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Growing Pains

Published: December 9, 2008, Author: JayTaber

In his 1996 treatise Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks, RAND analyst David Ronfeldt proposed a framework about societal evolution that viewed the conflict between these primary forms of social organization as something akin to growing pains. Each form, having come about to accommodate human needs or desires, had to adapt to the others as they themselves evolved as a result of both conflictual and cooperative dynamics.

In 2001, Ronfeldt and his associate John Arquilla extended this proposition in a paper titled Networks and Netwars and the Fight for the Future, which compared and contrasted the maneuverability of these varied forms in modern civil society conflicts. Involving the use of psychological warfare, this maneuverability is enhanced by improvements in communications technology as well as new sociological doctrine, strategy and tactics. Netwar in the Emerald City, by their colleague Paul de Armond at Public Good Project, illustrated their theories relative to the 1999 WTO Ministerial fracas, commonly known as The Battle in Seattle.

At the UN climate talks this week in Poznan, Poland, the four social forces delineated by Ronfeldt met on the field of ideological battle, in what might be called a preliminary infosphere skirmish, as prelude to the December 2009 UN Climate Change Conference to be held in Copenhagen. Excluded from participating in the talks themselves, tribal delegates from around the world arrived to observe the institutional negotiations (based on market assumptions), to voice objections to their exclusion, as well as to offer their unique perspective as an indigenous caucus.

Loosely allied with the World Indigenous Movement, whose delegates descended on Poznan, is the network of non-indigenous activists involved in environmental restoration, human rights advocacy, and pro-democracy organizing. Considered distinct issues by the institutions meeting in Poland, the connectivity of these values is consolidated in the tribal worldview under the law of generosity, often noted as comprising conservation, cooperation, and reciprocity.

In the opening section of the Albion Monitor article Black Flag Over Seattle, Mr. de Armond remarked that plans of battle evaporate with the first foray onto the battlefield. Given that the opposing forces mustering around the climate change arena hold diametrically opposed views of how nature, life and humanity should be conducted, it seems inevitable that without a change of heart by institutional and market actors in this supreme human drama, the outcome of the presently myopic negotiations is doomed from the outset. What the more visionary, wholistic non-participants can achieve, depends on their ability to outmaneuver their less-evolved opponents.

(Jay Taber is a political analyst and strategist at Public Good Project.)

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