Internet Anthropologist Think Tank: Taliban as Tribe

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    Friday, November 23, 2007

    Taliban as Tribe

    Al Qaeda and its affiliates: A global tribe waging segmental warfare?

    Basic dynamics of classic tribes

    ( links are mine: Examples: Gerald )

    As people banded together to constitute primitive societies thousands of years ago, the first major form of organization to emerge was the tribe. Its key organizing principle was kinship, as expressed through nuclear and extended family ties, lineage segments (notably, clans) that spanned various families and villages, and claims of descent from a common, often mythologized, even god–like ancestor. The tribe's key purpose (or function) was to infuse a distinct sense of social identity and belonging, thereby strengthening a people's ability to bond and survive as individuals and as a collective.

    A classic tribe may be tied to a specific territory and the exploitation of resources found there. It may spell an evolution from the hunter–gatherer life of nomadic bands to a more settled, agrarian, village lifestyle. It may span various villages and hamlets, and its size may grow to several thousand people. It may harden its identity as a tribe, as a result of conflicts with outsiders. And it may lack the formal institutional hierarchies that characterize chiefdoms and states — the two types of societies that come next in evolutionary theory. Yet even if these or other observations made by scholars are added to the definition of the tribe, kinship remains its essence.

    As tribes grow, clans usually coalesce inside them — clans being clusters of families and individuals who claim a particular lineage and, because of this, act conjointly in a corporate manner. Typically, a clan has its own legends, rituals and ceremonies, its own lands, households and other properties, a "Big Man" or an elder to represent (but not rule) it, and perhaps a particular function, such as progeny who often serve as priests or warriors. Mutual defense and aid are keenly important in clan systems; indeed, an insult or threat to any one member is received as an insult or threat to all — as is also the case for a tribe as a whole vis–à–vis other tribes and outsiders.

    While lineage and marriage ties can keep small tribes together, they alone do not suffice to keep large tribes and clans integrated. This eventually requires the rise of a variant on the kinship principle: fraternal associations and corporate orders based more on a sense of brotherhood than blood — what anthropologists call "fictive kinship." Such associations may combine individuals from various families and villages for a specific, corporate purpose. Examples include secret brotherhoods as well as age–grade, warrior, healing, ceremonial, and religious associations. While some may derive directly from lineage (e.g., a clan), others do not — yet all emulate kin–like relations. The larger and more complex a tribe becomes, the more important such brotherhoods become. (In modern times, these are often called clubs, gangs, and secret societies.)

    Kinship considerations permeate everything — all thought and action — in a tribe and its constituent segments. One's identity is less about one's self than one's lineage — lineage determines most of one's identity as an individual and submerges it in the tribal whole. This applies also to one of the most important activities in a tribe: arranged marriage — it too is about the linking of families, not individuals. From our distant remove, varied economic, political, and cultural activities may appear to occur in a tribe; but seen in their own light, tribes lack such differentiation — everything one does in a tribe is done as a kinsman of one kind or another. In tribal milieus, strategy and tactics revolve around what might be called kinpolitik, far more than realpolitik.

    Without going into details about just how complicated kinship charts and calculations can get, individual identities and possibilities in tribal/clan societies are both fixed and fluid at the same time. Lineage positions mean they are fixed, because of to whom an individual is born, and when. Moreover, as a rule, tribe trumps clan, trumps family, trumps individuals — binding all into a nested social (but not political) hierarchy. Yet, kin and their associates operate off lateral as much as vertical ties; for example, a person can choose which relative (say, which distant cousin) to ally with on which issues and under what circumstances. This can make for very flexible social possibilities that resemble not only circles within circles, but also circles across circles. This offers extensive room for maneuver, which can be used for promoting rivalries as well as alliances.

    As individuals, families, clans, and tribes as a whole assert their place and maneuver for position, maximizing honor — not power or profit — is normally their paramount motivation. This emphasis is often thought to flow from the fact that tribes arose in subsistence times, way too early for power or profit to matter. But there must be more to the explanation, for the pattern persists in modern sorts of tribes and clans. Wherever people, even powerful rich people, turn tribal and clannish, honor — as well as its concomitants: respect, pride, and dignity — come into serious play in social interactions. Thus, warlords and warriors fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other tribal zones are renowned for the value they place on upholding codes of honor and avoiding shameful humiliation. Everybody wants to gain honor for themselves and their lineage, clan, and tribe; no one can afford to lose face, for that would reflect badly not only on them as individuals but also on all their kin.

    Tribes behave more like balance–of–honor than balance–of–power systems.

    ( Example: In the consideration of a bribe, the reason for the bribe maybe more important than the amount, a bribe that would violate their sense of honor would be shameful, humiliating offer.
    While a bribe for the same action but for the reason of supporting a distant relative, by marriage, in a different tribe might be appropriate... Gerald )

    Excellent article.

    There is a lot of talk around the blogsphere about anthropologists in the war effort, and many anthropologists are quite touchy about the subject. Alas my beloved anthropology is a bit of a bastard child, having being reinvented several times.
    The main issue is about "Doing no Harm" and anthropology has a dismal history.

    Anthropology had a hand in the Genocide by the British on the island off Australia, even I have a block about it.
    And the American Indians and their treatment at the hands of the anthropologists.

    But it should be recognized absense of action can also be harming, seeing the problem and doing nothing can also be a violation of "do no harm".

    Anthropology is a very powerful tool.

    From a paper I wrote in Friday, August 24, 2001 10:18:30 PM

    Has anthropology left a heritage of unfinished business? Have we been the handmaidens of colonialism, do we continue to be? Our history is rife with examples of how more advanced cultures have dealt with less technologically developed cultures, the African blacks and slavery, the American Indians and reservations, the Tasmanians and genocide.

    How could anthropologists and Universities have made errors of this magnitude? Why couldn’t they see the error? Could we see an error of the same magnitude now? What would we look for?

    I’ve used semontics (see Tomaselli’s book "Appropriating Images" ) to investigate our current anthropological paradigm, looking for areas where it doesn’t adhere to it’s own standards of clarity or argument within its own ontology....


    Is anthropology still the handmaiden of colonialism through the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank? My 'computer science project" is a form of Guerrilla anthropology using the Internet as a "social change engine". Using anthropology's strongest tool that of 'exposure'

    I'm developing a concept I

    originated, I believe it is a powerful new concept a new tool for

    anthropologists. As an Internet anthropologist this may be a potential

    new branch of Applied anthropology "Guerrilla Anthropology.

    This concept stems from 'Guerilla Warfare' where a small force with few

    resources and little financing is able to war with a much powerful and

    much better equipped force and win. Vietnam was a case in point.

    In Guerrilla Anthropology the Internet is used as a 'social change

    engine' Probably the most powerful force anthropologist have is 'Exposure'.

    Matthew Brady's timed exposures of the Civil War's fallen bodies, faces

    of the maimed and the captured exposed the horrors of war for the first

    time, romanticized. Jacob Riis powder flash photos of "Bandits

    Roost",exposed slums, which helped develop the first building codes. Or

    Lewis Hine's photos that helped establish child labor laws.

    Observation, synthesis, action and exposure is the essence of applied

    anthropology, it is in this tradition and shadow I've formed the concept

    for my project.

    Binny beat me to it: "How has one man in a cave managed to out-communicate the world's greatest communication society, in the world?"



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