Monday, October 15, 2012

Q’s & A’s about “TIMN in 20 minutes” (3rd of 7): past, present, and future of democracy

As explained in the introduction to the first post in this series, it logs comments on my video about TIMN. The introduction also explains how the posts are arranged, and how I’ve approached using commenters’ remarks. Readers should be mindful of the caveats I offered there about my presentation of those remarks and my replies.

This particular post logs remarks by commenters who raised issues focused on the past, present, and future of democracy.

TIMN and the challenge of democracy

A strategic planner with The Challenge Network — Oliver Sparrow — put TIMN to use in a post at its website, as follows:
“Our group has also been thinking about the nature of power and influence. Societies which leave a mark on history generally develop from a state of simplicity to complexity. As they progress, they go through characteristic phases. Arrangements of families, small communities and tribes usually give way to stratified, hierarchical and often urbanised societies. These, in their turn, become too complex to manage top-down — as demonstrated by the totalitarian experiments of the early Twentieth century — and successful societies move on to market mechanisms, whereby resource allocation and choice are delegated solely to the agents making those choices.
“This, in turn, seems to be leading us into a fourth stage: organisation through networks. This has two characteristics. These are:
  • First, that groups independent of the state and the economic agents feel free to monitor, criticise and attempt to influence other actors directly.
  • Second, that the communities from which these voices emerge are not primarily focused at national level - being both extremely local and frequently transnational.
“The nature of these networks vary with the problem and its perceived solution, Some, like supply chains, are highly pragmatic, whilst others, such as political or lobby interests, operate in less tangible ways. They are usually tightly linked in further networks with other interests, and people spread their membership amongst these, by no means confining themselves to any one community.
“This progression has been called the TIMN model (Tribe, Institutional, Market, Network.) It has been developed and proven by RAND social scientist David Ronfeldt.
“Democracy, in whatever of its many forms, does not match innately to any of these stages. It is a particular way of operating, not a style that is intrinsically limited to a given stage. You can have more or less democratic tribal systems and more or less democratic market-based ones. What defines democracy is the social filtration that is applied to two separate elements of government: that is, to policy formation and to executive competence.”
An excellent summary. I’d never claim that I have “proven” TIMN, but I welcome the nod. What I particularly appreciate about the above take on TIMN is its noticing that “democracy” may be found, to varying degrees, in many historical expressions of the forms. Indeed, each TIMN form may be associated with a different type of democracy (as I elaborated about a third of the way down in a prior blog post about future prospects for “monitory democracy” here).

Yet, much as I remain optimistic that TIMN implies newer, bigger, better kinds of democracy for the advanced societies, it also implies new kinds of authoritarianism. We should even expect new kinds of technologically-advanced hybrids of democracy and authoritarianism (perhaps as discussed under the concept of cyberocracy here).

TIMN in 1848 and 2011

An historian — Mike Rapport — made some remarks about TIMN in a presentation I heard about that analyzed the causes, conduct, and consequences of Europe’s 1848 revolutions, which he then compared to the Arab upheavals of 2011. According to a rapporteur’s write-up, “the speaker detects all four TIMN forms in 1848”:
“Tribes: Revolutions failed partly because they created openings for airing ethnic grievances, allowing conservative regimes to play ethnicities against one another.
“Institutions: 1848 revolutionaries focused on constitutions, parliaments and elections to the exclusion of the armed forces and state bureaucracies. This allowed organs such as the civil service and the military to rally or resist further change (as in the cases of Bismarck and Radetzky).
“Markets: Revolutionaries demanded the regulation of markets to alleviate desperate poverty and improve working conditions.
“Networks: Underground organizations predated the revolutions, whose disruption of censorship and policing allowed an explosion of writing and culture.
“In addition, the speaker wondered how far commonalities between the 1848 nations mattered as opposed to their differences, carrying this question forward to the 2011 Arab uprisings with a caution against exaggerating their similarities.”

In my TIMN-oriented reading of the presentation, I saw some support for my notion (here) that the 1848 revolutions were “caused” by the rise of the market form, much as the 2011 revolutions are “caused” by the rise of the network form. Or, to reword it the way I did (here) after reading John Keane’s book, 2011 may well be to the future of “monitory democracy” as 1848 was to representative democracy.

I agree with Rapport's’s point that TIMN would benefit from better methods for visualization. I’d not thought of a quadrant table he proposed. Yet I’d still like to see something a bit clearer for depicting the relative strengths of each form and the relations among them. A better “mathematical” or graphic depiction may yet be discerned. I’ve some exploratory notes about this somewhere, but I’ve not yet turned them into a post.

I also agree with his point that revolutionary upheavals may go through various stages, each of them involving somewhat different TIMN forces and dynamics. His effort to articulate and depict that in TIMN terms is helpful, suggestive.

His point about the prevalence of networks in Medieval eras is one I’ve come across before. It’s a challenging point, and I remain uncertain how best to treat it in TIMN terms. But here are my preliminary thoughts: TIMN allows for all the forms to crop up at all times across history. Network-type formations were evidently more rife in Medieval eras than I once supposed. Yet I still wonder whether they were more like pan-clan formations than modern network formations. Besides, rife though they may have been, and much as they may have enlivened civil society back then, they still didn’t add up to the kind of sector that TIMN presumes will emerge. Moreover, I’ve yet to see philosophic arguments from back then that argue for preferring this form. Edmund Burke’s “little platoons” notion stepped in the right direction, as did some other praises of civil-society associations. But so far, I regard them as precursors to what may be evolving now.

TIMN and Christian Democracy

A scholar who focuses on Constitutions — Elliot Bulmer — inquired:
Would it be reasonable to consider TIMN as essentially an updated and secular application of Christian Democratic principles?
I ask because it seems to me that Christian Democratic concepts such as personalism, sphere sovereignty and subsidiarity seem, at least at first glance, to map very well onto the TIMN framework. The quadraform society appears to reflect the traditional Christian Democratic ideal of a harmonious balance between the family, the state, the market and civic society / voluntary sector, with each of these pillars having distinct but mutually supporting functions and responsibilities in the realisation of the common-weal.
My tentative reply: I’m not particularly familiar with Christian Democratic (or any other political party’s) principles and platforms. But it looks as though TIMN maps well with what you describe. And I rather like what you describe. Perhaps I’m a kind of a Christian Democrat and haven’t know it. The little exposure I once had to Christian Democratic parties was when I used to work on Latin American issues long ago.

Meanwhile, and in a somewhat related vein, I appreciated an op-ed some months ago in the New York Times by David Brooks that called for new efforts to include “family policy” in our political agendas. That resonated with my sense of TIMN, whose “tribal” bases seem quite out of whack in my country.

Applying TIMN to American partisan politics

Another information-age strategist “had a fleeting thought and wanted to run it by you. This is a question as much as an assertion.”
“Can you imagine that networks and monitory democracy align better with elected democrats (party members) and how they identify themselves, the range of possibilities in policy formation, the range of actors involved, and comfort with the technology and loosening of control? Whereas the republicans feel culturally more comfortable with tighter control over policy formation, message, narrative, and want more an "I" approach than an "N" approach? Does that make any sense to you?”
That’s an astute application of TIMN. I quite agree.

From a TIMN perspective, as I view it, the current crop of Republican and related conservative partisans do seem to be dedicated to party discipline and message unification in very “I”-like ways. They are also thinking and acting in ways that are strongly “T”. Indeed, their allied media arms in radio and TV seem led by tribalists who aim to tribalize. Need I mention names? Moreover, these pro-Republican circles are not as “M” oriented as they claim. Republicans tend to be pro-business, but I don’t see a marketplace of ideas functioning in current partisan circles. Indeed, much of the above is embodied in the anti-tax pledge so many have signed — it’s a tribal, hierarchical, anti-market device.

In contrast, the Democrats and related liberal partisans do seem to be thinking and acting in far more “N”-like ways, both organizationally and in terms of their tolerance of openness and variance, though this makes them seem disorganized. Moreover, at least some Democrats seem to sense — though they’ve not quite grasped — that the network form may lead to new kinds of policy options. The Democrats have their partisan tribal (“T”) aspects too, but not to the degree I see among Republicans.

Overall, neither party or its leaders seem presently capable of heading us toward “monitory democracy” and the innovation of a quadriform (T+I+M+N) system. I’ll have more to say about this in the next post in this series. For this post, I’d mainly note that both the Republicans and the Democrats — especially today’s Republicans — seem mired in aging triform (T+I+M) logics. They are particularly mired in biform debates about whether government (I) or business (M) should prevail. And their divisive polarizing approaches run contrary to TIMN principles about balancing and limiting all the forms, about making them work together, and about creating appropriate regulatory interfaces.*

Maybe the excessive tribalism I see is partly a result of their thinking and behaving in so many ways that run contrary to sound TIMN principles. Tribalism becomes a refuge of the wrong and the wronged. And when its proponents gain power, it is conducive to patrimonial corporatism, more than to liberal democracy.

* A note about my reference to regulatory interfaces: In an earlier post at this blog, I identified a set of principles and propositions about TIMN’s system dynamics. One of them is that “Successful combination depends on the development of regulatory interfaces.” Another reads that “Balanced combination is imperative.” A corollary to either or both might be that the type and degree of regulation should be roughly comparable between any and all forms. If so, today’s Republicans and related conservatives appear to be inconsistent regarding this TIMN principle too, in that many keep calling for extreme deregulation of relations between government (I) and business (M) sectors, but heavy new regulation of marriage, reproduction, immigration, and other social (T) criteria.

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