedom,” indeed, it’s not about much of anything that is traditionally thought of as a motive force in history. It’s about the changing forms of social organization brought about by the empowerment of networks by rapidly falling costs of communication.

The ideas about TIMN social organization are those of David Ronfeldt. The analysis is my own.

Pithy and Poignant

•June 5, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Dirty Greenie Hippy blog consistently catalogues the irreverent and chastises the complacent. Their lineup of Dirty Hippies produces some of the most pithy and poignant commentary on the web.

At a time when the empire has consolidated its prospects in the hapless charades of bipartisanship, the hippies might be our only hope for reviving democracy on our shores. If for no other reason, they deserve our undivided attention.

Welcome Digest

•September 23, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Intercontinental Cry is a welcome digest of news and analysis essential to understanding the World Indigenous Peoples’ Movement. The collection of videos alone is worth a visit.

Working with Words

•November 26, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Working with Words

The four modes of social organization — tribes, institutions, markets, and networks — all intentionally utilize words to communicate their unique perspectives and preferences. Words are chosen for their effect in creation stories, in mythologies, in advertising, and in propaganda.

Words themselves are invented for a purpose. They serve as tools of social organization, as weapons of war, as means of manipulation, and as medicine for the maligned.

Depending on how they are used, words can cause horrendous harm or great good. Meanings can be distorted or clarified.

Working with words can gain one respect, renown, and reward, but it can also generate resentment. Not all messages are appreciated.

Learning to use words effectively requires an understanding of the principles of communication, especially in what is termed netwar, which assumes that all communication in all its dimensions is contested, no matter the stated intent of the participants. Words are meant to achieve, and as propositions in the arena of human consciousness, they will be confronted; as such, working with words is serious business.

Achieving Coherence

As an editor, blogger and correspondent, I frequently come across brilliant scholars and committed activists struggling to communicate vital stories to institutional leaders, philanthropic donors, and media gatekeepers. As a communications advisor, I am amazed at how little attention is paid by these devoted humanitarians to the principles of this science.

As it is, many writers in academia – while often informative – are sometimes difficult to follow, as they offer bits of topics here and there.

Part of effective storytelling is to be interesting, which few writers accomplish, but to arrive at academic stature, that story needs to be sufficiently coherent. With essays by emerging authors, it is best for them to learn to think about structure and narrative coherence by doing that work themselves, but for those lacking a background in journalism or literature, manuals on such topics as briefings are worth looking at. Some pertinent articles are listed below.

Storytelling and Globalization

Networks and Netwars

Communication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society

The Gift of Humanity

•November 17, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Our featured site for the holiday season is Human Trafficking Project, an international consortium of volunteers exposing the modern slave trade. As this trade often involves young women and children used for prostitution in American cities, we thought showcasing this well-informed and organized blog was a way to give the greatest gift of all—humanity. Check out their videos, articles and reports, and decide if and how you might want to get involved or support those who are.