Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Updated notes about the noosphere and noopolitik: draft of Section II for new paper

II. Noosphere concept gaining ground in recent decades

The spread of the noosphere concept from the 1920s to the 1990s was well-documented in the impressive wide-ranging collection by Paul Samson & David Pitt (eds.),‎ The Biosphere and Noosphere Reader: Global Environment, Society and Change (1998). As the editors state, “The noosphere concept captures a number of key contemporary issues — social evolution, global ecology, Gaia, deep ecology and global environmental change — contributing to ongoing debates concerning the implications of emerging technologies such as human-created biospheres and the Internet.” Their book’s excerpts provide “the central ideas and key writings of many prominent thinkers”, including Teilhard, Vernadsky, and Le Roy — the original coiners of the term — along with admirers and interpreters Henri Bergson, Julian Huxley, Arnold Toynbee, James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, Rafal Serafin, Marshall McLuhan, Theodosius Dobhzansky, Dorion Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Kenneth Boulding, and Nikita Moiseev, among others. Plus Mikhail Gorbachev, who wrote the book’s Foreword.

When we first published about noopolitik in 1999, the noosphere idea was attracting evermore interest and adherents. Marshall McLuhan’s notion of the “global village” and James Lovelock’s & Lynn Margulis’s “Gaia thesis” were derived partly from Teilhard’s ideas. Cyberspace and Wired magazine guru John Perry Barlow was claiming that “The point of all evolution to this stage is to create a collective organism of mind. With cyberspace, we are essentially hardwiring the noosphere.” And scholar-activist Elise Boulding was foreseeing a “many-layered map of the world” à la Teilhard, consisting of the geosphere, biosphere, and a “sociosphere” (families, communities, nation-states, international organizations, and “the peoples’ layer” of NGOs), and atop all that the noosphere. In her view the noosphere consisted of “the sum total of all the thoughts generated in the sociosphere.” Indeed, “[t]he more we can involve ourselves in the networks that give us access to that envelope, the more we can contribute to the emergence of that [global civic] culture.” (Sources: see our 1999 study.)

Boulding’s writings in particular showed that the noosphere concept was gaining resonance and credibility among transnational civil-society actors, more than among government and commercial actors. We still believe it is time for the latter to begin moving in this direction, too, particularly since power in the information age stems, more than ever, from the ability of government and market actors to work conjointly with networked civil-society actors.

Later, when we wrote our update in 2007, we found we were not alone in predicting that the information age would affect grand strategy and diplomacy so thoroughly that a new concept was going to emerge. David Rothkopf urged that “the realpolitik of the new era is cyberpolitik, in which the actors are no longer just states, and raw power can be countered or fortified by information power.” David Bollier favored Netpolitik to name “a new style of diplomacy that seeks to exploit the powerful capabilities of the Internet to shape politics, culture, values, and personal identity.” Europeans prefered infopolitik as the term for a new era of public diplomacy based on “proactive international communication” and “the projection of free and unbiased information.” None of these alternative terms has taken hold; but at the very least they have helped advance the sense that something new was in the making. (Sources: see our 2007 article.)

Today, in 2018, the noosphere concept has still not gone mainstream, but recognition and validation have kept growing. One significant supportive venue is the website Edge, which consults a rich variety of leading thinkers around the world in order to compile answers to Edge’s Annual Question. Regarding the 2010 Annual Question “How Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?” psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi replied:
“The development of cooperative sites ranging from Wikipedia to open-source software (and including Edge?) makes the thought process more public, more interactive, more transpersonal, resulting in something similar to what Teilhard de Chardin anticipated over half a century ago as the "Noosphere", or a global consciousness that he saw as the next step in human evolution.” (Csikszentmihalyi, 2010)
And, to the 2017 Annual Question “What Scientific Term or Concept Ought to Be Better Known?” historian David Christian replied that
“The idea of the “Noösphere,” or “the sphere of mind,” emerged early in the 20th century. It flourished for a while, then vanished. It deserves a second chance. … Freed of the taint of vitalism, the idea of a Noösphere can help us get a better grip on the Anthropocene world of today.” (Christian, 2017)
Scientists who are clustered around The Evolution Institute, though mostly interested in analyzing social issues and social evolution from a Darwinian perspective, occasionally show an interest in examining the relationships between science and spirituality. One conference in particular (see Wilson et al., 2015) led to scattered positive remarks about Teilhard’s noosphere idea. Accordingly, this idea is “why the current intersection of science and spirituality explored in this roundtable is so exciting and qualifies as a genuinely new synthesis.” The conference included an unusual mix of evolutionary scientists and spiritual visionaries, a few holding New-Age beliefs about “conscious evolution” — a rather Teilhardian notion.

Meanwhile, former New York Times blogger, environmentalist Andrew Revkin (2012) cleverly called attention to the concept by referring to it as the “knowosphere” (and “no(w)osphere”). Moreover, pro-commons P2P theorist and Kosmos contributor James Quilligan (2010) included the noosphere, along with the biosphere and physiosphere, in his layout of “the global commons” — criticizing “the Market State” for creating contradictions and then proposing that
“Today’s global superbubble is the result of deep structural imbalances between economic ideology and policy (noosphere), and environment and labor (biosphere) and physical resources (physiosphere). The challenge is to assemble international representatives from all regions and sectors to discuss global commons issues in a negotiating format which integrates these three streams of evolution.”
Elsewhere, psychologist Roger Nelson led the unusual, controversial, and inconclusive “Global Consciousness Project” (GCP; 1998-2015) at Princeton University, as “an international collaboration of researchers interested in the possibility that we can detect faint glimmerings of a coalescing layer of intelligence for the earth, what Teilhard de Chardin called the Noosphere” (Nelson, 2002). Mostly a parapsychology experiment, it deployed engineering devices around the world to try to detect whether a collective consciousness might be forming in response to major world events (e.g., 9/11). According to Nelson (2002), “Suggestions like those made in many intellectual and cultural traditions, that there is an Earth consciousness, appear to have a modicum of scientific support in the GCP results … and that we may be interconnected on a grand scale by consciousness fields.” Not exactly the kind of validation we are looking for, but it does provide another recent piece evincing interest in a “realm of the mind.” (See noosphere.princeton.edu and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Consciousness_Project)

Lately, DARPA (2017) has shown interest in discussing the matter, having organized an event whose objectives included the following agenda item: “Noosphere: Create, measure, and model foundational questions regarding humans, human-machine interactions, and society: For example, are there new approaches to ‘computation’ based on human or animal social or cognitive processes and how might we understand them? We are also discussing how human perception might be a tool in modern conflict resolution.”

Far away, as a result of Vladimir Vernadsky’s early work on the biosphere and noosphere (as well as “noocracy”), plus Alexey Eryomin’s later work on noogenesis and Nikita Moiseev’s work on the noosphere, not to mention Mikhail Gorbachev’s interest in these matters, noos-related concepts have grown in stature in Russia more than has been recognized. They continue to flourish in sub-groups within the Russian Academy of Sciences, notably the Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry, and the Institute for the Scientific Research and Investigation of Cosmic Anthropoecology. Russians also lead the Noosphere Spiritual Ecological World Assembly (NSEWA), which holds periodic conferences that attract New-Age believers from around the world, notably Jose Arguelles, author of Manifesto for the Noosphere: The Next Stage in the Evolution of Human Consciousness (2011). Other spin-offs from Vernadsky’s thinking include the Galactic Research Institute (GRI) and its Foundation for the Law of Time (GRI-FLT), along with an online activity it organized in 2012, the First Noosphere World Forum. These (and other) New-Age activities may not matter for thinking about American information strategy and diplomacy, but they do indicate the influences that Vernadsky and his Russian scientist colleagues have had not only in Russia but also in odd circuits around the world. (See lawoftime.org and noosphereforum.org).

Lately, extending Vernadsky’s influence and recalling the Global Consciousness Project at Princeton, Russian eclectic Anton Vaino co-invented and touted the “nooscope” during 2011-2012 as “a device that records changes in the noosphere” — and as “the first device of its kind that allows for the study of humanity’s collective mind” (Stanley, 2016; Hartshorn, 2016). If fully operationalized, it would deploy a complex system of “sensory networks” around the world to collect data and scan activities in seven areas: the business sphere, market conscience, the infrastructure of human life support systems, technogeneous catastrophes, natural disasters, special-purpose layers, and collective consciousness. Vaino’s influence and the nooscope idea’s purpose and status are unclear. But, curiously, Vladimir Putin appointed him Chief of Staff in 2016, a position he holds today in 2018. This has aroused speculations about whether Putin’s ideas for a “Third Way” and “managed democracy” may now mean imposing a “noocracy” — Plato’s term for “rule of the wise” that Vernadsky reiterated, but applied in mind-manipulating authoritarian Russian ways. (Elsewhere, see the “noomap” start-up at noomap.info)

Actually, throughout history every expansion in interpersonal communications and connectivity has led to new notions that a collective, even global consciousness might be taking shape. The noosphere is but one of many concepts for grasping this. Significant 19th C. precursors were Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s “objective Spirit,” Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Over–Soul,” and Emile Durkheim’s “collective consciousness”. The early 20th C. brought Henri Bergson’s “creative evolution,” Carl Jung’s “collective unconscious,” and H. G. Well’s “world brain.” In the late 20th C., ideas multiplied that collective intelligence, global consciousness, a global brain, and/or a global mind may awaken from the growth of cyberspace and the Internet. These ideas included, as noted earlier, Marshall McLuhan’s “global village” and James Lovelock’s & Lynn Margulis’s “Gaia”. These developments also enlarged the possibilities for Benedict Anderson’s “imagined communities” to form in new ways, apart from physical territory and nation — sometimes taking dark shape, as in the Islamist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri’s notion of the “virtual caliphate” (Lia, 2009). A recent manifestation is the concept of the Anthropocene epoch. Making matters more nebulous and mysterious, philosophers interested in consciousness and quantum dynamics have lately proposed “panpsychism” and “cosmopsychism”, implying a collective consciousness that goes well beyond Durkheim’s original formulation (Goff, 2017, 2018).

These alternatives aside, we favor the noosphere concept — it provides the best grounding for thinking about policy and strategy in the information age. Indeed, what Samson and Pitt wrote in their Epilogue in The Biosphere and Noosphere Reader (1998) two decades ago still makes timely sense for public policy dialogue,:
“Once again, we are faced with two questions: in what direction does public opinion want the noosphere to go and in which directions is the noosphere capable of going? Practically speaking, and in today’s world, this translates into asking how the noosphere can be applied to help to solve problems in such areas as environment, health, poverty, violence and inequality.” (Samson & Pitt, p. 181)
With a few word substitutions, their two questions may make sense to pose about noopolitik as well: In what directions do/will international security strategists want noopolitik to go? And in what directions is noopolitik capable of going? To those and other questions we turn next.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Updated notes about the noosphere and noopolitik: draft of Section I for new paper

I. The noosphere: a concept about the world’s future evolution

For discussing information-based realms, the grandest, most abstract, and so far least favored term is the noosphere. This term, from the Greek word noos, meaning “the mind,” was coined — whether separately or collectively is unclear — by French theologian-paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, along with French mathematician Edouard Le Roy, and visiting Russian geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky, in Paris in 1922. They were already familiar with the terms “geosphere” and “biosphere”, long in use, and innovatively decided that the planet would next evolve a noosphere. The idea spread in Europe and America following Teilhard’s posthumous publications in the 1950s-1960s, and in Russia following Vernadsky’s return there in the 1920s-1930s.

Our earlier writings credited only Teilhard. We did not know about Vernadsky (nor Le Roy, who left few writings behind). So we slightly expand here on our past discussion of Teilhard, then provide a new discussion about Vernadsky, followed by some comparative remarks. We also add important points from Le Roy’s perspective. Most helpful for doing so was our reading of Paul R. Samson & David Pitt (eds.),‎ The Biosphere and Noosphere Reader: Global Environment, Society and Change (1998). It contained extracts from Vernadsky’s and Le Roy’s writings that were previously unavailable to us.

Teilhard’s thinking about the noosphere

In Teilhard’s view — especially as expressed in The Phenomenon of Man ([1955] 1965) and The Future of Man ([1959] 1964) — the world first evolved a global geosphere and next a biosphere. Now that people are communicating on global scales, the world is starting to create a noosphere — what he variously describes as a globe-circling “realm of the mind,” a “thinking circuit,” “a new layer, the ‘thinking layer’,” a “stupendous thinking machine,” a “thinking envelope” full of fibers and networks, a “planetary mind” and “consciousness”, where Earth “finds its soul.” According to Teilhard, in a metaphor he favored,
“The idea is that of the earth not only becoming covered by myriads of grains of thought but becoming enclosed in a single thinking envelope so as to form, functionally, no more than a single vast grain of thought on the sidereal scale, the plurality of individual reflections grouping themselves together and reinforcing one another in the act of a single unanimous reflection.” (1965, pp. 250-251).
In the 1964 edition’s Introduction, Julian Huxley further defines Teilhard’s concept as a “web of living thought” and “a common pool of thought”. He also praises Teilhard for advancing “a threefold synthesis — of the material and physical world with the world of mind and spirit; of the past with the future; and of variety with unity, the many with the one.” And he clarifies that “we should consider inter-thinking humanity as a new type of organism, whose destiny it is to realise new possibilities for evolving life on this planet.”

According to Teilhard, then, forces of the mind — first “psychogenesis” and then “noogenesis” — have been creating “grains of thought” and other pieces of the noosphere for ages, while increases in social complexity and human consciousness have laid further groundwork for the noosphere’s emergence. Now the noosphere may finally be achieving a global presence, and its varied “compartments” and “cultural units” are beginning to fuse. As Teilhard puts it, equating cultures with species, “cultural units are for the noosphere the mere equivalent and the true successors of zoological species in the biosphere.” Eventually, a synthesis will occur in which peoples of different nations, races, and cultures will give rise to “unheard-of and unimaginable degrees of organised complexity and of reflexive consciousness” that is planetary in scope (a “mono-culturation”), arising without people losing their personal identity and individuality.

Fully realized, the noosphere will raise mankind to a higher evolutionary plane, one shaped by a collective coordination of psychosocial and spiritual energies and by a devotion to moral, ethical, religious, juridical, and aesthetic principles. However, he counsels, “No one would dare to picture to himself what the noosphere will be like in its final guise”. Moreover, he warns that the transition may not be smooth — a “paroxysm,” a global tremor and possibly an apocalypse may characterize the final fusion of the noosphere.

Although Teilhard’s concept is essentially spiritual, and far less technological than cyberspace or the infosphere, he identified increased communications as a catalyst. Nothing like the Internet existed in his time. Yet he sensed (1964) that 1950s-era radio and television systems were already starting to “link us all in a sort of ‘etherized’ universal consciousness,” and someday “astonishing electronic computers” would give mankind new tools for thinking. Today, he is occasionally credited with anticipating the Internet, as well as the idea of the Anthropocene age. (Sources: Teilhard, 1964, pp. 162, 175–181, 200–4, 235, 303; Teilhard, 1965, pp. 287–290; Teilhard, in Samson & Pitt, 1998, p. 77)

Vernadsky’s thinking about the noosphere

Vernadsky’s views in some ways parallel, but also differ from Teilhard’s — Vernadsky’s are much more materialist, in spots more mystical, yet less spiritual (Vernadsky was an atheist). Like Teilhard, he too held that Earth first evolved a geosphere, then a biosphere — and a noosphere would be next. Indeed, he wrote the first book on The Biosphere (in 1926), in which he treated the spread of life as an essentially geological force.

In his landmark paper, “New Scientific Knowledge and the Transition from the Biosphere to the Noösphere” (1938), Vernadsky argued that increases and changes in the nature of “biogeophysical energy” — owing to a progression of inventions from fire-making, to agriculture, to modern communications technologies, etc. — explain the planetary spread of the biosphere and the coming emergence of a noosphere. In his words, “This new form of biogeochemical energy, which might be called the energy of human culture or cultural biogeochemical energy, is that form of biogeochemical energy, which creates at the present time the noösphere” (p. 16). This kind of energy, he wrote, lay behind the development of the human mind and reason itself; and it will lead “ultimately to the transformation of the biosphere into the noösphere, first and foremost, through the creation and growth of the scientific understanding of our surroundings” (p. 20).

Vernadsky went on to say that the creation of the noosphere has “proceeded apace, ever increasing in tempo” during the “last five to seven thousand years” despite “interruptions continually diminishing in duration” (p. 29). He evidently expects “the unity of the noosphere” to bring “a planned unified activity for the mastery of nature and a just distribution of wealth associated with a consciousness of the unity and equality of all peoples”. But while it is “not possible to reverse this process”, he expected “the transitional stage” to be accompanied by “ruthless struggle” and “intense struggles” that may span several generations. Nonetheless, he doubted “there will be any protracted interruptions in the ongoing process of the transition from the biosphere to the noösphere” (p. 30). Finally, as he conveyed all this with confidence, he nevertheless wondered whether it all “transcends the bounds of logic” and whether “we are entering into a realm still not fully grasped by science.” He even made positive closing references to Hindu philosophy and to the role of art in man’s thinking (p. 31).

Later, despite his dismay about the destructiveness of WWII, Vernadsky’s article “The Biosphere and the Noösphere” in the journal American Scientist in 1945, compiled from his much earlier writings, reflected his visionary optimism by observing that:
“The historical process is being radically changed under our very eyes. For the first time in the history of mankind the interests of the masses on the one hand, and the free thought of individuals on the other, determine the course of life of mankind and provide standards for men’s ideas of justice. Mankind taken as a whole is becoming a mighty geological force. There arises the problem of the reconstruction of the biosphere in the interests of freely thinking humanity as a single totality. This new state of the biosphere, which we approach without our noticing it, is the noösphere. …
“Now we live in the period of a new geological evolutionary change in the biosphere. We are entering the noösphere. This new elemental geological process is taking place at a stormy time, in the epoch of a destructive world war. But the important fact is that our democratic ideals are in tune with the elemental geological processes, with the laws of nature, and with the noösphere. Therefore we may face the future with confidence. It is in our hands. We will not let it go.” (in Samson & Pitt, p. 99)
Note that despite his despair about WWII, he still associated the nascent noosphere with such values as freedom, justice, and democracy.

Throughout his varied writings about “the evolution of the biosphere into the noosphere,” Vernadsky extolled the emergence of reason as a powerful, even geological force tied to the development of science and scientific thinking. He thus mostly regarded the noosphere as the “sphere of reason”, the “realm of reason,” the “reign of reason,” and as “the way through which the noosphere manifests itself in the thinking process” — even as “life's domain ruled by reason.” (Vernadsky, 1997, passim)

Vernadsky’s audience was mostly fellow scientists in Soviet Russia, not policy-makers. But he did occasionally argue that government administrators should attend to his findings, and that “Statesmen should be aware of the present elemental process of transition of the biosphere into the noosphere.” (in Samson & Pitt, p. 38)

Teilhard and Vernadsky compared

Both Teilhard and Vernadsky shared a deep belief in our planet’s evolutionary path: first a geosphere, then a biosphere, and next a noosphere. Yet their views about causes and consequences differ enough to be worth comparing. Teilhard’s views were far more spiritually-grounded than Vernadsky’s. The latter preferred to explain the noosphere’s emergence in terms of geological and technological forces. Yet, like Teilhard, he expected the noosphere to have wonderful ethical consequences for humanity — as he noted, “a just distribution of wealth” and “the unity and equality of all peoples”. Moreover, while both viewed the noosphere optimistically as a realm of collective consciousness, neither regarded it as a realm of uniformity. Both valued individualism and variety. Both favored a future built on democracy. And, seemingly contrary to Charles Darwin, both thought that evolution depended on cooperation as much as competition.

Both were quite unclear regarding what the transition to the noosphere will be like for people. They both made the transitional phase seem inevitable. At times, Teilhard even made it seem alluringly smooth and peaceful. Yet, if they’d just offered comparisons (which neither evidently did) to the transitions to the geosphere and biosphere, they’d surely have noted that evolution of any kind is often far from smooth and peaceful; indeed, it is often chaotic, disjointed, and violent. Fortunately, Teilhard and Vernadsky at least allude to this prospect — Teilhard by noting that a global tremor, if not an apocalypse, may characterize the final fusion of the noosphere, Vernadsky by noting the likelihood of intense ruthless struggles spanning several generations. Both recognized humanity’s capacity for self-destruction.

Which raises another question about the nature of the transition: Teilhard and Vernadsky both saw the noosphere as evolving piecemeal around the planet, much as did the geosphere and biosphere, with some parts arising here and then spreading there, other parts elsewhere, with interconnections and interactions increasing over time, until the entire planet is caught up in webs of creation and fusion. But neither Teilhard nor Vernadsky specified exactly what parts and pieces may matter along the way. Teilhard at least indicated that “compartments” and “cultural units” bearing “grains of thought” will do the “fusing”. That isn’t much to go on, but it’s helpful for thinking strategically, as we argue later.

Le Roy’s depiction of the transition

Le Roy’s few writings on this subject offer further insight into how the transition may occur. In his book on The Origins of Humanity and the Evolution of Mind ([1928] in Samson & Pitt, 1998), Le Roy turned to a “hydro-dynamical” metaphor for showing how the noosphere may emerge from the biosphere. It would not resemble the growth of a branching tree, but instead occur by way of spurts, jets, and spouts that finally link to form a layer. In his words,
“Take the biosphere. Let us imagine in it a few points here and there where spurts, strictly limited and hardly surpassing above the middle level, and where jets grow little by little, open up and finally link up their spouts, spreading a layer that covers the Earth. The layer is ultimately superimposed on the primitive layer and covers it like multiple currents. This is the noosphere, spurting and emanating from the biosphere, and finishing by having the same amplitude and same importance as its generator. … [It is] “the spurting points that [will] attach the noosphere to the biosphere.” (Samson & Pitt, p. 66-67)
Those metaphors aside, Le Roy went on to identify real-world factors that will drive creation of the noosphere: “division of work, game of association and habit, culture and training, exercise of all types; from where come social classes, types of mind, forms of activity, new powers”. He noted that this will ultimately lead to a separation and spiritualization of the noosphere — “a disengagement of consciousness increasingly free and pure, and the constitution of a superior order of existence; the order of spirituality, reaching a point of perfection where the noosphere would strain to detach itself from the biosphere as a butterfly sheds its cocoon.” According to Le Roy, it is “this mysterious force of thought cohesion between individuals that allows the start of organised union in a unique layer”. (Samson & Pitt, pp. 67, 69)

In other words, Le Roy viewed the expansion of the mind and the creation of the noosphere as a planetary process that will lead to the noosphere’s separation from the biosphere:
“We are, in truth, confronting a phenomenon of planetary, perhaps cosmic, importance. This new force is human intelligence; the reflexive will of humankind. Through human action, the noosphere disengages itself, little by little, from the biosphere and becomes more and more independent, and all this with rapid acceleration and an amplification of effects which continue to grow. Correlatively however, by a sort of return shock, hominisation has introduced, in the course of life, some formidable risks.” (Samson & Pitt, p. 5)
This depiction by Le Roy of the noosphere’s emergence is quite dramatic, even gripping and visionary — as are the depictions offered by Teilhard and Vernadsky. Maybe that helps to explain why, thanks to these three foundational thinkers, the noosphere concept has persisted and grown, not only over time and but also across scholarly, spiritual, and other boundaries. A brief survey of recent developments follows.

Updated notes about the noosphere and noopolitik: draft of Introduction to new paper

The Continuing Promise of the Noösphere and Noöpolitik — Twenty Years After

by David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla

Twenty years ago we proposed noöpolitik (nü-oh-poh-li-teek) as a new approach for American information strategy (Arquilla & Ronfeldt, 1999). According to our argument, strategists will have to rethink what is “information” and see that a new realm is emerging — the noosphere, a global “realm of the mind” — that will profoundly affect statecraft. The information age will continue to undermine the conditions for traditional strategies based on realpolitik and material “hard power,” and lead to new strategies based on noopolitik and its preference for ideational “soft power.” A rethinking is needed because the decisive factor in the new global wars of ideas will be “whose story wins” — the essence of noöpolitik.

The noosphere and noopolitik concepts relate to an organizational theme that has figured prominently in our work about the information revolution: the rise of network forms of organization that strengthen civil-society actors. Few state or market actors, by themselves, seem likely to have much interest in fostering the construction of a global noosphere, except in limited areas having to do with international law, or political and economic ideology. The impetus for fostering a global noosphere is more likely to emanate from activist NGOs, other civil-society actors (e.g., churches, schools), and individuals dedicated to freedom of information and communications and to the spread of ethical values and norms. We believe it is time for state actors to begin moving in this direction, too, particularly since power in the information age will stem, more than ever, from the ability of state and market actors to work conjointly with civil-society actors.

Ten years ago we provided an update on the promise of noopolitik (Ronfeldt & Arquilla, 2007) for the first edition of a handbook on public diplomacy (Snow & Taylor, 2009). In it, we summarized our 1999 report and added four new points: (1) Other new information-age concepts similar to noopolitik — notably, netpolitik, cyberpolitik, infopolitik — had appeared, but all (including noopolitik) were having difficulty gaining traction. (2) Instead, the concept of “soft power” had come to dominate the strategic discourse in government, military, and think-tank circles, even though its definition was flawed and lacked operational clarity. (3) Meanwhile, in non-state arenas where noosphere-building ideas had taken hold, activist NGOs representing global civil society were becoming major practitioners of noopolitik — but the most effective practitioners were militant jihadis organized in global networks and outfitted with sophisticated media technologies. (4) Against this background, we argued that American public diplomacy would benefit from a course correction to head in the direction of noöpolitik. But we also cautioned that conditions for doing so were less favorable than when we first fielded the concept a decade earlier — and propitious conditions seemed unlikely to re–emerge anytime soon.

Today, another ten years later, as we prepare this new update, noopolitik remains a promising concept for American information strategy. However, it’s not alive and well in the United States, where even “soft power” is lately in decline as a strategic concept. Instead, our major adversaries are the ones who are working on developing noopolitik — but in dark ways and by other names — and they’re using it against us. These new circumstances may mean, to echo Charles Dickens, that we are now living in “the worst of times” — yet precisely because of this adversity, potentially also “the best of times” — for revisiting the promise of the noosphere and noopolitik.

So we’re doing this update differently. Our initial writings analyzed at length the increasing importance of information and the nature and growth of three realms — cyberspace, the infosphere, and the noosphere. We did so in order to recommend that strategists begin to gravitate toward the noosphere concept. However, by now the importance of information and those three realms is conceptually more familiar to strategists. Thus, for this update, we are skipping re-summarizing our initial analysis and instead diving straight into discussing the noosphere concept in more detail — from its origins in the 1920s, to the spread of its influence today, a century later.

We proceed this new way partly because we have learned more about the noosphere concept. Also, we have found new implications for discussing the prospects for noopolitik. We conclude by providing a fresh assessment of noopolitik as it applies to the current strategic situation of the United States — the country that should be most highly attuned and attracted to noopolitik.

Updated notes about the noosphere and noopolitik: introductory remarks about a revised series of posts

Several months ago, co-author John Arquilla and I agreed to update our ten-year-old chapter for a new revised edition of a 2009 handbook on public diplomacy (Snow & Taylor, 2009). Our chapter back then was titled “Noopolitik: A New Framework for Public Diplomacy”. We have now drafted a major update and rewrite. This series of eight or nine posts provides recent versions of our draft sections. The final paper will still need further edits and revisions, and probably a severe shortening.

As I post these recent drafts, section by section, I am going to delete the corresponding earlier rough drafts that I posted during February-May.

In brief, our argument is as follows: As the information age deepens, a globe–circling realm of the mind is being created — the “noosphere” that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (and others) identified ninety years ago. This will increasingly affect the nature of grand strategy and diplomacy. Traditional realpolitik, which ultimately relies on hard (principally military) power, will give way to the rise of noöpolitik (or noöspolitik), which relies on soft (principally ideational) power. Ultimately, noöpolitik is about whose story wins.

Here is what the new paper’s outline currently looks like:

The Continuing Promise of the Noösphere and Noöpolitik — Twenty Years After
by David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla


I. The noosphere: a concept about the world’s future evolution
Teilhard’s thinking about the noosphere
Vernadsky’s thinking about the noosphere
Teilhard and Vernadsky compared
Le Roy’s depiction of the transition

II. Noosphere concept gaining ground in recent decades

III. Implications of the noosphere concept for thinking about noopolitik

IV. The Future of Noopolitik (Revisited)
Global civil-society actors as proponents of noopolitik
Displacement of realpolitik as the noosphere grows
Early glimmers of noopolitik

V. Pessimistic appraisal of today’s turmoil for the noosphere and noopolitik
Washington failing at noopolitik
Moscow, Beijing, and Wikileaks turning noopolitik against us
The noosphere in fragmented disarray

VI. New hope for the noosphere and noopolitik — the global commons
Environmental science and civil-society perspectives on the global commons
Military perspectives on the global commons
Intersecting implications — a new combination of forces for the future

VII. Getting America back on track through noopolitik
The way ahead as we previously saw it
A new vision for the way ahead

Select Bibliography

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Our original RAND report, titled The Emergence of Noopolitik: Toward An American Information Strategy (1999), is available here:

Our follow-up paper, “The promise of noöpolitik” (2007), which summarizes the RAND report and was edited down for the chapter in the public diplomacy handbook, is here:

Readings in overcoming political tribalism — #3: David Brooks on” Republican or Conservative, You Have to Choose”

In this sterling op-ed, David Brooks reminds us of the historical roots of conservatism and the values that traditionally animate it: seeking too build a social order, indeed a “sacred space”, that nurtures individualism along with community, mostly for the sake of freedom, while protecting it over the centuries first from abstract ideologies, then from industrialization, and lately from big government. But in America as well as England, such endeavors “have fizzled because over the last 30 years the parties of the right drifted from conservatism. The Republican Party became the party of market fundamentalism.” Brooks deems market fundamentalism “an inhumane philosophy” that leads to excessive individualism and social atomization, thereby next inducing a turn to tribalism.

Accordingly, “Republican voters eventually rejected market fundamentalism and went for the tribalism of Donald Trump because at least he gave them a sense of social belonging. At least he understood that there’s a social order under threat.” Problem is, says Brooks, it’s not the kind of belonging that conservatives traditionally value — instead, “His tribalism is the evil twin of community.”

Thus, “In 2018, the primary threat to the sacred order is no longer the state. It is a radical individualism that leads to vicious tribalism. The threat comes from those two main currents of the national Republican Party. At his essence Trump is an assault on the sacred order that conservatives hold dear — the habits and institutions that cultivate sympathy, honesty, faithfulness and friendship.

“Today you can be a conservative or a Republican, but you can’t be both.”

Brooks concludes his excellent analysis by placing his hope not in the GOP but in “beautiful communities” where he sees “good citizens and healthy attachments” being nurtured anew.

We need more of this kind of thinking on both the Right and the Left. Otherwise, I fear, we are being headed ever farther toward plutocracy for the rich and fascism for the poor, not tto mention illusions of democracy for the rest of us.

To read for yourself, go here:

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A forecast about the future of the global commons under Trump’s Presidency

I placed the following post on my FaceBook page on May 9. Now I see, a month later, that I neglected to post it here as well. Since it’s still timely, here it is, unrevised:

First, Trump withdrew our country from the Paris Agreement on climate change, then from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on trade and investment. Yesterday, he rejected the Iran nuclear deal. In a few months, this time to acclaim, he will agree to a peace agreement for the Korean peninsula.

These moves all have two points in common:

(1) They serve the interests of Moscow and Beijing — I’d posit more than the interests of the United States. If there is a Korean peace agreement, it will be more because of Beijing and Moscow than Washington.

(2) Those four moves all serve to undermine the “global commons” — the spaces located outside national jurisdictions and open to all, like the high seas, upper atmosphere, outer space, and cyberspace (plus other stuff depending on who is doing the defining). For decades, this concept, though it almost never makes the news, has been critically important to future-oriented environmental scientists and civil-society activists, as well as to U.S. military planners and strategists (and to NATO).

However, the Trump Admin and its fellow strategists seem deliberately disinterested in the global commons. It is also a concept that Beijing and Moscow do not accept, for it hinders their respective grand strategies.

In sum, the four Trump moves I mentioned up front, in different ways and to varying degrees, will serve to damage the global commons, as a concept and reality, to the benefit of Moscow and Beijing.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Notes for a quadriformist manifesto — #1: some preliminary musings

Assuming the TIMN framework (Tribes + Institutions + Markets + Networks) is correct, America is in the early throes of trying to evolve from an aging triform (T+I+M) system into a more advanced quadriform (T+I+M+N) system. It won’t be a brief, easy, smooth, or assured transition. If we succeed, our society will be reorganized for the better, the American Dream revitalized. If not — if our leaders remain stuck in their old triformist ways of thinking and acting — we will lapse deeper into the stratified polarized rigidity that currently afflicts our nation, making systemic collapse more likely.

Americans are long accustomed to having a triform system — a liberal democracy where life revolves mainly around family and community (T), the government and public sector (+I), and the market economy and its private sector (+M). Those three domains have come to define how our leaders frame nearly all options for addressing policy problems: let government fix it, have the private sector do it, or toss it to family and community actors — or use a mixed partnership. For over two centuries, those three sectors and the options they offer worked well for propelling America’s growth as a great nation and world power. America became the paragon of a triform society, in a world where other liberal democracies have also emerged to develop their own triform systems, but most nations have had great difficulty getting beyond biform (T+I) systems, their clannish (T) societies subject to bureaucratic dictatorships and command economies (+I).

Today, America is near the end of its long successful triformist run. Indeed, it may have already ended, and we just don’t know it yet.

Our nation has become so advanced and complex, yet so afflicted with old and new problems, that those three options no longer suffice. Evidence of this is growing all around — especially in the hardened combative political fighting in Washington over whether to push the American people further in the direction of government or market solutions, without truly easing the burdens on family and community. America’s most dogmatic leaders — on the Right and the Left — keep doubling-down on ingrown beliefs that either the government or the market should prevail, as though those were the only two choices. Moderate leaders keep trying, and failing, to argue for mixed bipartisan solutions — but they too remain stuck in triformist frames. No leaders in Washington (and few elsewhere) see that our biggest social problems — notably, health, education, and what’s called welfare — have become so complicated, so confounding, that neither the government nor the market, not even public-private partnerships, seem suited to solving them anymore. Our society has advanced to the point that it is now fraught with discord and disarray across all three triformist sectors.

But where else to turn? How else to think?

The rise of each TIMN form is associated, in turn, with a revolution in the information and communications technologies of the time. Thus it’s the digital revolution that has enabled the rise of the +N network form. It’s rise has already had profound effects on all areas of society, inspiring new ways of thinking and doing. But it has yet to have its principal TIMN effect: the creation and consolidation of a new sector of activity. As it matures and takes hold, aging contentions that “government” (+I) or “the market” (+M) is the solution to particular public-policy issues will eventually give way to new ideas that “the network” (+N) is the solution. Quadriform (T+I+M+N) societies will then grow to outperform and supersede the world’s triform (T+I+M) kinds of societies.

As occurred during nascent phases of the prior TIMN forms, it’s still uncertain what this new +N sector will end up being named, what exactly its purposes will be, what actors and entities will constitute it, what laws and regulations will be needed to promote and protect it, and how it will achieve financial viability. Other social theorists who’ve seen that a new sector is emerging, consisting mainly of networked non-profit civil-society NGOs, have tried naming it the social sector, third sector, citizen sector, social-benefit sector, plural sector, public-interest sector, civic sector, nonprofit sector, voluntary sector, and commons sector. At present, TIMN aligns best with the expectation that this new sector will be a commons sector. The idea of the “commons” has taken a beating in the past, but it’s finally making a comeback.

In the TIMN progression, whenever a new form arises, the actors and entities that come to embody it increasingly take over those functions and activities for which they are best suited, and which the older form(s) and sector(s) were performing with increasing faults and inefficiencies. This dynamic takes hold because societal complexity at the time outgrows the limited problem-solving capabilities of the older forms. That dynamic attended the evolutions from early tribal, to state-centric, and next to market-centric societies. At present, this dynamic appears to apply mostly to America’s most complex social problems — especially health, education, welfare, the environment, and related types of insurance. They appear to qualify for an eventual migration into a commons (+N) sector, one that may operate best as set of networked non-profits, cooperatives, trusts and other associations committed to serving the common good, separate from but in cooperation with existing household (T), public (+I), and private (+M) sectors. This new commons sector would be about the kinds of “assurances” (not “entitlements”) that an advanced quadriform society can and should warrant for the common wellbeing of its people.

Make sense? Sound feasible? Time to start deliberately moving in +N directions?

American liberalism and conservatism, once great triformisms, have both reached their limits. They cannot be restored to greatness if America is to keep progressing, for they are increasingly incapable of fully framing and solving the negative externalities and other problems created by decades of advances in America’s complexity. The divisions afflicting our politics — between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals/ progressives, the Right and the Left — keep fueling battles for the hearts and minds of triformists. Worse yet, today’s conservative Republicans and others on the far Right often act more like tribalists than triformists. Much of conservatism has been taken over by ideological deformers who want to overemphasize one TIMN form or another (usually “the market”), without understanding that the forms function best when each functions within its limits and in balance with the other forms. Meanwhile, leaders among the Democrats remain just as stuck. However, unlike their Republican counterparts, they may be floundering partly because they sense that something radically new (like +N) is in the offing, though they can’t quite grasp it yet. Elsewhere, in various progressive NGOs devoted to rethinking America’s future, matters aren’t much better; they too persist with triformist frames — most just keep attacking what’s become of capitalism.

Meanwhile, I am trying to be a quadriformist. Whether I end up a conservative or liberal quadriformist remains to be seen. What’s important right now is to be a quadriformist of some sort. I await your becoming one too. Fortunately, we are not alone. There are at least three other efforts underway arguing that a fourth something is emerging — a form, sector, relational model, or mode of exchange —that will lead to radical changes in how societies are organized. Those other efforts are well to the Left of TIMN, but they too help show that quadriformist impulses are stirring that will reshape the way ahead.