Sheik of Sheiks

Fame and Fifteen,” by Nellie Lide, New Persuasion, 13 August 2005,

New Persuasion blog links to a Tom Asacker article on the new tribalism

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.

Today the game is all about going deep, with highly relevant products and services and particularly information, into a unique subculture. Forget about things like reach and frequency. The future of branding is collaboration with — and for — a passionate subculture of like-minded people. It’s no longer wise to be famous for fifteen minutes. Mass market celebrity is fleeting. Instead, become famous to fifteen people.

By “branding,” Lide just means the type of struggle that she is used to. Replace the word, and see what other sentences you get

  • The future of struggle is collaboration with — and for — a passionate subculture of like-minded people
  • The future of faith is collaboration with — and for — a passionate subculture of like-minded people
  • The future of war is collaboration with — and for — a passionate subculture of like-minded people

In other words, nothing that John Robb and Jeff Vail haven’t seen before.

The similarity goes deeper than that — even the concept of being famous to fifteen people is from tribal war.

Earlier, when answering a question on how the Scythians organized their army, John Robb replied

If Scythian tribal structures are anything like today’s (such as the Bedouin), every 5th man is a leader (a sheik).

The concept of “sheik” is very similar to the US Marine Corp idea of the strategic corporal. It is a recognition that the best way to lead a team of super-empowered individuals, who are free to act on their own as they see fit, is to break it down into one boss or “sheik” and four subordinates. Any tribal structure, from the Scythian barbarians to the Bedouin Arabs, should see a similar organization.

Because every fifth man is a sheik, the sheik would be to four men: his warriors. But because the sheik himself needs a leader, every fifth sheik will be a sheik of sheiks. And how many people will the sheik of sheiks be famous to?


Count the boxes: sixteen strangers, and four friends. Not that far from fifteen.

Of course, the blogosphere has sheiks of sheiks too, because the blogosphere is another neotribal environment

This is very true when you think about our individual blogospheres as well. When I talk about Jeff Jarvis or Seth Godin or Hugh Macleod or Dave Winer (etc etc) to people who aren’t bloggers or into online marketing, I get blank looks.

“But they are FAMOUS!” I think…then I remember that they are famous to a very specific group of people, which is really, all that matters.

Managing Crime on the Southern Border

America’s Gangster Auxiliaries,” by TM Lutas, Flit(tm), 13 August 2005,

Qutong an article on strategy page, TM Lutas discusses how America has established an informal border security system

The Intel agencies have spread the word around the criminal underground that pursuit will be relentless, and punishment harsh and certain for anyone who gets too cozy with Islamic terrorists. It’s understood that the criminal gangs will do business with just about anyone (including intel agencies from just about anywhere). But even in this amoral atmosphere, the Western intel agencies have drawn a line of death for the players. At the other extreme, the word is out that valuable favors can be had for any gangsters who pass on valuable info about terrorist operations. Such deals are fairly common, although not given much publicity for obvious reasons (the resulting headlines cause major political headaches.)

This explains a major mystery. Why hasn’t Al Queda been going through notoriously corrupt Mexico with their well established illegal immigration system and launched attacks on the US? Such an obvious attack route has led to calls on the right for the militarization of our southern border. The militarization didn’t happen but the attacks didn’t come either. Al Queda didn’t show other evidence of being that kind of stupid so why not exploit a gaping hole in US defenses?

We are managing crime by informally signaling very high prices for actions we don’t like, like maintaining minimal prices for crimes that the government doesn’t care about (people smuggling). However, TM Lutas notes a fragility to this policy

The safety of the US southern border is thus now under indirect, and not direct, US control. This is tenable, for now, but we might not understand impending failure of the arrangement until two late. Two important failure modes come to mind. First, that Al Queda could inspire greater terror and flip these forces to become their auxiliaries. Second, our own tales of unendurable retribution could no longer be believed and commercial avarice could carry the day.

One might say that this is a stick-heavy approach:

Now the mystery is solved. The coyotes and drug barons who carry on illegal cross border trade have been warned in a manner that has scared them into being US allies on the issue of US homeland defense in much the same way that the Mafia was recruited into our forces for WW II duty as black hat auxiliaries.

But “carrot-and-stick” works best for changing behavior. So what’s the carrot?