Bill Lind’s piece powerfully identifies the breakdown of the state and the rise of alternative communities — for him, gangs. To be sure this is a big current coursing through the world system, but what is it really?

Gangs are really sub-cultures — and what they represent is the early, stubborn, even primitive foundation for new societies to come. The apparent erosion of the old Euro-based international state system, especially at its violent margins, is not necessarily a token of its imminent collapse.

What the rise of alternative communities represents is the powerful and positive yearning of people to make for themselves communities that work — and yes, that includes gangs. What we are seeing in all the places where the world system has ceased to work is ground-up social creation: Potentially new societies that might, if they are successful, become the successors of what we now call failed states.

After Rome, such societies emerged everywhere. There were stubbornly local, and they were the successors of the globalized world of the Roman West. They were also the basis for the new world that we call Medieval Europe.

Will this happen to us? It is already happening, as Bill Lind argues, but it is happening at the margins of a world civilization. It is not about to subvert the larger world, but it might well become an evolutionary ecology of alternative societies. Not the human future, but a vector we should nonetheless take seriously, and on its own terms.

Hence, if our world system entered into a devolution, a subsidence of the present exalted state we call globalization, then these marginal communities, some armed and violent, some infused with righteousness, others just looking to survive as themselves, would become a feature of a de-compressing, de-globalizing world.

This was the thrust of my book, Fighting Identity, which the American Conservative graciously reviewed in April 2009. What we did not want to face up to in 2008 (when I wrote it) is now front-and-center today.

We are not there yet. But Bill Lind’s tea-leaf interpretation of signs needs to take all this into account.