Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Yo, My Brother, Wassup:
A Comment on Group Identity

Seeking to outline a theory of group solidarity, Peter Turchin recycles a wonderful anecdote from British journalist Patrick Neate:
It's 1992 and I am sitting in a bar in Harare, Zimbabwe when a guy walks in wearing a Lakers vest and Chipie jeans, his hair neatly dreaded and he walks with a rolling ease of the B-boy swagger. He clocks my Karl Kanis and second pair of Air Jordans and comes straight over. 'Yo, my brother, wassup?
Turchin spells out the moral:
Here were two complete stranngers, one a Zimbabwean black kid, another a white kid fomm Chippenhsm, U.K., but they instantly recognized each other as being "us," members of the ssme hip-hop subculture--from the way they dressed, the way they walked or even sat, the way they were "blunted." (I do not even pretend to understand what the last one merns--but I am an outsider.)
From War and Peace and War 134 (2006). Point well taken but I wonder if I can expand on it. As nations disintegrate, could it be that the next great loci of political legitimacy will be sports teams? They're a throbbing nucleus of symbolism and story. I know, they've tried to break out into larger society before, without ever quite going bigtime (think Il Palio di Siena). Perhaps they are limited because they lack armies.

But this prompts one to consider the other side of the equation--outfits like Halliburton or Blackwater, private armies. While sports teams have never quite achieved sovereignty, plenty of military organizations have done the trick--think the Templars or the Mameluks, or the Cossacks. Others have failed only for lack of a good story--think Cromwell's New Model Army, which forced out a monarchy in the 1640s but (for lack of a good story) could not prevent its return in the 1660s.

Isn't there room here for some 21st-Century organizational imagination: what if Halliburton merges with Man United, Blackwater with the Lakers? Is there any limit to how far they could go in providing the organizational glue for the next generation? Today, Shea Stadium, tomorrow the world...

Fn.: I see that Wiki describes Neate as an award-winning podcaster. Not sure I ever saw that phrase before but perhaps I was not paying attention.

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