If we were to sum up our core thesis as described in the previous article in one sentence, this would have to be that community is the building block of human society. We are social species by default and, given our cognitive capabilities, we form ideas, we collectively believe in them and self-identify, and, so, we strive to protect them. Our evolutionary success is safeguarded by the formation of communities as an organic mechanism that reflects our innate needs of belonging, communicating, and sharing belief systems, which, in turn, leads to the co-creation of culture. From ancient tribes and kinship-based groups, these elements paired with our ever-advancing technology have transcended human communities into modern societies and global digital collectives.
So, if communities are the building blocks of society, what are the building blocks of community?
COMMUNITY AS A LIVING ORGANISM
At Defiants, we view communities as living organisms. Much like anything that is alive, communities are organic and evolving in themselves, and dynamic and transcending for their members. Just as biology studies the life processes and interactions of living organisms, examining the biology of communities allows us to understand the fundamental principles and dynamics that govern the formation, development, and evolution of communities highlighting the interconnectedness of individuals within a community, their shared values, and the way they adapt and respond to internal and external stimuli.
In this analogy, an examination of the anatomy of the community can help us identify the main pillars that form the bedrock upon which communities flourish and evolve. That is, a shared belief system, leadership, and, ultimately, governance.
Undoubtedly, the heart of a community lies in the common conviction around fundamental shared beliefs including cultural norms, values, myths, and religious views that collectively form the foundation of community culture and identity. Our hardwired need for belonging and sense of purpose would get shattered in the absence of shared beliefs. In fact, there can be no community if there’s not at least one core belief that’s equally valued across members.
Taking the evolutionary trajectory of the development of human civilization, we see that the first communities started off by sharing the most fundamental and intimate thoughts, such as their instinctive needs, fears, and goals; that was the family circle. Later on, the ideas of cooperation, collaboration, labour division, and shared resources as prerequisites for better evolutionary chances extended the circle to include kin. Moreover, the shared language, lifestyle, and norms led humans to form more prominent communities in the likes of tribes, clans, and villages.
Nevertheless, over time, and, while human communities were growing in numbers and enriching the shared beliefs pool, the innate need for effective communication surfaced and had to be consciously and collectively dealt with. The emergence of leadership took the role of articulating the belief system, protecting its foundation, and acting as the guiding force that influences the community’s direction, resolves conflict, and fosters a sense of unity.
As groups were becoming larger and more complex, there was a point where a larger authority, a system, was needed to help manage resources and protect the group against bad actors. Effective governance facilitated communities and societies to organise themselves and scale up through the establishment of rules, norms, and practices that govern the behaviour of individuals within a group.
Being the foundation of societies, communities can be found literally anywhere and while globalization and the reach of technology are expanding across the farthest corners of the world, there is an enormous variety of contemporary societies. From neighbourhoods, guilds, and secret societies to collectives, unions, political parties, and lobbies. From sports fan clubs, music fans, and hobby clubs (e.g. chess clubs, biker gangs, volunteers, LAN gamers) to consumers of various brands, commodities, and products.
It is obvious that there’s high variability in terms of the shared beliefs, norms, and values across communities, yet, it is essential to emphasize that despite all other phenomenal differences, all kinds of communities also share the need for leadership and governance in one way or another. It is the ubiquity of those elements that compose and hold together a community, similar to what cells, nervous systems and brains do in humans, that manifests some of our innate needs, tendencies, and predispositions.
SIZE OF COMMUNITY AND GOVERNANCE
Our analysis of the biology of communities cannot stop at the definition of those core elements. In fact, there are two important observations we should point out here:
1) There’s a strong correlation between the size of communities and governance systems as mechanisms that maintain order.
In general, smaller communities tend to require bottom-up governance, whereas larger communities tend to lean towards top-down models.
2) Secondly, the stronger the shared belief and the more effective the distribution of governance, the more the chances for a community to grow and evolve.
Historically, the first communities started off small (e.g. families, tribes, clans) and, by default, small-sized groups tend to ensure trust among their members based on personal relationships; everyone knows each other. Therefore, small communities have embodied group dynamics analogous to their trust-ensuring mechanisms, and so, were able to thrive based on cooperative and consensus-driven governance models where selected individuals with the right personality traits, trust by the majority, power, and confidence would take up the leading role in protecting the group and safeguarding their needs.
However, as numbers were growing, so did the cognitive and practical “borders” of governance models. People started developing opinions, theories, and ideologies – a political culture – and transcended leadership to become a mere component of governance that was now based on more sophisticated structures and processes related to decision-making, security, quality of life, protecting members’ rights, etc. Trust could not be anymore secured by personal relationships. Instead, similarities in characteristics, language, lifestyle, and worldviews became those elements that ensured group cohesion paving the way for alternative forms of mass-level governance; from feuds and monarchies to dynasties and empires. Overall, in larger communities, there has not been any other way but to centrally govern people based on impersonal bureaucracies, narrow hierarchies and top-down systems.
Today, we can observe a similar pattern where the establishment of very large communities in the form of nation-states operate under pyramidic governance models through democratic systems at best and dictatorships at worst, while on the other hand, small communities tend to self-organise in more horizontal, autonomous, and liberal ways.
It is quite evident that there’s a growing dissatisfaction and pressing need for change in the current Western governance paradigm, especially in the post-2008 financial crisis era, and the main reasons are twofold.
- Capitalism is out of control and is riding the downtrend, with enormous inequalities, broken values, uncontrolled corruption, monopolies, and an enormously slow bureaucracy being the standard.
- Just in the last two decades, the rapid advancement of technology has created a new layer of Internet-enabled reality that has revolutionized our perception through the virtual exchange of information, borderless communication, and value transaction, fertilizing a growing sense of global interconnectedness.
The need for change is something that is hardwired in humans as well, in that evolution, effectively, means change. Therefore, as a living and evolving organism, communities are constantly changing and so does our perception of leadership and governance. Sure, the concept of nation-states has prevailed in the last centuries, however, it seems that this is changing now, as more self-sovereign communities are sprouting, potentially signalling a new era in community formation, management, and governance.
A self-sovereign community refers to a group of individuals who assert their independence and autonomy in making collective decisions and governing their shared objectives – and it is not a new concept.
Throughout history, human societies have formed groups characterized by decentralized governance, shared values, and mutual interdependence. These communities, whether small tribal societies, cooperatives, grassroots movements, local organizations, or communal living arrangements, have exemplified the essence of self-sovereignty – where individuals have control over their own decisions, actions, and resources within the community.
Academic literature suggests that the concept of self-sovereignty has its roots in the idea of self-governance, where individuals participate in decision-making processes without reliance on centralized authority. In fact, renowned sociologist Emile Durkheim, in his seminal work “The Division of Labor in Society” (1893), explored the idea of self-sovereignty in the context of mechanical solidarity. He argued that in traditional societies, individuals were bound together by a collective consciousness, sharing common beliefs, norms, and values, fostering a strong sense of community and mutual support.
Similarly, anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski, in his ethnographic research among the Trobriand Islanders in the early 20th century, observed self-sovereign communities where individuals were interconnected by kinship ties, customs, and traditions, highlighting the significance of reciprocity and mutual aid in maintaining social order and cohesion within the community.
These pre-Internet era studies show that self-sovereign communities have long been essential for human survival and social cohesion. They provided a sense of belonging, support, and security to their members, and they played a crucial role in maintaining social order and cultural continuity. The governance structures in these communities were often based on informal systems of social control, such as reputation, shame, and punishment, where decision-making power was decentralised and shared among community members.
Nevertheless, self-sovereign communities have not been immune to challenges, such as ensuring equitable participation and preventing the concentration of power among a selected few. Striking a balance between individual autonomy and collective responsibility is essential for the success and sustainability of these communities while fostering a culture of trust, open communication, and shared decision-making is critical to overcoming potential pitfalls and conflicts.
SELF-SOVEREIGNTY IN THE DIGITAL ERA
With the emergence of the World Wide Web, the concept of self-sovereign communities has taken on new forms. The interplay between digital technologies and human communities has swiftly changed the landscape of how we connect, collaborate, and co-create as the Internet has opened up new avenues for self-expression, collective action, and the formation of global communities.
From virtual subcultures and fan communities to niche interest groups and online groups, digital platforms have become a melting pot for diverse communities with shared values and goals. In this digital landscape, self-sovereignty is redefined as individuals take charge of their online experiences and interactions, safeguarding their privacy and personal autonomy. Online communities and virtual networks now enable greater participation and inclusivity, as they remove barriers to physical distance and allow for asynchronous communication.
As we journey through the evolution of communities, it is important to recognize the transformative impact of digital technology on the very concept of self-sovereignty. The proliferation of mobile smart devices, social media, and online collaboration tools has empowered individuals to actively participate in shaping the direction of their communities and advocating for causes they care about, however, it has also brought new challenges, such as issues of privacy, security, and the spread of misinformation. As technology continues to advance, the concept of self-sovereign communities will continue to evolve, and it will be essential to address these challenges while harnessing the potential for greater autonomy and empowerment in digital communities.
WEB3 & THE FUTURE OF SELF-SOVEREIGN COMMUNITIES
To sum up, communities are a form of living organism that is adapting and evolving according to environmental stimuli and members’ needs. Both centralized top-down communities and bottom-up self-sovereign communities have long existed, yet, the advent of the Internet and digital technologies has transformed our perceptions and broadened the horizons of community formation and management.
Web 3.0, the next iteration of the Internet, holds the promise of further enhancing self-sovereignty in communities. Built on decentralized blockchain technology, Web3 offers new possibilities for trust, transparency, and peer-to-peer interactions. Smart contracts and decentralized applications (DApps) enable autonomous governance and decision-making within communities, empowering members to have a direct say in the community’s development as well as making meaningful contributions and driving the community’s progress.
Adhering to the evolution’s rhythm of change, we are currently witnessing a transition from centralised governance systems to more decentralised forms of organisation as a manifestation of our need to change the governance model. Digital technologies and, specifically, the blockchain-enabled Decentralised Web, are promising to lead this change of decentralising power and governance, only this time instead of appointing someone else, the trusted middleman would be the technology itself.
In the following article of our series, we will delve deeper into Web3 communities and how this emerging technology is revolutionizing the landscape of self-sovereign communities. We will explore the unique opportunities and challenges that Web3 presents, and how it is paving the way for a new era of community building and growth. Stay tuned as we continue our journey through the biology of communities, exploring the dynamic interplay between human nature, governance, and decentralised digital technologies.
– Malinowski, B. (1922). “Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea.” Routledge
– Durkheim, E. (1893). “The Division of Labor in Society.” Free Press