To claim and hold territory; this imperative has been inherited from pre-historic times. The anthropological and archaeological forays of the colonial-era European 'Academy' were attempts to find real-world answers to the philosophical problems facing those who saw a need to remake society. Intuitively grasping that the range of possibilities for the future might come by discovering the nature of humanity, they sought clues in as widely divergent sources possible; they sought to examine humanity in its primitive present and its civilized past.
One core truth which has been exposed is that the urban-political form of social life was not introduced by Athens but by Babylon. the transformation of humanity from a diaspora of tribes close-knit in their shared experience of surviving in direct communion with nature to the post-modern cosmopolitan model traverses the technocratic-legal-administrative metropolitan phase. That is, after the anti-revolution the "Illuminati" will sort out just who and what is noble amongst themselves.
This history I allude to as a preface to a certain point: the inititial transformation of humanity into its "civilized" form is that which atomized the individual into the orders of class and caste. Needless to say, the metropolitan phase covers several eras of since the rise and fall of Babylon, with Empires and states coming and going as the material reality of people's struggle for power and prosperity spurred the creation of philosophies, religions, technology, etc. The norm that has emerged is the street-level organization of heirarchy typified by gangs, tongs, and so forth. All the world over the replication of the urban form organizes itself according to the integration of social struggles for power at the street level as they mesh into the larger socio-economic class structure with its divergent norms. All this is not to say that gangs per-se are ubiquitous, but that they are a common phenomenon across national and other boundaries because of the anonymity of the individual in the large-scale flux of modern society, such as the increased urbanization correlating to the disenfranchisement of small farmers by free-trade agreements, a flux which leaves individuals in the position of negotiating an often violent and treacherous social mileux of strangers competing for limited resources and often at the disadvantage relative to those who seek to exploit this population by operating via proxy while remaining anonymous and inured to the legal and actual consequences of the conditions they create and profit from.
The movie "Gangs of New York" recapitulated this phenomenon to a modern audience. What is sometimes referred to as "dialectics" is exposed here in that the cosmopolitan nature of New York emerged gradually as the modern economy slowly took root. As the norm of the individual as a consumer took root the various ethnic groups staked out their claim to different turfs and sectors of the economy. The social mingling of the emergent middle-class proved New York as the examplar of U.S. pluralism, though of course the legacy of racial disparities resonates still today. The seperation of communities to an extent which allows their continuance as distinct from others not only no longer encompasses a majority of New York citizens but is not seen as a threat to order and peaceful growth and development. The social dynamic of the workplace finds members of different races which comprise the lower rungs of the working class employed in the downtown area comingling also in recreational zones, even as many of the same return to their homes and communities among their ethnic group such as in Harlem, the Jewish communities, the Italian neighborhoods, Chinatown, etc.
However, the contradictions of capitalism, at least insofar as it has played out in recent decades with its concentration of wealth at the top cotemporaneously with the expansion of capital as global hegemon, have not produced the same result everywhere and indeed has exacerbated it within communities across the globe, even within communities unified by ethnic identity. The example which most readily comes to mind to most when discussing this phenomenon is the reality of gangs in Los Angeles. This reality appears to outsiders, who see it well enough correctly, as a grinding banality of relentless soul-crushing brutishness punctuated by horror and proceeding to the rythm of constant belligerence. We shall not digress here into the fact that these conditions are imposed by the outside by those with an interest in maintaining terror as the stochastic norm among the working class and the dispossessed. The point here is that the individual's need to identify with a martial social unit within his community as a matter of survival is in these neighborhoods often expressed in the most rudimentary terms devoid of any logical or truly cultural meaning but instead in terms of color or geography. The color of blackness is secondary to the color of red or blue; the language or nation of origin of a person is secondary to the geographical identifier of their neighborhood (north, south, east, west; per the city or the state). Much of the same reality exists around the world, however. In Rio de Janeiro, police are providing state documentation of favela residents for the first time, in preparation for the Olympics; up until now, these neighborhoods had been abandoned by the police as they were under the control of gangs. Whole swaths of neighborhoods are controlled by the residents in London, Paris, Naples and elsewhere in Europe; while this type of social organization is not always completely benign, they are a product of institutionalized poverty continuing under the inertia of a corrupt and decadent larger society. In many places in Africa, the local warlords identify with Islam but contend for state power in the absence of a strong national or regional political order free of neocolonial effects; there as in many places in the Middle East warlordism is rooted in street-level social control (e.g. Hamas). One can find evidence of this type of phenomenon in Asian countries experiencing modernization in such films as "Young and Dangerous", which opens with a scene in an apartment-complex playground.
So, I think what needs to be looked at is the tendency of capitalism to create economic strata and the way legality and illegality are both used by members of each strata to advance their interests. In "Homies and Hermanos" Robert Brenneman makes a crucial distinction between international drug cartels ("organized crime") and youth or street gangs:
[The latter involve shadowy networks of individuals from the middle class and elites who wield considerable political and economic power and who mix legal business and illegal activities (including money laundering, drug trafficking, kidnapping, and tax fraud) in order to acquire and maintain considerable wealth (Torres-Rivas 2010). Although it is well-known that organized crime rings can and do draw recruits from the gang when in need of foot soldiers for carrying out the "dirty work" of kidnapping and score settling, politicians and the media have a tendency to conflate the two, thereby setting up a convenient smokescreen allowing them to ignore tax reform and turn a blind eye to political corruption (Martinez-Ventura 2010).]
The result is the right wing tendency to goad the public into fighting the very phenomenon it creates, reaping the reward of a police state and an obedient civilian population. The co-dependent relationship of gangs to organized crime is reflected in the transnational component of the drug trade and the political turmoil associated with it. The FARC of Columbia is a left wing group commonly said to have involved itself with the drug trade, though of course right wing paramilitaries have as well. The cartels are more often associated with luminaries, such as was the Medellin cartel which played, as so many criminals do, a sort of "Robin Hood" role. Refugees from the civil war in El Salvador are said to have infiltrated the United States and formed criminal gangs. The right wing as well is firmly associated with criminal activity, as is noted in this article about the portrayal of "the mafia" in popular culture. http://jacobinmag.com/2013/11/the-sicilian-klan/ In this documentary, the city of Houston is identified as the home of the Aryan nations: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QV_001D9N9g. Many white people like to believe that white criminals do not engage in the more heinous activities of organized crime such as the pimping of minors. On the other hand, pimping adult women of different races is sometimes seen as a sort of benevolent phenomenon, such as is implicit in Hookers at the Point where black, and even a black female, pimps offer their services to a racially diverse set of working girls (a warning: cantins some graphic material): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmoEXtCvXBM. This is seen by some as evidence that despite the hard and sometimes cruel nature of the world, America is still the land of opportunity for all. The film "Romeo Must Die", featuring Jet Li and Aaliyah (who died in a plane crash), deals with the reality of black, chinese, and white criminality and underworld intrigue on a fictional basis. Victor Boute (known in Africa as "the Angel of Death"), whom the U.S. used to locate airfields in Afghanistan, was arrested in Thailand on charges related to black marketeering. "Air America" was the name used for the group of pilots who after World War 2 smuggled heroin from Southeast Asia to Europe. Khun Sa, from what is now Myanmar, survived U.S. fostered assassination attempts and was known to execute any of his soldiers caught using heroin more than once.
This digression into a little glimpse of the reality that most of the world lives with as U.S. citizens fret over upgrading their cell-phone is meant to illustrate the extent to which the street level conflicts form on the larger scale a dynamic of power-struggle which transcends national borders. Taken into consideration with other well-known facts such as those of the Iran-Contra scandal or the laundering of drug money by too-big-to-fail banks one sees the logical possibility that networks of economic and social power of influence are soon to transcend state institutions perhaps generally rendering them subservient or obsolete. Indeed, events in the Middle East especially seem to indicate that the "neoconservative" paradigm has outlived its value for the global elite. Where once strong states were considered prerequisite for the extraction of resources, it is now seen as cheaper to maintain a client base which perpetuates the endless struggles which keep its participants unable to ever achieve a victory by which they could sieze actual control of the material conditions within which they exist. The degree of brainwashing, probably aided by pharmaceutical drugs, is unknown; it should probably be considered that need rather than ideology is driving most of the fighters to participate whereas they may rather live in a stable society. The collapse of civil society in Libya, Iraq and Syria are the examples of which I speak.
In my blog post http://www.thomhartmann.com/users/nimblecivet/blog/2013/11/comparing-tod... I promised further examination of the rise of the city-state. This post is an antecedent to that, being one of the thoughts on my mind which I felt I had to put down in permanent form. This post does approach that subject partially in regard to raising the issue of the social form of organization brought about by urbanization. In my next post I will either focus solely on the idea of society having reached the point of no return in respect to the idea of the individual having a "rational option" or I will somehow combine that thought with the coming post on the post-modern city-state.