Over the last six years I've focused my efforts towards cultivating new types of community. My aim has been to create relational containers that encourage us to integrate as individuals whilst also moving us closer towards a more Solarpunk future. Along the way I've begun formulating a kind of three stage developmental model that distinguishes between the Community, the Collective and the Neotribe. This article is my attempt at distilling these ideas into a shareable form.
But First, Some Caveats
What follows are just my particular interpretations of the terms Community, Collective and Neotribe. They will mean many different things to different people and I'm in no way suggesting these are the 'most correct' or 'best' definitions.
I believe there is a place and time for all three stages and that each has its own beauty and distinct set of strengths and weaknesses.
Co-habitation is not implied in any of the three stages but tends to increase in likelihood at each subsequent stage. However it's not a requirement and there are perhaps even a unique set benefits from each member having their own distinct domicile.
What I present below is my own interpretation of the word Neotribe. However I did not coin the term, I first discovered the word in 2016 on the P2P Foundation here and here and was very inspired by it's use. Interestingly enough it seems to have since gone out of vogue due to increasing cultural sensitivity around the word tribe.
I'm yet to come across or read about an existing Neotribe that fits my definition. If you know of one, I'd love to hear about it.
I've experienced life within a Proto-Collective context and arrived at the conclusion that it is an effective, sustainable and highly enriching way of life that is well suited to our modern times. However, I've never experienced being part of a Neotribe and don't know for sure whether it is in fact either a feasible or desirable way of living and relating with others. But I'm keen to find out. So let's look at the three stages.
A group of over ten people without a defined membership structure that shares similar interests or values and regularly interacts with each other.
A group of over ten people with a defined membership structure that shares similar interests or values, regularly interacts with each other and have begun to interweave various aspects of their lives together with the explicit aim of cultivating a deeper sense of belonging and mutual aid with one another.
Leverages the collective influence of the group towards: A. Further enabling personal growth and psychological integration within each member of the group. B. Having a positive impact on wider society (ie. Metamodern Solarpunk inspired Systems Change).
Is not overly reliant on the authority or ideas of one particular text or person, but is rather co-created in an ongoing and collaborative manner by the entire group.
Often places a value on experimenting with decentralised processes and flattening the sense of hierarchy within the group to the minimum effective level. However may still include concentric rings of membership, responsibility and authority.
Often all the members will gather together in person at least once a year.
Is made up of an ever evolving constellation of smaller groups (also known as pods, crews, squads etc.) that may for example take the form of emotional support groups, study groups and project teams.
A stable and high functioning Collective that experiences a very high level of synchronisation. Will usually needed to have existed for at least around seven years or more to have developed to this level of maturity.
Incorporates the potency of ritual into their shared experience and has developed a series of unique rituals specific to the group.
There are multiple generations deeply woven into the collective experience. The wisdom of all ages is welcomed and cherished by the group and both young and old are included and catered for in relation to group activities. Young families are equally considered and accomodations are made to ensure they can keep participating in the communal context despite often feeling limited with their time and energy.
Has managed to cultivate a sense of sangha (not in the literal Buddhist sense) within the group, in that members do not feel they have to compartmentalise their own contemplative practices or sense of sacredness from the collective experience. This may or may not involve a shared spiritual practice of some sort.
There is a lifelong sense of commitment from members of the group although people are welcomed and encouraged to leave whenever they wish.
The group has managed to establish a deep and meaningful connection to the land and their surrounding ecosystems. There is an understanding and respect for the way indigenous peoples have managed to stay so in tune with the natural world. The group is moving towards emulating and embodying such a sense of integrated indigeneity whilst also participating in the broader network of Cosmo-Localism that is starting to emerge.
Due to years of co-therapy, group shadow work, collaboration on projects and just general life experience together a number of people within the group have reached a high level of individuation. These people then actively hold space for others to undergo a similar journey and in doing so establish an ongoing cycle of giving back into a development spiral from which they have received.
There is a high degree of comfort and fluency around physical touch, intimacy and sexuality between members of the group. People are comfortable expressing their interests and boundaries and always take into account the complications that can arise from both connecting sexually and experiencing New Relationship Energy within a communal context. Everyone does their best to aim for a healthy balance between the needs and desires of the individual as well as that of the wider group.
The group has learned to effectively coordinate in terms of getting things done and dealing with money. There are likely some shared income streams, group monetary accounts and a number of projects that generate income for the collective as a whole. This is all handled in a clear and transparent manner with much work having been done on each individuals relationship to and trauma around finances and money.
There is a robust and well established dispute resolution process that effectively brings a sense of closure to any major disputes that are not resolved organically between people in the moment. Because of this group members are not afraid of generative conflict and clean expressions of disagreement, frustration and anger are encouraged and held with care.
There is a well established process for the hosting of Gatherings and a well developed culture around the ongoing creation and dissolution of various types of Pods.
Over time each person has found their particular role within the group and is celebrated for their unique gifts. This may involve the creation of a wide range of new titles and responsibilities. Some playful examples of this may include Communal Empath, Jam Master (or Group Musical Orchestrator), Master Of Ceremonies, Political Champion, Collective Craftsperson, Tribal Philosopher, Peace Maker (Dispute Resolution), Intimacy Guide, Crypto Advisor, Permaculture Druid, Shadow Worker and Entrepreneurial Empowerment Agent. Obviously each group will develop their own unique set of roles over time.
Questions Around This I'm Currently Sitting With
Would the Neotribal context ultimately feel too constraining, limiting or onerous to the highly individualised 21st Century mind?
Will the fact that so many of us are increasingly location independent and nomadic make forming Neotribal type bonds with other people and the surrounding ecology practically impossible?
Could Neotribes eventually come to replace genetically linked nuclear famililes altogether? Or would nuclear families and Neotribes happily co-exist in perpetuity?
Are there darker shadow versions of Collectives and Neotribes that may emerge? Perhaps that see outsiders as enemies and enforce strict dominator hierarchies. And are there grey versions that might be somewhere in the middle on this spectrum?
What would be the ripple effects of people forming such deeply interwoven groups with other individuals at similar levels of development? Would this stunt or propel the overall level of societal development?
How do Neotribes connect with Balaji's notion of The Network State (which posits that a new groups of highly mobile, cryptocurrency backed and social media connected individuals that replace sovereignty to their nation with sovereignty to their network will soon come into existence)?
How do we help to ensure that people with less social capital are also provided the opportunity to experience such deep communal contexts of belonging, care and support?
Joe Lightfoot is a writer, podcaster and apprentice community weaver. He is the author of A Collective Blooming: The Rise Of The Mutual Aid Community and the host of The Lightfoot Podcast. You can sign up to his newsletter The Lightfoot Letter and find him on Facebook & Twitter. He is also the Majordomo of the Meta Village On Clubhouse.