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Mitch SMith


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Neo-tribalism - solving the identity crisis of humanity.

More and more, I get the signal that many, if not most, of the problems we are confronted with today trace to the collapse of our identity - as individuals and communities.

My idea in this conversation is neo-tribalism.

At the base of this idea is a recognition of our evolved capacity to conduct social advantage as a survival strategy - and how we now face the critical choices that will determine if evolution got it right in the case of humans .. or if we will become no more than a fossil record for the ponderings of some other species that got it right..

I encourage readers here to review Robert Sapolsky's work on primate social organisation - it helps get a larger picture if you understand that primates are very experimental in geographical time-scale.

We, as a primate experiment, seem to have gotten out of balance since the last ice age. we have entered into many exponential dynamics that all appear to be converging in the next few decades.

Personally, I feel that it is inevitable - that we are far less in control of what happens than we would like.

That said - Have we over-reached our own capacity?
And should we now consider a partial return to what we are designed to be?

My idea asks this question:

Are we tribal by default?

And if we are - should we not respect this - to the extent that our tribal limits are recognised in everything we attempt to progress our integration in the world we participate in?

I suggest that we are tribal.

And I suggest that our tribes cannot be more than 150 productive adults plus dependants.

I suggest that the "family of man" is a deep mistake and that the real advance is, not in the unification of all humans, but the unification of human tribes.

I suggest that we should abandon the notion of all humans in harmony and get on with the job of all tribes in harmony.

Please discuss?

I have some observation which I will share in the process.


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    Oct 11 2013: Hello Mitch,
    Which tribe of 150 members are you signed up to?
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      Oct 11 2013: I seem to be more affiliated to the TED community than any other right now.
      You will note that the TED community seems to naturally split into political cells that rarely engage in each-other's topics.

      That's problematic because we are not equipped for physical survival functions .. e.g. food production and distribution.
      We are also subject to a poverty of communication - the rich redundancy of face-to-face communication is stripped-down to text.

      Prior to TED affiliation I had a folk-music affiliation - that particular tribe is well prepared for practical functionality. I still retain connection with the old tribe but there is a strong tendency to concentrate on a single tribe.
      Virtual tribes will need to be carefully regulated in neo-tribalism.

      BTW - the number 150 is an upper limit. Beyond that the neo-tribe would have mechanism to formally split.
      tribes can function OK as small as a family unit.
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        Oct 12 2013: I don't think it is true that members of the TED community generally engage only in topics that align with their political positions. An exception was your conversation on memes related to global warming, but that was only because you made quite clear, I think, that you did not want the participation of those who are not convinced of man-made global warming.

        If you personally avoid questions and ideas raised by conservative members of the community, you may simply not realize that people with a range of views do participate in them!

        I think, given your belief in strong tribal divisions, that you should be particularly cautious about the conclusions you draw from what you tend to notice in this area, because of the well established human disposition to confirmation bias.
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          Oct 12 2013: Hi Fritzie,

          My observations pre-date the memic topic. They extend into a lifetime of moving between one set of social cohesion and another.

          Up till recently, I viewed the prevalence of social cohesions more like the chaotic banding in a turbulent system .. as a visual metaphor I like to evoke the behaviour of smoke-plumes, or dye dropped into water .. weather systems etc.
          However, such phenomena occur within a wider system - when I correlate a notion of "self" to any particular system, we can propose that a human community has a "self". This idea is the basis of the topic. The proposal is that the "membrane" of this community self has some pre-existing adaptations - i.e. tribe.

          When cast in that light, the curls-of-smoke image of social cohesion suggests that it could be an aberrance - that my observations are of a ruptured system. Neo tribalism is the proposition that the rupture should be identified and addressed.

          The caution of confirmation bias is noted - and appreciated.

          I am also fully aware that challenging the popular notion of "the brotherhood of man" is confrontational .. my suggestion of "the brotherhood of tribes" will not go down well with those who view tribal cohesion as a threat - i.e. vested interests ;)

          edit: just thinking about it now .. the confirmation bias itself might be a part of cohesion principle of tribes . .. thoughts?
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        Oct 12 2013: I expect that confirmation bias is part of the cohesion principle of tribes in the sense that particular beliefs help a person fit where he wants to feel he fits. Still, someone who likes to feel unique may "employ" confirmation bias to confirm that solitary identity.

        I think challenging the idea of a brotherhood of man isn't particularly confrontational. I think, rather, that some people can care genuinely about a wider range and greater number of people than others can. Those who find it difficult to care sincerely about more than a few people might not be able to understand those who care sincerely about people who would on their face seem to have little in common with him. Those who care sincerely about a wide range and large number of people may have trouble understanding why some people seem to be able to care only about a tight circle around themselves.
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          Oct 12 2013: I don't think it's as simple as that.

          Having general empathy does not easily reconcile with specific empathy.
          With compassion being the active part of empathy, limits emerge that are not simply individualistic.
          For instance .. I had great concern with the conduct of my own compassion .. I am very easily moved to have compassion for those in distress, however, any action arising from that compassion can have the reverse effect to the compassionate motive. If, for instance, I give money to a beggar who then uses that money to damage him/herself (as in the addict-beggar who goes straight from the street to the dealer) - in that case, my compassionate act operates contrary to my compassionate intention. The introduction of true familiarity to the scenario re-normalises the balance. If fro instance I know the beggar well, then the offer of money will be known to be inappropriate to the compassionate intention - and there are physiological limits to the maturity of my empathy - and by extension to the effectiveness of my compassionate act.

          In that regard, one could say that general compassion is desirable, but that effective compassionate action requires specific empathetic maturity.
          Dealing in generalities can be dangerously politic - specific advantage then becomes the subject of analysis before any conclusion can be drawn.

          In this, my advantage is the stability of the social structure that supports me. It seems worth exploring. Coincidentally, this is a specific that might influence the generality - and benefit advantage to more than just me.
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          Oct 12 2013: For some reason, I feel you would benefit from looking at this.

          It tells something about my small clumsy exertions here:
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        Oct 12 2013: Hello Mitch,
        Thank you for the clarification.
        My observation is that tribalism is on the increase, naturally. For example the Basques want out of Spain, the Scots out of the U.K, various regions of the former USSR want increased independence. And with the internet virtual tribes emerge all the time based on common interest. People identify more easily with smaller groups. I agree with your basic thesis.
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          Oct 12 2013: Yes.

          I'm intrinsically lazy - I tend to describe rather than prescribe .. but .. well, that's not nothing.

          I appreciate your support.

          I happen to love life - and won't risk it as did the truly great men of our history .. but even in a coward's risk .. there is something.

          I think of the "power-law of distribution "few do much, many do little" and when you add it all up - it's enough.

          I could wish to be a greater man - but those who rely on me would disagree .. we are not alone - and in company .. great or small .. we are enough.

          I wish to explore how little is enough - and how too much is destructive for all us little people.

          I feel this is worthwhile - my much for the little - who are many.
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        Oct 12 2013: I listened to his talk and a bit of the Q and A. For the reader who may not have the time to listen to it, the speaker points to the groundswell of disillusionment with the results of capitalism in America as an opening for a broadened discussion of Marxism, but in particular of democratic, worker centered decision-making in firms.

        He further claims that this discussion has been quiet for forty-five years, but that recently he has been invited on Charlie Rose and twice on Bill Moyers.

        As I listened to twenty of twenty-six minutes of the selection, I did not hear his name, but he taught, formerly, at the University of Massachusetts. In the United states, I might add, universities vary in how much critique of capitalism or of market systems is represented on their faculties.
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          Oct 12 2013: Ahh . yeah ;) lol

          Get to it - let me know.

          I think it's kinda all over at this point. But happy to cover the fringe.

          If I get time to look.


          (had a couple of goes at this .. I'm a bit slow .. but have a long attention span .. all the best. Mitch)
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        Oct 12 2013: I know you had a couple of goes, confusing on my end as I get alerted and see part of a message and then when I click the link, it is gone on the site. For example, was one Barry McGuire lyrics?
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          Oct 16 2013: HI Fritzie,

          Could have been anything .. your reply sent me through a series of reflections - a lot of them false.

          There seem to be some cardboard rocks in my cave. And some of them are bears.

          Whether cardboard or real, rocks can be useful - but .. seems the real bears are more instructive that utile.

          I do these threads as sticks to poke the bears - and one of them turns out to be the TED-conversation-utility-bear. This latest one seems real.

          The question becomes - is there any utility which can be brought fourth as a gift?
          I have bears and rocks enough for one man - so there is no use for more except to share.

          So .. a bear has instructed me to have more outcomes in mind when I poke bears.
          For instance - can the material generated here be collected into a book?
          Is there any need to do such a thing?

          Or do we set loose bears for the joy of running?
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        Oct 17 2013: On the plus side, if you were to write a blog or a book of essays, you would have your thinking on a variety of subjects in one place. It would be like a snapshot of what you were thinking in 2013. At the very least, this might be interesting for you, and, as you have a son, there would be a keepsake of your "voice."

        If you want others to benefit from your thinking, you might need to put more time and effort into writing than you have available. Writing a book someone might read is more work than writing a series of blog posts, which in turn is more work than posting your ideas in a stream of consciousness, as it were, online.

        There is also the matter of a program of action. I probably misunderstood, but I thought you were planning to launch an actual program of action.

        If you are most seriously committed to a program of action that needs to "take off" with people to be effective, I think a book is probably not as good a vehicle for moving that along as some strategy that communicates ideas and a plan more succinctly.
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          Oct 17 2013: We are in strange times.

          The stream appears to have currents.

          At one time, books were like the rocks in the stream that influenced the flow.
          This is becoming less and less.

          Now it is looking like a topology .. something far more fragmented .. the rocks dissolve, and reveal .. what? Is it just the sand becoming fluid, creating a topology of sand, far more intricate than the stability of rock?

          In one sense, contributing here is like being a grain of sand in the TED conversation stream.

          A plan of action?

          Most definitely - in fact, the response here will determine where I choose to live for the next few years.. The nature of the tribes that will be ambient in that place seems critical at this stage. And once there, how I can work the levers of tribe dynamics to secure some certainty for my son, and as many more as can be accommodated.

          Just generally, it seems like a good long term strategy to add a fraction of awareness on this subject to the global flow.

          The importance of the totem and how it grants our adaptability in the face of accelerating change - and how to examine the health of it.
          How the totem allows us to wrest-back adaptations that cost adaptability.

          These will be my contribution once all the fluff gets knocked of by the current.

          It's becoming fairly clear .. a little more, and it can be just set loose like a spore.

          For some reason, poetry seems important right now.
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          Oct 17 2013: I am listening to a live feed now - it is reporting about how the environment and infrastructure around me is exploding in fire.
          I watched the sky today, felt the wind .. I was woken up by branches falling on my roof from the bangy energised climate.

          The fires go around me this time .. but next time - I won't be here.

          I am going to a place on solar/wind/rain-tank with satellite comms.

          I will get the chance to abandon more of the institutions that have failed me one after the other over the last 10 years - all of which have taught me that global culture is an adaptation - a fatal adaptation.

          I will commence the tribal dynamic from the standpoint of recognition that all our institutions are dead.

          I am ready I am acting. I might fail, but if you remain adapted now it will be at the expense of your adaptation.

          As my future unfolds, I am going tribal from a place where my fellows are already distant from the adaptation of globalism.

          I will destroy money, I will destroy all things that do not sit on my totem.

          If I fail, I will fail .. but there is no way forward outside of a tribe.

          Better discover what your tribe is.

          There is nothing abstract about this. IT's real. It's happening as I speak, people are dieing and their houses are burning .. right now within 2 kilometres from here.

          This is my turn - you will not escape yours.

          Don't be surprised.
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        Oct 17 2013: Be safe, Mitch.

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