Daily Balajisms - Tribal lens
Polarization means organization
I am starting my third series of Daily Balajisms (#71-#90) in an attempt to add my 2¢ and synthesize ideas of Balaji Srinivasan, a tech founder with the highest output of original good ideas. I recommend you first read Balaji Srinivasan’s book The Network State and Eric Jorgenson’s book The Anthology of Balaji.
The internet is retribalizing the world, says Balaji Srinivasan. And the internet truly started only in 2020, when the online world became primary. Remote work and zoom saved the day during the Covid pandemic.
Some 20 years ago, the online version of NYT was just a side-gig and a small fraction of the NYT paper business – the offline version was primary. Then came the flippening, as crypto folks say, and now the paper version of the news is just a sideshow, a printout of the online version that is now primary.
After Google News, traditional and local media lost their natural geographic monopoly and reprinting Reuters or AP didn’t cut it for many. Other newspapers became truly global and partisan, in quest to please their subscribers. A history runs in reverse, as Balaji often explains, and we are experiencing a shift from neutral journalism of “the view from the nowhere” to the yellow/tribal journalism.
After X/twitter the mainstream media became the downstream media. The news stories on politics today provide mostly just wrappers around tweets, and report on conversations that happen first on X.
Interestingly, the digital bank run on SVB in March 2023 showed that X platform itself is downstream of group chats. Well networked investors in Silicon Valley shared information and coordinated over group chats to protect their funds prior the news about bank problems hit X/twitter.
The Internet reduces marginal production and distribution costs to zero, and thus creates the long-tail of businesses and communities. People can find their very small niche community and regularly meet on zoom across continents. The next step is reverse diasporas, that Balaji described 10 years ago for Wired Magazine in an article titled Software is reorganizing the world. People from all around the world gather in the cloud, creating cloud communities, and these cloud formations will get eventually “printed” onto the land.
The Network State book is Balaji’s practical guide how to do it, starting from startup societies with a clear moral innovation in the form of the One Commandment (like “self-driving cars are good”) and later forming highly-aligned communities in the form of network unions, then crowdfunding land and creating network archipelagos that are linked through internet and blockchain, and eventually gaining some form of diplomatic recognition.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin coined the term noosphere over 100 years ago, way before the internet. Almost 25 years ago, the RAND corporation wrote on Noopolitik and revisited the topic in 2020 with the Whose Story Wins publication that also mentions Memetic Tribes and Culture War 2.0 paper by Peter Limberg and Conor Barnes from 2018. I wrote about noopolitics, arguing that it shouldn’t be about “whose story wins in the short-term”, but about “whose story is the most regenerative to our global commons in the long-term”.
Enter Balaji and his tribal lens, his new two-part content presented at the Moment of Zen podcast. He acknowledges that there are many (memetic) tribes, but these can be seen as sub-tribes and simplified into three tribes: Red, Blue and Grey. The US is becoming a bi-national state, an uneasy alliance of Red and Blue. Almost no Democrats are marrying Democrats and vice-versa. The Blue and Red are becoming like Shia and Sunni.
The Grey tribe is very small compared to Red and Blue, and it was coined by Scott Alexander in an off-hand remark in one of his blog posts. Greys can be seen as Blue defectors, and people with STEM or better STEAM skills – creators who can also count and code. Elon Musk being the archetypal example of our times.
The Blue elites are very competitive and they hate heterodox thinkers and anyone who questions their worldview. They hate any outgroup and try to destroy its reputation. Instead of conspiracy theory, we should embrace what Balaji calls a community theory – an emergent behavior and coordination of very tribal and competitive people, whose actions can be seen as benefiting Blue and hurting Red or Grey.
Balaji presents a tribal lens strategy of tech-Zionism for what he calls SF maximalists – people who love San Francisco as bitcoin maximalists love bitcoin. His tribal lens is a tool to help win SF back for the Grey tech tribe. It is the opposite of his network state strategy that is more suitable for the crypto folks and digital nomads who are “cloud first, land last, but not land never”.
Tribal lens are like AR glasses - you instantly see the world polarized into these three big (meta)tribes of Red/Blue/Grey. Polarization is good, says Balaji - polarization means organization. Especially if we polarize around productive and important axes, differences and scissor statements like tech-progressivism is good and decentralized AI, Crypto, Social are good.
With emphatic triggers on social media, we get what I call ASAP asabiyya. Balaji talks about cloud cartography, or how whole online continents can emerge out of thin air.
When “all that is solid melts into air” we need a counter move - cloud communities that are printed onto the land.