Further to my Stalin reading, I had an interesting discussion today with Paul Duguid. One of Paul’s areas of interest is communities of practice, which is usually considered a warm, cosy kind of notion. Stalin’s inner circle, Paul pointed out, was a great community of practice. It’s just that the members learned from each other how to be effective at mass murder, rather than anything that might have made the Soviet Union a better place.
I encountered a similar dissonance a few years ago when I was discussing social capital. Although usually used in reference to positive things like bowling leagues and community organizations, social capital can also be highly deleterious. Street gangs have tons of social capital, and the Mafia may have the most intense and long-running social capital of any group. Inevitably, some people have thought deeply about the downside of social capital. Worth a look.