John Robb: How to Create an Occupy Tribe

Blog Wisdom, Civil Society, Cultural Intelligence, Ethics
John Robb

JOURNAL: How to Create an Occupy Tribe

There’s no question that the Occupy groups have done a great job with constructing the outlines of resilient communities in the heart of many of our most dense urban areas.

People pitch in to do work.  They are considerate despite the difficulty of the arrangement.  Food gets served.  The area gets cleaned. There is entertainment. There’s innovation (equipment, tech, workarounds).  There is education (lots of seminars being taught). There is open, participatory governance.  All of this is great and this experience will definitely pay off over the next decade as the global economy deteriorates, panics, fails.  It will make building resilient communities easier (there are lots of ways to build a resilient community, we’re trying to document all of the ways how on MiiU).

However, is this experience building a tribal identity?  An Occupy tribe?  Something that can eventually (there’s lots to do in the short to medium term) go beyond protest and build something new?  One even strong enough to create new resilient economic and social networks that step into the breach as the current one fails?
How to Manufacture a Tribe

How do you manufacture a strong community that protects, defends and advances the interests of its members?  You build a tribe.  Tribal organization is the most survivable of all organizational types and it was the dominant form for 99.99% of human history.  The most important aspect of tribal organization is that it is the organizational cockroach of human history.  It has proved it can withstand the onslaught of the harshest of environments.  Global depression?  No problem.  (for more, see:  Tribes!)

To build a tribal identity, the Occupy movement will need to manufacture fictive kinship.  That kinship is built through (see Ronfeldt’s paper for some background on this) the following:

  • Story telling.  Shared histories and historical narratives.
  • Rites of passage.  Rituals of membership.  Membership is earned not given due to the geographic location of birth or residence.
  • Obligations.   Rules of conduct and honor.  The ultimate penalty being expulsion.
  • Egalitarian and often leaderless organization.  Sharing is prized.
  • Multi-skilled.  Segmental organization (lots of redundancy among parts).
  • Two-way loyalty.  The tribe protects the members and the members protect the tribe.   If this isn’t implemented, you don’t have a tribe, you have a Kiwanis club.

It looks like they are building an identity.  The general assembly is the story telling mechanism (the 99% stories are more).  Going to an occupy location and helping out is the rite of passage.  There are rules of conduct (a shame culture).  It’s definitely egalitarian and leaderless.  It’s segmented into different geographies.  Given the efforts put in to keep the occupy locations intact, it appears that people have become loyal to the movement.

The only question is whether the tribe truly protects the members.  Is the loyalty two way?