Phyles and Networked Tribalism (notes and link roundup)


The despatialized patch: or, as it has been called by its actually-existing practitioners, a phyle. The question of despatialized patches becomes foregrounded by multiple factors, the most obvious of which is that in the 21st century there is not necessarily any correlations between community and territorial clustering. Not even that ephemeral force that organized itself through reiterating engagements in a shared environment – tradition – is locked in place by the ground from which it emerged. Solid into air, value into information. On the far side of this trend is subscription governance that, unlike fixed neocam models, can be plugged into anywhere in the world. One only needs to look in the direction of  Estonia’s ongoing experiments with e-governance to reach this stage (or, from another direction, the recognition that there’s nary a government service that isn’t also provided for on the open market, and it is only a matter of time before the package deal rears its head. Government, by Amazon).

The term phyle has its roots in Neal Stephenson’s (post)cyberpunk novel The Diamond Age, and describes national, ethnic, and ‘synthetic’ networks of governance and commerce that operate globally. Coexistence with city-states, the phyles maintain certain territorial ‘enclaves’ where business enterprises internal to the network set up shop, which in turn supports the functioning of the phyle itself. In many respects Stephenson’s vision comes close to Rizome, the transnationally-networked corporation in Bruce Sterling’s Islands in the Net, which also exhibited a kind of decentralist organizational dynamic that has been described by Kevin Carson, in The Desktop Regulatory State, as ‘platform support structures’. Sterling suggested that the Rizome organizational system be likened to the structures of Japanese feudalism, while Stephenson’s phyles akin to the Venetian merchant guilds. Time-tangling, it seems, is utterly ubiquitous, and when we consider that the fictional depiction of the phyle directly informs the real-life experimentation, it’s clear that something very weird is happening. A hyperstitional thread, however, is probably best left for another time…

Las Indias is a ‘neo-Venetian’ phyle organized by a collective that came together in the Spanish cyberpunk scene of the 1990s. Contra the voiceless structure of Moldbuggian neocameralism, Las Indias articulates itself as an ‘economic democracy’ boasting a heavy focus on community, fraternity, and shared experience: a social “common metabolism’ that is conjoined to a “single economic metabolism”. According to David de Ugarte, one of the chief brains behind the project, these intertwined metabolisms produce an architecture that synthesizes an understanding of the phyle as both a “micro-country without territory” and a “kind of local economy”: the transnational network and the localized, spatial support structures. Out from these conduits flows product and services, and in flows capital and goods.

de Ugarte notes that while the neo-Venetian ethic of Las Indias bends towards the democratic, this isn’t the only path for the phyle:

The Murides, the old pacifist Sufis from Senegal, went from having a nationalist dis- course and growing peanuts to constituting a community trade network with two million members that spreads from South Africa to Italy. Its transformation isn’t over yet, but the young Murides have turned the daïras, the old Koranic schools, into urban communes that are also business cells.

At first blush, nothing could be farther apart than cyberpunks and the Murides. But the parallelism is significant: they are not companies linked to a community, but transnational communities that have acquired enterprises in order to gain continuity in time and robustness. They are phyles.

Phyles may function democratically and be cooperative-based, as in the case of the Indianos, or else they may have a small-business structure and even a religiously inspired ideology, as in the case of the Murides. But they share two key elements: they possess a transnational identity, and they subordinate their companies to personal and community needs.

Phyles are “order attractors” in a domain which states cannot reach conceptually and in areas that states increasingly leave in the dark: phyles invest in social cohesion, sometimes even creating infrastructures, providing grants and training, and having their own NGOs. Transnational thinking allows them to access the new globalised business before anyone else. A phyle’s investment portfolio may range from renewable energies to PMCs, from free software initiatives to credit cooperatives. Their bet is based on two ideas. First: transnational is more powerful than international. Second: in a global market the community is more resilient than the “classic” capitalist company.

Commentary from others in the P2P ‘movement’ had pushed back a little on certain aspects of Las Indias’s presentation of the phyle: drawing on some the same historical precedents cited by de Ugarte (namely: merchant guilds), Poor Richard challenges the formula that “community precedes enterprise”:

A guild can function just as envisioned for a phyle (from Greek phulē — tribe, clan) but does not carry the same connotation as a tribe, clan, or phyle of having a primary basis in familial kinship, nor the historical reputation (in certain cases) of rebellion against central authority. The subtle but important difference is that a guild is all about practical know-how and about taking care of business– not about ideology or revolution (eh, at least on the surface…).

Typically a guild (German: Gilde) is an association of craftsmen in a particular trade. In the most general sense a guild is simply an organization of persons (peers) with related interests, goals, etc., especially one formed for mutual aid or protection. Historically guilds were any of various medieval associations, as of merchants or artisans, organized to maintain standards and to protect the interests of their members.


One point on which I think guilds differ from Las Indias’ conception of phyles (“In Phyles, Community precedes Enterprise” -David Uguarte) is that for guilds, community and enterprise are two sides of one coin. I think this fits well with p2p culture while also being relatively non-confrontational with mainstream corporate/capitalist norms. The ability of guilds and leagues (such as the League of Women Voters) to present a relatively “normal” outward face, may have occasional tactical advantages.

Leaping off from this conversation, we might say that the phyle is a diagonalization between two different forms of organization: the guild and the networked tribe. There has been quite murmurs and active experimentation with neo-guild models over the last two decades, but the figure of the tribe itself – as perhaps a more abstract organizational system than either the guild or the phyle – permeate the emergent world. Extrapolate from trends in cultural fragmentation and miniaturization of production technology, and McLuhan’s dictum that electronic communicaton exerts a “tribalizing effect” nestles itself up against everything from the (arguably templex) tribalist dreams emanating from certain anarchist quarters as well as DIY networks, to insurgent hacker tribes, among other examples.

Speaking of tribes and time loops, here’s John Robb, circa 2005. While written only a year into the US’s disastrous adventure in Iraq, this seems like it may very well be more relevant today:

The tribalism we face today is a combination of these ancient mindsets and modern systems thinking (economics, networks, communication, etc.). It’s a very dangerous combination made stronger by the forces of globalization — which has levelled the playing field in the competition between tribes and states. Today, networked tribes thrive economically (particularly as participants in the multi-trillion dollar black economy) and project power globally:

  • In Iraq, we don’t face a single tribe (either traditional or manufactured). We face dozens. Wholesale systems disruption and violence has forced great many people (particularly young men) into tribal organizations for economic support and defense — a pattern we see repeated in other failed states.
  • In Afghanistan, we see tribes in control of most of the country as well as a multi-billion dollar opium industry.
  • Globally we see rapidly growing manufactured tribes like the Mara Salvatrucha (already over 700,000 strong) and al Qaeda in open war with states. The appeal of these tribes — the sense of belonging they represent — transcends borders. It is able to motivate young men in the UK and Honduras to undertake acts of extreme violence in the hope of gaining membership.

Until we understand the moral bonds of networked tribalism, there is little hope that we will morally defeat it.

From the U/Acc point of view of this blog, the idea of the moral defeat of such things seem like a woefully antiquated concept, as is the issue is not, at the ultimate unground, a question of moral determination or a sense of operational agency.

More mill-grist:

  • The Cyborg Nomad on Bit-Nations and Sovereign Services, charting out the intersection of extreme deterritorialization and the spatial boundaries of the Neocam model. Such things have relevance to the aforementioned organizational dynamics of the Neo-Venetian model.
  • Cockydooody on the Tankie Patchwork in Dontesk. Networked tribalism in pursuit of breakaway republics fosters what appears to be the opening chasm to unending war defined by the alchemical mixture of red and brown political ideologies. The “harsh exit”: “Neo-Soviet-Eastern-Orthodox-Eurasianist-Fascism-Communism”
  • Xenogoth on Bifo and the ‘Global Civil War’. A very poignant moment is the reflection on the possibility that resistance to geopolitical fragmentation may very well be “exacerbating mental disintegration”. The specter of antipraxis lurks in Bifo’s reflections, to boot.



Screenshot from 2018-03-10 11-51-39

Contrary to the impression given by the demands of socially-minded anarchists, anarchy is already existent and active. This principle does not emerge either from the ground posited by the ranks of the immediatists, the egoists, and general post-left milieu – that anarchy is actualized when we only act in a manner that coheres with the theoretical expectation of what such a (non)state entails. This articulation of anarchy is drab and despondently humanistic, pivoting itself on the power of a given agent to execute their will and desire. Anarchism is distributed along a pole marked by the so-called ‘social anarchists’, and the ‘post-left’ on the other. A common logic binds this pole: everything begins and ends with the human. Exteriority is shunted away, and even if something like it is posed (such as in the common appeals to flowery poetic chaos) it still remains locked into the interior realm of human experience.

Against the binding of the anarchist pole, another way: the realization of an anarchy that is fundamental and unconditional because it serves as the unground for the great struggles of power. To draw this out, consider the global hierarchy of sovereign powers, with its ebbs and flows, consolidations and breakdowns. If we were to begin diagramming these fluctuating arrangements over time, it would quickly become clear that there is no radiant institution that guarantees the stability and rights of the kingdoms beneath it. Not a sovereign of sovereigns, but an immense void: anarchy.

An articulation of anarchy as a transcendental force has been, in fact, a theoretical bedrock in the realist and neorealist schools of international relations. To quote from neorealist theorist Kenneth Waltz’s text Theory of International Politics:

Structural questions are questions about the arrangement of the parts of a system. The parts of domestic political systems stand in relations of super- and subordination. Some are entitled to command; others are required to obey. Domestic systems are centralized and hierarchic. The parts of the international-political system stand in relations of coordination. Formally, each is the equal of all the others. None is entitled to command; none is required to obey. International systems are decentralized and anarchic… The problem is this: how to conceive of an order without an orderer and of organizational effects where formal organization is lacking.

Despite being a far cry from the usual analysis offered by the contemporary anarchist, the IR definition of anarchy conforms very closely to way anarchism was defined by the first anarchist – Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. For Proudhon, there was no contradiction between professing an adherence to an anarchist philosophy and spending time as a politician. A survey of his work betrays a deep fascination with state banking, constitutions, and federated sovereigns. This wasn’t an uncritical embrace of the state – Proudhon challenged the consolidation of dispersed territorial units, communities, and cities into larger European states – but it was a recognition that history unfolds through a dance of cascading variables that wage war against one another, find temporary balance, and break apart again. Adjusting his philosophical framework to Marx’s correct charge that his The System of Economical Contradictions had haply smeared together Kant and Hegel in posing that antimonies resolved into synthesis, Proudhon wrote that “THE ANTIMONY CANNOT BE RESOLVED; this is the fundamental flaw of the entire Hegelian philosophy. The two terms composing the antimony BALANCE either against each other, or against another antinomic term: which leads to the desired result. A balance is not a synthesis in the way Hegel understood it and as I had supposed like him.”

While it’s up for debate whether or Proudhon had a firm grasp of Hegelian philosophy, what’s important is how this framework framed his understanding of the political. Social power is a manifestation of “collective force”, which manifests in the form of the state. This is produced through the movement of antinomic opposition into the temporary alliance of balance which occurs not only internally to the state – convergence on concepts of justice and right – but externally as well, in the form of the balance of great powers across the international stage. The question, then, is the same that Waltz posed: how can order be produced without an orderer? For Proudhon, the engine of multi-scaled political self-organization is force and war:

The right of force, the right of war and the right of nations, defined and circumscribed as we have just done, supporting, implying and engendering each other, govern history. They are the secret providence that leads nations, makes and unmakes states, and, unifying force and law, drives civilization on to the safest and widest road. Through them, many things are explained that no ordinary law, historic system, or capricious evolutions of chance can account for.

War makes and breaks political equilibrium, Proudhon’s term for the balance of power. It engenders the political and also stands for its inevitable unmaking in the swirls of unending progress (understood here as the empty, abstract form of progress detached from normative particulars). It is, therefore, a force outside the state, the external regulator of the state’s activities: a swift and unpredictable force that takes the place of the absent sovereign of sovereigns. In other words, war and anarchy are for Proudhon – just as they are for IR realists – intimately entangled with one another. Bellum omnium conta omnes, the Hobbesian state of nature as the war of all against all, is affirmed, yet Proudhon’s thought converges with Nietzsche’s critique of social contract theory in that state is sustained by this primordial conflict. It is not the antithesis of justice (which for Proudhon is nothing more that the production of balance), but its fount.

Nick Land turns Proudhon’s mutualism pitch-black with his political theology of meta-neocameralism:

The effective cyclic reproduction of power has an external criterion — survival. It is not open to any society or regime to decide for itself what works. Its inherent understanding of its own economics of power is a complex measurement, gauging a relation to the outside, whose consequences are life and death. Built into the idea of sovereign property from the start, therefore, is an accommodation to reality. Foundational to MNC [Meta-Neocameralism], at the very highest level of analysis, is the insight that power is checked primordially. On the Outside are wolves, serving as the scourge of Gnon. Even the greatest of all imaginable God-Kings — awesome Fnargl included — has ultimately to discover consequences, rather than inventing them. There is no principle more important than this.

In Proudhon’s mutualism, as with MNC, how one enters into relations with the outside – or anarchy – is directly relevant to the question of survival. Organization can strive to hold the anarchic at bay, or it can exhibit an openness to it. The cold entropic laws governing the decreased life spans of closed systems sends the former down a path of stagnation and death – yet the latter cannot be mistaken for any semblance of immortality and even long-term stability. It might be that this path leads to Bataille’s sovereign that is marked by total absence, or a cutting-up and unfolding of the sovereign body in a manner akin to Lyotard’s visceral body horror: “Open the so-called body and spread out all its surfaces…”

Do what thou wilt is the challenge that anarchy intones, but to accept it is to enter into a demon’s pact (the Anarch here becoming an anomalous agent, a Sorcerer). Freedom might be found stepping towards that threshold, but at the absolute risk of everything. Balance is precarious, and the threat of complete submersion whips and batters: “No sooner have we reached the condition or ground of our principle than we are hurled headlong beyond to the absolutely unconditioned, the ‘ground-less’ from which the ground itself emerged.” For Proudhon, this means that crowned anarchy topples royalist absolutism. If political organization is sustained, it must be one that goes in the opposite direction from the absolutist doctrine, that rides the waves of progress through that which will decay and dissolve . Such is the supreme law of anarchy:

This double movement, one of degeneration, the other of progress, that resolves itself in a unique constellation, also results from the definition of the principles, from their relative position and their roles: here again no ambiguity is possible, there is no room for arbitrariness. The fact is objectively evident and mathematically certain; this is what we will call a LAW.

ADDENDUM: it seems that Uri already covered much of the content in this post with his superb “Anarchist Transcendental Ontology”. A small sample of this highly recommended read:

at the edge, anarchist ontology seeks the un-ground of power – the realistic source, beyond all mere wishes, from which any ability to produce yields. it incrementally (or, progressively, in a strictly proudhonian sense) found the hints of such un-ground in variation-selection dynamics, or simply “war”.this scale-free framework, implexing itself throughout the universe’s evolution, gives rise and tide to all monarchs, presidents, tyrants and fatherlands.

anarchist ontology, thus, proceeds by breaking up whole into fractal fragments in competition – the only way any order can be produced. thus, it’s not only that the order of the social necessarily falls back on the competition among its individual components, but that the order within the individuals itself falls back on pre-individual components in competition. up above and down below, it’s individualities and collectivities.