Monday, July 14, 2008


If you want to know why conscious political rap never sells the way gangsta rap does, consider that organized crime killed JFK and got away with it - and everybody in the world knows they did it.

Violent, organized groups of ethnically-similar criminals - criminal tribes, to be anthropological, or Mafias, to be colloquial - trump state governments every time.

To quote Sun Tzu, a tiger at the gates keeps a herd of deer at bay.

Humanity tried to create a system to replace inter-tribal warfare but ended up creating a system which only mitigates and contextualizes it.

Nearly all human societies today have given up the personal pursuit of justice in favor of impersonal systems operated by state governments—at least, on paper. Without state government, war between local groups is chronic; co√∂peration between local groups on projects bringing benefits to everyone—such as large-scale irrigation systems, free rights of travel, and long-distance trade—becomes much more difficult; and even the frequency of murder within a local group is higher. It’s true, of course, that twentieth-century state societies, having developed potent technologies of mass killing, have broken all historical records for violent deaths. But this is because they enjoy the advantage of having by far the largest populations of potential victims in human history; the actual percentage of the population that died violently was on the average higher in traditional pre-state societies than it was even in Poland during the Second World War or Cambodia under Pol Pot.

Daniel seemed to recognize this when he concluded that, despite his former passionate waging of war against Ombals, the Western state system of adjudicating disputes is preferable. Why, then, didn’t New Guineans give up a way of life that obviously made their lives miserable? A striking feature of New Guinea’s history is that New Guineans traditionally practiced unchecked violence against each other, yet they offered only limited resistance to the imposition of state government and the ending of that violence by European colonial powers. That wasn’t just because Europeans had guns and New Guineans didn’t; the number of armed Europeans involved in “pacification” was often absurdly few. Daniel’s view points to another reason: as more New Guineans were exposed to the benefits of state-administered justice, they saw that they were better off living without the constant fear of being killed, though, of course, no tribe could ever have followed that course of peaceful dispute adjudication unilaterally.

Criminal gangs are not the only "civilized" context where tribal behavior re-emerges.

The fact that psychedelic electronic music collectives in 2003 call themselves "tribes," then, is unsurprising. But it is something of a misnomer. Certain sects of the goth, punk rock, folk, and jam band subcultures all label themselves "tribes," as do niche groups of mountain bikers, rock climbers, Harley riders, and sports fans. These factors combined with the widespread popularity of branding, tribal tattoos and piercings, and the corporate co-opting of neo-primitivism and tribalism as a marketing trope for everything from soft-shell tacos to footwear has substantially diluted the meaning of the word.

"I think of things like the disco underground in New York in the '70s, or the various post-rave subcultures, as being like postmodern ethnicities, elective tribes," says Simon Reynolds, author of Generation Ecstasy and one of the world's foremost authorities on electronic music culture. "In other words, with real tribes you're born into them and [their] worldview is the total horizon of reality for you, whereas with elective tribes you choose to join them and it's a role you step into and then step out of when you go back to your normal work or family life."

Every "tribe" has its style of car.

What are programmer language wars but fights between tribes?

Who are your former co-workers, when they tell you, "we all work at Company X now, you should join us"?

What do social networking features do but enable ever-more-specific elective tribes?

Most smart sites encourage tribal self-government, empowering tribal elders and only interfering when they must.

This is the future of government.