I was first introduced to Jeff Vail (former Intelligence Officer for the US Air Force) last Winter by Anthropik — which will probably give you an idea of what he’s all about. His book, A Theory of Power, has been called “the most innovative approach to anarchist theory in a generation”. It has received praise from both John Zerzan and Noam Chomsky, and includes people such as Hakim Bey, Aldous Huxley, and Robert Anton Wilson in the bibliography. Impressed? I was. And I was right to be. It’s excellent.
The book is based, not surprisingly, on Vail’s theory of power, that “connections, not the parties connected, may best represent our world.” By analyzing the connections between genes and organisms, furthering this to the connections between memes and society, he “unravels the functioning of our world” and shows us the inevitable downfall of Civilization — but then he goes further.
Hakim Bey gives us the T.A.Z.. Jeff Vail gives us the Rhizome, a way to operate outside — and inside — of the T.A.Z.’s space in time.
Rhizome acts as a web-like structure of connected but independent nodes, borrowing its name from the structures of plants such as bamboo and other grasses. By its very nature, rhizome exhibits incompatibility with such critical hierarchal structures as domestication, monoculture-agriculture, division of labor and centralized government. Unlike hierarchy, rhizome cannot suffer exploitation from within because its structure remains incompatible with centralization of power. It provides a structural framework for our conscious organization of memes. Each node in a rhizome stands autonomous from the larger structure, but the nodes work together in a larger network that extends benefits to the node without creating dependence. The critical element of a world that focuses power at the level of the individual, that can meet the demands of our genome while providing the flexibility and potential to achieve greater goals, remains the small, connected and relatively self-sufficient node of this rhizome structure. In human terms, such a node represents an economic and a cultural unit at the size preferred by our genome: the household and the tribe. Functionally self-sufficient but not isolated, cooperating but not controlled, the rhizome economy, combined with a self-awareness of control structures, provides the real-world foundation of stability and freedom.