Monday, September 10, 2018

Notes for a quadriformist manifesto — #3 cont.: Kojin Karatani on four modes of exchange

In The Structure of World History (2014), Kojin Karatani fields his innovative idea to switch “from modes of production to modes of exchange” as a way “to rethink the history of social formations” from a Marxist perspective. Accordingly (see charts), “There are four types of mode of exchange: mode A, which consists of the reciprocity of the gift; mode B, which consists of ruling and protection; mode C, which consists of commodity exchange; and mode D, which transcends the other three.” He further observes that “These four types coexist in all social formations. They differ only on which of the modes is dominant” (2014, pp. ix-x).

Elaboration: Karatani’s framework results in a familiar evolutionary progression: Mode A characterized the rise of fixed-settlement agricultural communities, as their clans and tribes turned to reciprocal gift exchanges (including through arranged marriages) to assure mutual respect, solidarity, and security, both within and between settlements. These settlements were preceded historically by nomadic bands that depended on communal pooling and sharing to survive — not as “gift exchange” but rather as “pure gift” that Karatani denotes “nomadism U” and equates to Marx’s idea of “primitive communism”. What happens with the formation of fixed settlements, however, is that exchange principles take hold for the first time. Thus, “reciprocity is not so much a principle of community as it is a principle for forming larger, stratified communities” (2014, p. 5).

Centuries later, Mode B would take hold with the rise of the state, as it provided people with protection in exchange for obedience. As the state form grew, Mode B gained became even more manifest in centralized bureaucracies, public works, and codifications of law. As Karatani notes, the state arose originally through its power to plunder and redistribute; this endures in the modern era through the state’s power of taxation. Next, still more centuries later, Mode C became foremost, as commodity exchange became the key dynamic behind the development of the market system and capitalism — the realms of money, credit, trade, and class relations.

These three modes enable Karatani, drawing on Hegel and Kant as well as Marx, to propose shifting from Capital to Capital-Nation-State as the object of inquiry, the real force in society. Marxism has traditionally identified Capital as the decisive force, claiming that the material base of a society, i.e., its economic base and mode of production, determines its ideational superstructure, i.e., culture, politics, and religion — in Marx’s view, state and nation belong to this ideational superstructure. However, Karatani sees that the modes of exchange he identifies are all both material and ideational in nature, and that they operate with relative autonomy from each other. Indeed, “ideational superstructures such as religion are not just passively determined by the economic base, but rather have the power to actively alter the latter” (2017, p. 2). Thus, while Capital expresses Mode C, the Nation and the State express the enduring power of Modes A and B, respectively — and they are all knotted together. Hence, it’s the capital-nation-state as a triplex system that defines the modern era, not simply the Capital of traditional Marxism, nor the nation-state of common parlance. In light of this, once capitalism ends, then, contrary to traditional Marxism, the state won’t wither away, neither will the nation. Instead, they will be transformed and transcended through the rise of Mode D.

Mode D is difficult to describe (for me anyway). According to Karatani, Mode D will prevail in the future — as a future mode of exchange that partly spells a return of the spirit of gift exchange (Mode A), but even more so, a return to the older spirit of nomadism’s U form and its emphasis on pooling and sharing, before exchange became a requisite principle:
“Mode of exchange D is not simply the restoration of mode A — it is not, that is, the restoration of community. Mode of exchange D, as the restoration of A in a higher dimension, is in fact only possible with the negation of A. D is, in sum, the restoration of nomadic society. Yet this too does not appear as the result of human desire or intention, but rather emerges as a duty issued by God or heaven or as a regulative idea. In concrete terms, D arrives in the form of universal religion, which negates religions grounded in magic or reciprocity.” (2014, pp. xi-xii)
“Strictly speaking, D is not one of the modes of exchange. It is a drive that seeks to negate and sublate ‘exchange’ (whether of mode A, B, or C). It appears in the form of an ideational/religious power. Nonetheless, it is deeply connected to the economic base — that is, to exchange. It is precisely for this reason that D is able to oppose the various powers that arise from A, B, and C. It is not some imaginary being created through human desire or intention; to the contrary, it possesses its own ‘power’ of compulsion over humans.” (2017, p. 21)
“Mode D is not the return of mode A; it is the return of U.” (2017, p. 25)
Karatani affirms that, while Modes A, B, and C have their own religious aspects, Mode D is “undoubtedly religious in nature” (2017, p. 21). Indeed, its best early instances “are found in the communistic groups that existed in the earliest stages of universal religions such as Christianity and Buddhism” (2014, p. 8). He mentions “heretical movements” in particular, such as Thomas Muntzer’s. Hence, Karatani forecast sthat Mode D will probably arrive in the form of a universal religion.

Yet, partly because the effects of Mode D seem so uncertain and unclear compared to the other modes, Karatani sometimes refers to the social formation it may generate as “X” or as “associationism.” One book reviewer (Gemma Masson) characterized Mode D “as an amalgamation of the best parts of what has gone before” — interesting, but I haven’t been able to confirm that’s Karatani’s belief.

What Karatani does proclaim is that Mode D will result in the arrival of communism. Marx said that future communism would restore the bygone pooling, sharing, and gifting — “primitive communism” — that Marx associated with ancient clans and tribes living in fixed settlements. Karatani corrects Marx’s view by associating primitive communism instead with the even older nomadic bands, then heralds its return “in a higher dimension” represented by Mode D.

But Marxism and communism are not Karatani’s only reference points for Mode D. He is even more insistent that the rise of this final Mode would mark the end of the capital-nation-state and realize Kant’s hopes for a global “federation of nations”, a “world republic”, “the kingdom of ends”, and “perpetual peace.” Mode D is thus set to become a globally integrative mode.

Throughout, Karatani maintains that the four modes of exchange always co-exist and work together in relation to each other, inasmuch as each mode “produces its own unique form of power” (2014. p. 14). He clarifies that, while societies vary mainly according to which mode is dominant, they also vary within that frame according to the relative strengths and details — both material and ideational — of the other modes in the mix at the time. For these modes "do not exist independent of one another. Social formations are produced as assemblages of all of them. Accordingly, it is impossible to take up any one of them in isolation; one has to consider each together with the other modes of exchange” (2017, p. 14). He goes on to observe that,
“Accordingly, the history of social formations should be seen in terms of hybrid forms that include multiple modes of exchange. But the various modes of exchange themselves also undergo transformations within the transformations of social formations. The first social formation arises with clan society, in which mode A is dominant. Even at this stage, however, the germs of modes B and C are present, albeit to a barely noticeable degree. In state society, mode B becomes dominant, but this does not mean that mode A disappeared. It persists in the form of the agricultural community that submits to state rule. … [Later,] together with the establishment of a global market, mode C undergoes an explosive expansion. At this time, the modern social formation comes into being.” (2017, p. 14-15)
This leads to yet another significant observation: “Viewed in this way, it becomes clear that we need to see transformations in social forms not simply along the temporal axis, but also along the spatial axis” (2017, p. 15). Accordingly, the progression across the ages in dominance from Mode A, to B, to C, and ultimately to D is also a progression in territorial expansion — from localized “mini world systems” built by clans and tribes (à la mode A), to world empires built by states (à la mode B), to the modern world-economy system built by the rise of capital-nation-states (à la mode C), and onward next to a world republic grounded on a universal religion (à la mode D). Each mode of exchange facilitates a greater expansion of organized relationships.

There’s undoubtedly more that I should learn and heed about Karatani’s framework. But I’ve not read his entire book, only the first sections. That’s all I can handle right now. And it seems adequate for my immediate purposes.

Comparison to TIMN: Wow, what remarkable parallels to TIMN! With even more to P2P. We all seem to be moving in similar directions, though on different wavelengths. I find that quite reassuring.

Karatani’s four modes of exchange match TIMN’s four forms of organization pretty well (but see below). Other features of his framework — notably, that each mode has both material and ideational properties, that all four modes have existed since societies first took shape, that all societies contain mixes and combinations of all four modes, that societies vary according to which mode dominates when, that societies also vary according to the strength of the other modes, that the rise of a new/next mode modified the natures of the other modes, and that an historical progression can be identified from ancient through modern times — are embedded in TIMN as well. That makes for quite an overlap in framework design and system dynamics.

The similarities and disparities between our two frameworks are much like those I discerned between P2P and TIMN (see my prior post in this series). The best correspondence is between Karatani’s Modes B and C vis à vis TIMN’s Institutions and Markets forms. The correspondence between his Mode A and my Tribes form is pretty good as well. But my Tribes form is broader — in particular, its emphasis on kinship dynamics embraces the communalism he associates with nomadic bands (what he terms “U”) as well as the gift exchanges that define Mode A’s dominance in fixed settlements.

Even so, I appreciate his finding that Mode A endures in the formation of nations — that’s consistent with TIMN theory about how the tribal form endures through mutations across the ages. However, I’m dubious that Mode A, as he currently defines it, offers the best explanation for the rise of spirited nationalisms in the past, or the mean reversions to political tribalism we see in today’s world. What’s happened to communal kinship-like dynamics provides a better explanation than gift-exchange dynamics — that’s what I presently deduce from TIMN. In any case, Karatani’s capital-nation-state concept (reflecting Modes C, A, and B, respectively) aligns very well with TIMN’s concept of triform (T+I+M) societies — they’re both good concepts for capturing an essence of the modern era.

The biggest disparity is between his Mode D and TIMN’s Networks form. We’re both uncertain, indeed rather vague, about the exact future nature of our respective mode/form. He says the result will be “X” or “associationism” if not communism. It will suffuse and “sublate” all other modes and activities. It will also be the final form. My understanding of TIMN does not accord much with that. What I identify as the information-age networks form (+N) may be somewhat like associationism. Yet, TIMN’s dynamics indicate that, as a new form grows and spreads, it generates a distinct sector of activity. Best known for decades, if not centuries, are the public sector (from +I) and the private sector (from +M). My current sense is that +N will generate a new commons sector; P2P theory has long expressed a similar expectation (discussed in other posts). In contrast, Karatani never considers that Modes A, B, C, or D may generate a distinct sector, and I find no mention of a commons sector in his future vision. So, our frameworks are disparate on that score, organizationally. In contrast, Bauwens and other P2P theorists seem so attracted to Karatani’s vision that they identify more closely with it, philosophically.

What I find most engaging about Mode D is Karatani’s emphasis on X’s likely religious nature. He points out that all the Modes have religious properties, though none so much as D. This fits with TIMN (as well as P2P theory). I have long noted, but never fully elaborated, that each of TIMN’s forms has religious consequences: the T form in ancient pagan religions, the +I form in hierarchical Catholicism and the Papacy, the +M form in competitive varieties of Protestantism — plus a future implication that +N may favor the rise of a new interfaith approach, perhaps drawing largely on Buddhism. Bauwens has a rather similar but more detailed analysis of how various religions have expressed P2P’s four relational modalities. Beyond that, it occurs to me that Karatani’s vision for Mode D and outcome X resembles the partly-spiritual concept of the “noosphere” — globe-circling realm of the mind — fielded by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Edouard Le Roy, and Vladimir Vernadsky decades ago. It’s still a significant concept about the future (see Ronfeldt, 2018, cited below), and I should think it would interest Karatani.

A couple more comparisons to TIMN: Karatani shows how each mode in turn enables larger empire-building — from clan-based mini systems based on Mode A, through a global republic and universal religion based on Mode D. That observation overlaps with TIMN. I’ve observed, but don’t recall where I may have mentioned, that each form in the TIMN progression enables more expansive loose-knit systems to be built, from local to global levels in ways similar to Karatani’s layout of stages. Bauwens has observed this as well, based on his framework.

Furthermore, TIMN provides a reason for this: The rise and spread of each TIMN form is enabled by a different information and communications technology revolution. The rise of the tribal form depended on a symbolic revolution: the emergence of language and early writing (runes, glyphs), enabling the storytelling that is central to tribal cultures. The rise of the hierarchical institutional form — as in the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church, the absolutist states, their vast administrative structures — rested on a mechanical revolution: the development of formal writing and printing, first penned script and later the printing press. This was important not only for keeping records and issuing commands, but also for inscribing laws that chiefdoms and states could apply to growing populations who were not kinfolk and often not well-known to each other. Next, the rise of the market form and its far-flung business enterprises was sped by the electrical technologies of the 19th century: the telegraph, telephone, and radio. Today’s spread of the network form extends from the digital revolution and its technologies, notably the Internet, fax machines, and cellular telephones, which are especially empowering for civil-society associations around the world and across the political spectrum. I should add that each successive information and communications technology revolution also modifies each of the older forms.

P2P theory likewise recognizes the importance of this technology for the rise of each of its relational modalities, in ways rather parallel to TIMN. Karatani seems not to recognize this. I’ve not read all the way through his book, but browsing it deliberately for mentions of such technology and its effects on modes of exchange, I find nothing. This, in my view, is a significant shortcoming of his analysis.

In closing, an exhortation: Until Karatani appeared, Bauwens and I were alone in proposing quadriform frameworks about social evolution that have future implications. Now there are three of us — four if Raworth or someone else (George Monbiot?) adds more evolutionary theory to her doughnut-economics framework. Even though there are significant differences among our frameworks, and even though readers may prefer one over another, my grander point is that we are all quadriformists. I (we?) hope you will become one too. It’s a new way to break free and move beyond the aging gridlocked ever-more-tribalized triform frameworks that are presently failing us.

I will argue for TIMN’s advantages in the next post


Kojin Karatani, The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange, Duke University Press, 2014.

Kojin Karatani, “An Introduction to Modes of Exchange,” unpublished draft article, 2017.

David Ronfeldt, In Search of How Societies Work: Tribes — The First and Forever Form, RAND, WR-433, 2007.

David Ronfeldt, “Updated notes about the noosphere and noopolitik: draft of Section I for new paper,” Materials for Two Theories Blog, July 8, 2018.

Plus various reviews and summaries of Karatani’s book.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Notes for a quadriformist manifesto — #3 cont.: Michel Bauwens on four relational modalities

As elaborated by Michel Bauwens and his colleagues, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) theory is primarily about the rise of information-age peer-to-peer networks and their potential for transforming myriad aspects of society in the decades ahead. Yet it is also a theory of social evolution (past, present, and future). For these purposes, the P2P framework is based on four relational modalities identified by Alan Page Fiske (1992, 2005) which posits that all social relationships reduce to four elementary modes of interaction: Equality Matching, Authority Ranking, Market Pricing, and Communal Shareholding (see image). Fiske meant them as psychological constructs; Bauwens has adapted and elevated them to become sociological constructs that enable an evolutionary analysis.

Elaboration: From an evolutionary perspective, societies have developed their capacities for organization and activity in mostly the above order, according to Bauwens. Centuries ago, early bands and tribes coalesced around reciprocal gift-giving that reflected Equality Matching. Later, states (and the public sector) took shape around Authority Ranking. Then capitalism (and the private sector) emerged, based on Market Pricing. Only now is the fourth mode — Communal Sharing — coming into its own, potentially on a grand scale. This mode, also known as the P2P mode, is central to the P2P vision of the future, whereby a P2P-based commons sector will emerge from civil society, and commons-centric social, economic, and political systems will ultimately transform all of society.

In this historical progression, each modality first emerges in “seed form”; then its “new logic” takes hold and spreads so far and wide that it becomes the “dominant mode”. The older modes continue to play roles, for they too are essential to society — but they are modified by the rise of the new mode. Meanwhile, during phase transitions, “hybrids” appear that combine actors from the older dominant mode of organization with actors representing the emerging mode, in ways that benefit all partners to the hybrid, but that also help subvert the old order and generate the new one.

Accordingly, the market mode has dominated our era, in the form of capitalism. Bauwens and colleagues await a new era when the P2P mode grows strong enough “to supersede capitalism and to embed market structures in a higher ethical superstructure that acknowledges the common good.” During the phase transition, they expect “netarchical capitalists” to combine with P2P commoners to form “innovative alliances between break-away segments from the old system and adaptive segments from the emergent one.”

To my reading, P2P theory and its implications for the future seem mostly about economics, for Bauwens and colleagues have viewed the P2P mode as a “mode of production” that favors “commons-based peer production”. What their vision mostly identifies are implications for business and other enterprises, for sustainable production by “ethical entrepreneurs”, for collective ownership, management, and labor, for the usage of all sorts of natural, cultural, and digital resources, etc., often in Marxist terms. As for what will be the content of the new commons sector, it appears to include virtually any undertaking subjected to “commoning” — making that sector potentially almost boundless (or so I gather).

Bauwens and colleagues expect the P2P form to be the final form in the series. The commons sector will then be at the center of society, with all residual state, market, and other activities taking direction from it. This will spell the triumph of the communal-sharing principles that used to characterize nomadic bands in ancient times, even before tribes coalesced around gift-sharing principles. It will culminate a long, mostly Marxist vision of what society should be like for the good of people.

Comparison to TIMN: P2P theory is more consonant with Karatani’s theory (see next post) than with TIMN, but the parallels between P2P and TIMN are profound. In both, social evolution is a function of four key forms, and P2P’s four correspond pretty well to TIMN’s — but with some disparities. P2P’s hierarchy-ranking and market-pricing modalities match TIMN’s Institutions and Markets forms just fine. But Bauwens aligns Fiske’s Equality Matching modality with TIMN’s Tribes, and his Communal Sharing with TIMN’s Networks form. I regard this as questionable if not partly incorrect — a first disparity. For P2P’s Equality Matching modality is about equal-status peer-group behavior, as seen in reciprocal gift-giving, as well as in feuding and revenge, per Fiske’s definition. That fits with aspects of TIMN’s Tribes form, but that’s not all that kinship tribes are about — they are also characterized by the Communal Sharing modality, which P2P theory reserves mainly for the future (thus correlating it to TIMN’s Networks form). I’m not sure how to rectify this disparity, but it does not invalidate the overall correspondence between our basic approaches to cardinal forms.

A second disparity concerns the historical matter of domination by one mode over another(s). P2P insists that social evolution advances through a progression of dominant modes, finally culminating with the dominance of the pro-commons P2P mode. TIMN recognizes that this may occur, but its design prefers that that no single form dominate as societies advance. The more any single form comes to dominate — be it the tribal, institutional, market, or network form — the more likely is a society’s evolution to become unbalanced and distorted. However, I have deduced from TIMN that monoform (T-only) systems get superseded by biform (T+I) systems, then these by triform (T+I+M) systems, and next by quadriform (T+I+M+N) systems. A kind of domination dynamic is embedded in there, but for now I’m supposing that a comprehensive multi-form approach to analysis will prove more correct. Indeed, TIMN can handle analyzing the widespread persistence of societies where the Tribes form remains so strong, via political clans, gangs, and related cultural dynamics, that it corrupts and constrains the development of proper of Institutions, Markets, and Networks. P2P theory, as far as I know, has said little about this frequent occurrence.

A third disparity concerns the nature of a future commons sector. As discussed above, P2P’s vision is of a largely economic, very expansive commons sector, one that is fundamentally geared to superseding capitalism and dominating the residual state and market sectors. By comparison, TIMN implies a commons sector that will be distinct, bounded, and specialized — as much so as TIMN’s tribal, state, and market sectors are from each other. TIMN’s view is that a +N sector will seek to address and solve problems that the triform system has created but is no longer suited to fixing well. Best I can tell right now, it will be a commons sector (or “social sector”) that assembles a variety of currently-dispersed efforts to find new ways to address and resolve America’s most complex social problems — notably, health, education, welfare, the environment, and related types of insurance. If so, these activities will eventually migrate out of the long-existing +I public and +M private sectors and coalesce into a new +N commons sector, It will operate differently from the other twt sectors, probably as a set of non-profits, cooperatives, trusts, platforms, and other associations committed to serving the common good, separate from but in cooperation with the existing household (T), public (+I), and private (+M) sectors. This new sector will be about the “assurances” (not “entitlements”) that an advanced quadriform society can and should warrant for the wellbeing and progress of its people. This is quite (but not entirely) different from the P2P vision.

There may be an easy explanation for this third disparity — a kind of fourth disparity. P2P and TIMN both suppose that transition phases, from one form or system to the next, will give rise to hybrids. Thus, for TIMN, chiefdoms bridged the transition from tribe-centric to state-centric societies; then, centuries later, mercantilism and statist enterprises bridged the transition to market-centric capitalist systems. P2P’s emphasis on transitional alliances among netarchical capitalists, ethical entrepreneurs, and commoners fits this hybridization dynamic — but then P2P theory seems to extend this hybrid it into the “dominant mode” phase. TIMN expects a similar transitional hybridization, but then, as quadriformism matures, a refinement if not a break as a distinct specialized commons sector takes shape that leaves less space for those transitional hybrids.

I wish my discussion here were not so long-winded. But the parallels between TIMN and P2P run deeper and wider than TIMN’s parallels to Raworth’s and Karatani’s frameworks. P2P thus strikes me as more important to delineate and discuss. Besides, I’ve read many more writings by Bauwens and colleagues than by the other two.


Michel Bauwens, “The new triarchy: the commons, enterprise, the state,” P2P Foundation Blog, August 25, 2010.

Michel Bauwens & Jose Ramos, “Re-Imagining the Left Through an Ecology of the Commons: Toward A Post-Capitalist Commons Transition,” P2P Foundation Wiki, draft, January 2018.

Michel Bauwens, Vasilis Kostakis, Stacco Troncoso, Ann Marie Utratel, Commons Transition and P2P: a primer, The Transnational Institute, 2017.

Michel Bauwens & Vasilis Kostakis, "A Manifesto for Post-Capitalist Transition: P2P and Human Evolution," Draft, 2016 (forthcoming, much revised, as M. Bauwens, V. Kostakis, & A. Pazaitis, Peer to Peer: The Commons Manifesto, London, UK: Westminster University Press, 2018).

Alan Paige Fiske, “The four elementary forms of sociality: Framework for a unified theory of social relations”, Psychological Review, 1992, Vol. 99, No. 4, pp. 689-723.

Alan Paige Fiske & Nick Haslam, “The Four Basic Social Bonds: Structures for Coordinating Interaction,” in M. W. Baldwin (ed.), Interpersonal Cognition, Guilford Press, 2005, pp. 267-298.

David Ronfeldt, “Updates about missing posts (3rd of 5): “Bauwens’ “partner state” (part 2 of 3) … vis à vis TIMN,” Materials for Two Theories Blog, April 3, 2014.

David Ronfeldt, “Bauwens’ “partner state” (part 3 of 3) … vis à vis TIMN,” Materials for Two Theories Blog, October 19, 2011.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Notes for a quadriformist manifesto — #3 cont.: Kate Raworth on four realms of provisioning

In Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist (2017), Kate Raworth lays out her concept of the “embedded economy” and shows that “it is typically made up of four realms of provisioning: the household, the market, the commons and the state” (see image below). All four are important, and she “wouldn’t want to live in a society whose economy lacked any of the four … because each one has distinctive qualities and much of their value arises through their interactions. In other words, they work best when they work together.” (p. 67)

Elaboration: In her view, enterprises will increasingly depend on their ability to connect to all four realms. But of the four, only the state and the market receive full recognition from mainstream economics; the household and the commons remain sorely neglected. So she urges that all four realms be recognized and attended to in ways that develop a better balance among them. This will help achieve the overall goal — to shift from an extractive to a regenerative economy.

The future of the “commons sector” figures prominently in her framework. Much like other pro-commons theorists, she defines commons as shareable resources that are collaboratively managed. And she distinguishes among natural, cultural, and digital commons — the “global knowledge commons” being one of her keen interests. Thus, instead of people continuing to opt just for “market and state solutions alone,” she urges learning to “harness the power of the commons” in order to redistribute wealth and wellbeing more fairly and productively (p. 140). She echoes Peter Barnes, author of Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons (2006), and his call for creating a commons sector in which an array of “Commons Trusts” govern access to and usage of natural and other commons resources (p. 170).

Comparison to TIMN: While Raworth’s approach is less sweeping than the others discussed here, it parallels TIMN quite well. Her four economic realms correspond to TIMN’s four sectors. Moreover, she aims for all four to receive equal attention, and for their relations to be kept in balance — a basic TIMN principle — in part by strengthening the weaker two, households and commons. Yet, she is rather conventional about the composition of the commons sector, leaving it unclear as to what exactly it may contain in the future, other than what usually gets listed by commons advocates. Moreover, while she doesn’t offer an explicit evolutionary framework like TIMN and the other two reviewed here, she indicates that a proper recognition and development of all four realms could induce “the social and environmental transformation for which so many of us have been waiting” (Monbiot, 2017).


Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist (2017).

Lauren Mobertz, “Interview: ‘Renegade’ Economist Kate Raworth on Future-Proofing Business,” Conscious Company Media, July 18, 2017.

George Monbiot, “Don’t let the rich get even richer on the assets we all share,” The Guardian, September 27, 2017.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Notes for a quadriformist manifesto — #3: TIMN’s advantages over three parallel theories (Raworth, Bauwens, Karatani)

For a theoretical framework to be worthy of a political manifesto, it must offer something new and better than alternative frameworks. TIMN can do that, by proclaiming quadriformism.

I suppose a manifesto should also mention those alternatives — but not at length. Yet, a good comparative analysis should exist somewhere for back-up purposes. This note starts to serve as that back-up analysis.

For indeed, TIMN is not the only theoretical framework about past, present, and future societal evolution that is built atop four cardinal elements, with the fourth anticipating the emergence of a new sector in the decades ahead. Three others are vying for attention (actually, it’s TIMN trying to vie, for the others are already rather well-known). They’re from:
  • Kate Raworth, a British “renegade economist” based at Oxford — her analysis is based on four “means of provisioning”.
  • Michel Bauwens, a Belgium-born social activist-theorist who heads the P2P Foundation, lives mostly in Thailand and Belgium — his theory sits atop four “relational modalities”.
  • Kojin Karatani, a Japanese Marxist philosopher and literary theorist who has taught at various Japanese and American universities — his framework depends on four “modes of exchange”.

What’s striking is that, working separately, we have all come up with similar frameworks, and we’ve done so at different times without knowing about each other’s frameworks at the time (though Raworth had some knowledge of Bauwens’ views). My first publication on TIMN was in 1996, Bauwens’ on P2P in 2005, Karatani’s on “modes of exchange” in 2014, and Raworth’s on “doughnut economics” in 2017. The similarities begin with the fact that all our frameworks rest on four fundamental forms of organization and/or interaction. The four that each of us identify, though differently conceived, match up impressively. Moreover, we all argue that our four are always present, always necessary, in any society, and that societies vary according to how the four forms are combined and which one dominates at the time.

Furthermore, the three of us most interested in social evolution across the ages — Bauwens, Karatani, and myself — all argue that our respective sets of forms have existed since ancient times, and that each form has grown most powerful in a particular era, thus coming to define the nature of societies in that era. Indeed, the evolutionary progressions each of us identifies correlate very well, despite some disparities. Moreover, in looking ahead, three of us — Bauwens, Raworth, and more qualifiedly, myself — explicitly foresee that a commons sector will arise alongside the established public and private sectors, vastly transforming the design of societies. Karatani is less explicit about the emergence of a commons sector, but his vision of future transformations implies something similar.

Another parallel to notice: The four-form frameworks that Bauwens, Karatani, and I advance may seem simple at first, perhaps too simple — but actually they enable plenty of complexity. To varying degrees, we each recognize that our respective forms (or modes) are both material and ideational in nature. That each embodies different standards about how people should behave and society should function. That each enables people to do something — to address some problem — better than they could by using another form. And that each form has bright and dark sides, making each useful for doing ill as well as good. Furthermore, we all recognize that the forms co-exist, interact, and vary in strength over time, making for great variations in how the forms may be combined and emphasized in particular societies. All of which amounts to plenty of complexity; these are not simplistic frameworks. Which is why I groaned inwardly when, years ago, a friendly contact who was genuinely interested in TIMN and its potential, nonetheless quipped, “Of course, you can’t sum all of human history in four letters.” More about these matters later.

In the next posts, I will review Raworth’s, Bauwens’, and Karatani’s frameworks — in that order because it proceeds from the least sweeping and abstract of the three, to the most. Then I turn to pointing out TIMN’s comparative advantages for theory and practice.

One advantage I’d mention right now: TIMN is not based on or committed to any ideology. It leaves room for the endurance of conservative as well as progressive positions along a new quadriformist spectrum. The other three frameworks all belong, to varying degrees, on the Left, even aspiring to a final future triumph of the Left over the Right. So far, to my disappointment, I’ve found no theorists on the Right who are pondering the future within anything like a quadriform framework.


David Ronfeldt, Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks — A Framework About Societal Evolution, RAND, P-7967, 1996.

Michel Bauwens, P2P and Human Evolution: Peer to peer as the premise of a new mode of civilization, draft book manuscript, 2005.

Kojin Karatani, The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange, Duke University Press, 2014

Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2017.


Friday, August 24, 2018

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

This draft, which we completed in May 2018, is twice as long as other sections, and thus in need of shortening prior to publication. Happy reading anyway. I regard it as the most interesting section of all, since I had no sense I/we would be writing about the global commons when we undertook this update.

Draft of VI. New hope for the noosphere and noopolitik — the global commons

Our prior writings have stressed that noopolitik, far more than realpolitik, may depend on close cooperation between state and non-state actors. In particular, we’ve pointed out the important roles that networked civil-society NGOs may play. Thus we’ve noted early cases of NGOs successfully using noopolitik — e.g., the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), a coalition of NGOs that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. And we’ve listed a range of issue areas where state-non-state cooperation can help foster the noosphere and noopolitik: e.g., human rights, conflict resolution, democracy promotion, and the environment.

To this list, we now add the “global commons” — traditionally, the parts of Planet Earth that fall outside national jurisdictions and to which all nations may have access, such as the high seas, the atmosphere, and outer space. The global commons may turn out to be a pivotal issue area.

While the noosphere and noopolitik are not faring well in the power centers discussed in the prior section, the noosphere concept is progressing better among actors around the world who are concerned about the global commons. This concept is of interest here because it relates closely to the notion of the noosphere. Moreover, actors concerned about the global commons seem naturally attracted to noopolitik.

Indeed, it may well turn out that the noosphere and noopolitik concepts will fare better in the future the more they are associated with the global-commons concept — and the latter will flourish, the more it is associated with the noosphere and noopolitik. This may be so partly because both the global-commons and noosphere are everywhere viewed as being linked to the biosphere. Recognizing the noosphere’s association with the global commons may then help put noopolitik back on track in various strategic issue areas, despite the negative trends discussed in the prior section.

What makes the global-commons concept potentially pivotal is that it has taken hold from two seemingly contrary directions: One is civilian, arising mainly at the behest of NGOs, IGOs, and other non-state actors who are motivated by environmental and social concerns. The other has been military, motivated by state-centric security interests. Furthermore, while the term “commons” has been used for centuries, the term “global commons” is quite recent. It first appeared in civilian environmental circles — implicitly in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) negotiated during 1973-1982, then explicitly in the Brundtland Committee’s report on Our Common Future in 1987. The term spread into military and strategy circles a decade later, notably in the National Defense Strategy document in 2008, then to greater effect in the Quadrennial Defense Review of 2010. These civilian and military views were especially important to President Obama and his Administration. (Among other sources, see Yan, 2012; Kominami, 2012; Ikeshima, 2018)

The “global commons” is thus bracketed by differences in its meanings in environmental science and civil-society circles, on one hand, and on the other, its meaning in military circles. In the past, these different circles rarely interacted; some pro-commons civil-society activists even objected to seeing the term show up in military circles (Bollier, 2010; Morris, 2011). Now, however, as more and more actors recognize the potentially adverse effects of climate change and other global environmental shifts, the views held in these seemingly contrary circles are starting to intersect, as are their calls for reforms and remedies.

In this section, we first discuss perspectives from the environmental science and civil-society circles. Next come military perspectives on the global commons. Finally, we highlight their intersections and the implications for policy and strategy, particularly for nurturing noopolitik.

Environmental science and civil-society perspectives on the global commons

Among civilians, interest in the global-commons concept comes from two different circles. One consists of scientists and associated actors (international organizations in particular) who are primarily concerned about environmental matters. They have grown into a large, influential circle (or set of circles) and have billions of dollars at their disposal. The other circle consists largely of pro-commons civil-society activists whose agendas include not only environmental issues but also the radical transformation of societies as a whole. This circle is growing around the world too, though in a low-key, low-budget, bottom-up manner.

The two circles have much in common regarding the protection of the global commons. But they are also distinct: The big environmental science circle generally seeks to have government, banking, business, civil-society, and other actors work together to protect the biosphere. This circle tends to lean in progressive liberal internationalist directions. In contrast, the social-activist civil-society circle is decidedly of the Left — but it’s a new kind of Left, for it wants commons-based peer production and other kinds of “commoning” to spread to such an extent that societies experience a phase-shift to new commons-based forms of society. This circle has more on its mind than environmental science and the biosphere.

We discuss each circle in turn, regarding the ways they approach the global commons.

The big science circle: The biggest advances in thinking about the global commons come from scientists and related actors focused on global environmental matters. They have formed into a global circuit of IGOs, NGOs, research centers, private individuals, and government, banking, and business actors — with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) serving as key collective network hubs. These scientists and their cohorts take the biosphere concept seriously (and at times allude to the noosphere or Gaia). Indeed, the GEF (2017, pp. 8-11) proposes to create a grand Movement of the Global Commons that will “develop a compelling story about needs and opportunities for the Global Commons” and engage people “from communities to corporations to cabinets.” (Also see and

Several decades ago, environmental concerns were mainly about specific local matters, such as pollution. Late in the 20th C., after so many years of seeing problems worsened by “global forces of consumption, production, and population,” environmentalists realized their challenge was planet-wide, involving what they began calling “the global commons” — “the shared resources that no one owns but all life relies upon” (Levin & Bapna, 2011) As the global commons-concept took hold, mostly after the Brundtland Committee’s report in 1987, its proponents came to identify the high seas, the atmosphere, Antarctica, and outer space as the resource domains of interest. And they did so “guided by the principle of the common heritage of mankind” and a sense of “common responsibilities.” Which makes for considerable overlap with the military view that the global commons consists of four operational domains: sea, air, space, and cyber.

Some proponents have wanted to expand the global-commons concept further. Thus, “Resources of interest or value to the welfare of the community of nations — such as tropical rain forests and biodiversity — have lately been included among the traditional set of global commons as well, while some define the global commons even more broadly, including science, education, information and peace” (UN Task Force, 2013, pp. 5-6). Proponents for including biodiversity often mention preserving the quality of soil and marine conditions. Which would mean expanding the global-commons concept in social directions that are most pronounced within the civil-society circle discussed in the next sub-section.

Throughout, their analyses (notably, Nakicenovic et al., 2016, pp. 16-17) urge viewing the global commons and “the large-scale subsystems of the Earth system — ocean circulations, permafrost, ice sheets, Arctic sea ice, the rainforests and atmospheric circulations” — as a complex system characterized not only by stable equilibria but also by “regime shifts, tipping points, tipping elements, nonlinearities and thresholds” that may experience “bifurcation points” and then “a new equilibrium state” or a sudden collapse. The threat is that “If one system collapses to a new state, it may set up positive feedback loops amplifying the change and triggering changes in other subsystems. This might be termed a “cascading collapse” of key components of the Earth system.” Which, as discussed later, overlaps with how the military has come to view the domains comprising their global commons as a complex interactive system.

Of particular note for the big science circle, Johan Rockström, Director of Sweden’s Stockholm Resilience Center, has provided seminal studies for years about “biosphere interactions” and “planetary life support systems”. He also formulated new concepts about “nine planetary boundaries that provide a safe operating space for humanity”. In his and his colleagues’ view, several boundaries have already been transgressed, and further slippage looms. Accordingly, humanity threatens to cause catastrophes that can overwhelm the biosphere and thus the Anthropocene Age, for “The high seas, the atmosphere, the big ice sheets of the Arctic and
Antarctica, and the stratosphere — traditionally seen as
the Earth's global commons — are now under suffocating pressure. Yet we all depend on them for our wellbeing” (Rockström. 2017, p. 26). (Also see Rockström. 2009, 2011; Nakicenovic et al., 2016)

As a result, not only further scientific research but also new global perspectives, narratives, organizations, and strategies are needed to assure planetary resilience, sustainability, and stewardship — if possible, to achieve a holistic transformation. According to Rockström and his colleagues, “Governance of the global commons is required to achieve sustainable development and thus human wellbeing. We can no longer focus solely on national priorities” (Rockström, 2011, p. 21). Looking farther out, they (e.g., Nakicenovic et al., 2016) insist that “all nation states have a domestic interest in safeguarding the resilience and stable state of all Global Commons, as this forms a prerequisite for their own future development” (p. 26). Therefore, “Stewardship of the Global Commons in the Anthropocene, with its three central principles of inclusivity, universality and resilience, is an essential prerequisite to guide national and local approaches in support of the Sustainable Development Goals for generations to come” (p. 46).

Rockström (2017, pp. 26-27) goes so far as to predict that, if the right steps could be taken on behalf of the global commons, then “planetary intelligence could emerge on Earth by 2050.” His language sounds much like that of Teilhard and Vernadsky — but falls just short of explicitly mentioning the noosphere:
“Here’s a prediction: planetary intelligence could emerge on Earth by 2050. …
“… planetary intelligence emerges when a species develops the knowledge and power to control a planet's biosphere. …
“For planetary intelligence to emerge on Earth within three decades we need to change our worldview, our goals and our rules. …
“… we must redefine the global commons. In these new circumstances we can now define them as a resilient and stable planet. That is every child’s birthright, and our common heritage; but it is now at risk. The Anthropocene and the new global commons represent a new worldview — a paradigm shift — as fundamental as Darwin’s theory of evolution or Copernicus’s heliocentricity.”
As for steps yet to be taken, Rockström (2017) and many of his colleagues believe “We desperately need an effective global system of governance” (p. 25). The concern is that “In a period of increasing interdependence and complexity, global governance remains fragmented, hampered by loud national interests, and unable to address global risks that present non-linear dynamics and repercussions.” What’s needed for the global commons are: new legal norms about planetary boundaries; stronger roles for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP); stronger commitments by “governments, private actors and the international community” to adopt innovations to safeguard the biosphere; along with “a recognition that transformative change requires engagement and mobilization ‘from below’ … endorsed by the population” (Rockström, 2016). And while much work is focused on defining thresholds and rights for using the commons, other work, notably by the Global Thresholds & Allocations Council (GTAC), is focused on defining fair allocation mechanisms, in a “partnership between leading organizations and individuals from science, business, investment, government, and civil society” (From

Again, these sound much like points made by some military proponents of the global commons, as discussed later.

The social activist circle: For the military, the sea was the first global commons. But, for civil-society activists, “the commons” concept originated centuries ago in England to refer to open land shared “in common”. By now, according to pro-commons civil-society theorists and activists, the concept includes not only natural physical commons — land, air, and water, as “gifts of nature” — it also extends to digital commons (online terrain and knowledge). More than that, some activists include social commons — e.g., cooperatives, where creative work amounts to a shared asset. Culture is sometimes viewed as belonging to the commons as well.

Pro-commons proponents in civil-society circles define commons as shared resources, co-governed by a community (users and stakeholders), according to the rules and norms of that community. All three components — resource, community, rules, in other words, the what, the who, and the how — are deemed essential. Together, they mean “the commons” is not just about resources or terrain; it’s about a way of life called “commoning”. Furthermore, an eventual aim of these “commoners” is to create a new “commons sector” alongside but distinct from the established public and private sectors. If/as this develops, a revolutionary societal transformation will occur. Indeed, a goal of some pro-commons theorists and activists is to “build “counter-hegemonic” power through continuous meshworking at all levels” so that “the destructive force of global capital and its predation of the planet and its people can be countered.” (See Bauwens et al., 2017; Bauwens & Ramos, 2018; Ronfeldt, 2012)

Fifty years ago, the commons concept had no traction in advanced societies — especially not after Garrett Hardin famously wrote “The Tragedy of the Commons” (1968). Today, however, pro-commons social movements are growing around the world. They were inspired initially by people experiencing the Internet and Web as a kind of commons, even as a harbinger of the noosphere. Then Elinor Ostrom’s book Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (1990) and her Nobel Prize in economics in 2009 enabled many people to realize, contrary to Hardin and other critics, that common-pool resources can indeed be managed productively. By now, commons movements are slowly, quietly expanding throughout North America, Western Europe, and Scandinavia, gaining inspiration and guidance from a host of new civil-society NGOs, notably the P2P Foundation led by Michel Bauwens, as well as from individual theorists, like David Bollier and Yochai Benkler. In some instances, further impulse comes from Green political parties. In comparison to the big environmental science circle, this is not a hugely influential circle (yet); but it is generating a social movement that is helping raise interest in the global commons and the noosphere.

Much of this innovation is occurring on the Left. German commons advocate Silke Helfrich (quoted in Bollier, 2014) has noted accurately that “commons draw from the best of all political ideologies” — for example, from conservatives, the values of responsibility; from liberals, the values of social equality and justice; from libertarians, the value of individual initiative; and from leftists, the value of limiting the scope of capitalism. Yet this is still largely a set of movements from left-leaning parts of the political spectrum. So far, few conservatives have realized the potential benefits of allowing a commons sector to emerge. Indeed, on the Right, separation from the commons is a central theme — from “America First” to Brexit, the Alternative for Germany, and others.

At first, say two or three decades ago, pro-commons activists focused primarily on local and national matters. But as visions have evolved, more and more activists are redirecting their focus beyond local and national commons toward expansive “global commons” concepts. This turn is well underway. For example, German economist Gerhard Scherhorn (2013) would include in the global commons not only natural resources, but even “employment opportunities, public health systems, educational opportunities, social integration, income and wealth distribution, and communication systems such as the Internet.” A further example is James Quilligan’s analysis, as an international development expert and commons advocate, that,
“While watching markets and states mismanage the world’s
cross-boundary problems, it has dawned on many individuals, communities
and civil society organizations that the specific objectives we are
pursuing — whether they are food, water, clean air, environmental
protection, energy, free flow of information, human rights, indigenous
people’s rights, or numerous other social concerns — are essentially global commons issues.” (Quilligan, 2008)
Meanwhile, many pro-commons civil-society proponents on the Left have sought organizational changes that resemble those from the big science and military circles. For example, James Quilligan proposed “that we would gain considerably more
authority and responsibility in meeting these problems by joining together as global commons organizations” (2008). In his view, “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 [geosphere, biosphere, noosphere] streams of evolution” (2010). He, like others, has also recommended that local communities of users and producers agree to new kinds of “social charters” and “commons trusts” to assure their hold on commons property. If more and more people do so, then “commons management would be deliberated through local, state, interstate, regional, and global stakeholder discussions” — ultimately leading to systems of “global constitutional governance” that favor the commons (2013). However, an early 2008-2009 effort to create a Coalition for the Global Commons evidently foundered, and no new formal grand movement has re-emerged since.

In contrast to the big science proponents of the global commons, few leftist civil-society actors are so willing to envisage cooperating with today’s government, banking, and business actors. Yet they do generally want to see shifts to network forms of global governance — network-based governance systems — for they know that uncertainties about global governance mean difficulties for protecting and preserving the global commons. Indeed, it is encouraging for us to see, Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation remark that “Right now, the nation-state is no longer a key instrument of change, so we must focus on building transnational open source communities of collective intelligence, i.e. a noopolitik for the noosphere” (Bauwens, 2018).

Military perspectives on the global commons

The military idea of a commons is largely American. It originated from the sea — notably in 1890 when naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote about the sea as “a wide common, over which men may pass in all directions.” Over time, the ensuing construct, “command of the sea,” was expanded, with the identification and inclusion of air and other domains, into “command of the commons” — the construct that prevailed during the mid- to late-20th C. The term “global commons” — and its corollary, “command of the global commons” — has become even more prominent in recent U.S. military thought, notably with the National Defense Strategy of 2008 and especially in the Quadrennial Defense Review of 2010.

In the U.S. view, the global commons contains four military domains: sea (or maritime), air, space, and cyber (five if land were added, by counting Antarctica). What makes them a “global commons” is that they are “areas that belong to no one state and that provide access to much of the globe.” And since no single entity owns or controls them, they become “assets outside national jurisdiction.” Of these military commons, access to and use of the sea domain has been crucial for centuries, air for a century, outer space for about six decades, and cyberspace for about three decades. (See Posen 2003; Jasper, 2010, 2013; Denmark & Mulvenon, 2010; Barrett et al., 2011, p. xvi)

The global commons is thus a multi-domain concept, and many military strategists prefer to view these domains as a “a complex, interactive system” (Redden & Hughes, 2011, p. 65). Though not exactly an integrated system, these domains are so interconnected and interdependent that, in operational terms, they function as a whole, not just as an assemblage of parts. Accordingly, “Their value lies in their accessibility, commonality, and ubiquity as a system of systems.” (Barrett et al., 2011, p. 46) Moreover, a weakness or loss in one domain (say, cyberspace) may jeopardize operations in another (say, for an aircraft carrier at sea). Accordingly, “the global commons only functions effectively because each aspect is utilized simultaneously” (Denmark & Mulvenon, 2010, p. 9). With a few word changes, this is not unlike how environmental scientists and civil-society activists view their global commons as a complex adaptive system. (Also see Brimley, 2010)

What makes the military’s global commons strategically important is that they amount to “the underlying infrastructure of the global system … conduits for the free flow of trade, finance, information, people, and technology”(Jasper & Giarra, 2010, p. 2). Our world is so inextricably connected across these four domains that “dependable access to the commons is the backbone of the international economy and political order, benefiting the global community in ways that few appreciate or realize.” (Denmark & Mulvenon, 2010, p. 1) Thus, as often pointed out, these commons should be treated as “global public goods” and “global common goods”. It’s even been said —perhaps in an overstated manner — that “every person’s fate [is] tethered to the commons” (Cronin, 2010, p. ix). (Also see Brimley et al., 2008; Edelman, 2010)

Because of the nature of America’s values and interests, the U.S. military has devoted itself to the mission — especially since the end of World War II and throughout the Cold War — of assuring that U.S. military capabilities suffice to keep these commons openly accessible and usable by all in peacetime. What began as “freedom of the seas” evolved into favoring freedom in all the commons — most obviously for vessels, goods, and people, but also to spread neo-liberal values and ideas about openness, freedom, and democracy around the world. U.S. strategy for the global commons thus favored inclusion, not exclusion. All this is quite reflective of what Teilhard might have recommended, though it’s doubtful that military strategists were thinking about or motivated by the notion of noosphere construction at the time. (See Flournoy & Brimley, 2009)

In that earlier period (1945-1991), U.S. presence in the global commons was so powerful, pervasive, and singular that military strategists commended our primacy, superiority, dominance, and/or hegemony as being of enormous benefit — e.g., as “the key military enabler of the U.S. global power position” (Posen, 2003, p.8 ), “an important enabler of globalization” (Posen, 2007, p. 563), “intrinsic to safeguarding national territory and economic interests” (Jasper and Giarra, 2010, p. 5), as well as “a source of US primacy and also a global public good that supported general acceptance of the unipolar world order” (Edelman, 2010, p. 77). Indeed, most of this has been true, especially in light of the opportunities that the U.S. role in securing the commons generated for acquiring transit rights and forward bases that expanded the ability to operate as a global power and contain the ambitions of potential adversaries.

Today, however, the world has become even more globalized and multipolar, and the era of the United States as guarantor of the global commons looks increasingly compromised, even jeopardized. As often noted, all four domains have become congested, competitive, even contested; contact in any domain often risks confrontation now. The challenges are conceptual and political as well as military and technological, for apart from NATO, many nations — notably China and Russia — disagree with U.S. views that a “global commons” really exists and the world benefits from U.S. maintenance of it. Such states have laid claims to nearby sea and air spaces, objected to treating outer space as a commons, and/or denied letting cyberspace be a commons, instead asserting sovereignty over portions of it — thereby expanding their security perimeters into all domains. One nation in particular, China, has ambitious plans to extend its political, economic, and military reach abroad, notably via its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in ways that are sure to create problems in all domains of the global commons, alarming India above all. Other new challenges for the commons come from armed non-state actors — high-sea pirates, smugglers, and terrorists. Meanwhile, most all actors, state and non-state, are strengthening their capacities for access-and-area denial by acquiring advanced weapons and communications systems — a lesson they’ve learned from watching recent conflicts and seeing “how much U.S. power projection has depended on its dominant access to and use of the global commons” (Denmark & Mulvenon, 2010, p. 15). (Also see Brimley, 2010)

No wonder lawfare expert Craig Allen cautioned, a decade ago (2007, pp. 15, 18), “that an aggressive command of the commons posture may backfire and motivate other States to undertake measures to reduce the would-be commander’s access or transit rights” — for “claims to a ‘command of the commons’ seem unnecessarily provocative.” No wonder defense analyst Patrick Cronin (2010, p. ix) wrote a few years later that “Securing freedom in the global commons may be the signal security challenge of the twenty-first century.” And no wonder, moreover, that former Secretary of State George Shultz (2017) warned recently, as he has for many years, of a looming “breakdown of the global commons” — for “that commons is now at risk everywhere, and in many places it no longer really exists.”

Thus, even though U.S. military strategists might wish to continue exercising, if not imposing, a unilateral U.S. role in the global commons, the time for that appears to be passing. A very uncertain new era is emerging. Many analysts still recognize the value of the global commons for America’s global power and influence, but they also increasingly see that new conceptual and organizational approaches are needed to protect and preserve its value. As one report put it, in the heyday of such analysis during the Obama administration:
“These trends are … harbingers of a future strategic environment in which America's role as an arbiter or guarantor of stability within the global commons will become increasingly complicated and contested. If this assessment is true, then a foundational assumption on which every post-Cold War national security strategy has rested — uncontested access to and stability within the global commons — will begin to erode.” (Flournoy & Brimley, 2009)
The inclinations of the Trump administration toward the global-commons concept are far from clear. But in military circles, it’s still alive. In late 2016, the Pentagon superseded its existing Air-Sea Battle (ASB) concept with the Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons (JAM-GC), enshrining the concept in the title. Whereas ASB focused on defeating an adversary’s anti-access//area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities, JAM-GC lays out a much broader approach — a “unifying framework” — for assuring freedom of action in all five warfighting domains (including land). Accordingly, “JAM-GC acknowledges that “access” to the global commons is vital to U.S. national interests, both as an end in itself and as a means to projecting military force into hostile territory.” Moreover, besides military elements, JAM-GC recognizes that “other elements of national power — that is, a whole-of-government and coalition approach — including diplomatic, information, military, economic, financial, intelligence, and law enforcement should also be well integrated with joint force operations.” This document is supposed to help determine strategy and doctrine for the rest of this decade and into the next (Hutchens et al., 2017, pp. 137-139).

Also, the Joint Operating Environment 2035 (JOE 2035) report, issued in 2016 and looking ahead to 2035, titled “The Joint Force in a Contested and Disordered World,” foresees a “disrupted global commons” with increased conflict and competition across all domains. Acknowledging the value of the global commons for economic, military, and other matters, it warns that, “In 2035, the United States will find itself challenged in parts of the global commons as states and some non-state actors assert their own rules and norms within them” (p. 30). Moreover, “The next two decades will see adversaries building the capacity to control approaches to their homelands through the commons, and later, translating command of the nearby commons into the connective architecture for their own power projection capabilities” (p. 33).

However, following the change of administrations, the Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy (DOD, 2018) never mentions the “global commons” per se, referring only to “common domains” in a couple spots. Thus, “Ensuring common domains remain open and free” is in the list of defense objectives (p. 4). And — to Beijing’s subsequent rebuke — the document states that “We will strengthen our alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific to a networked security architecture capable of deterring aggression, maintaining stability, and ensuring free access to common domains” (p. 9).
At least the global-commons concept lingers here by implication — but as we note below, challenges have begun to loom from outside military circles.

Against this background, analyses about how to continue preserving and protecting the global commons to the benefit of U.S. military and security interests now mostly conclude with calls for negotiating the creation of new multilateral governance regimes, international agreements, and norms of behavior to assure the openness of the commons. Most analysts would prefer that these efforts reflect U.S. leadership, for it’s a widely held view that “America must take a leadership role to ensure that access to the global commons remains a public good” (Brimley et al., 2008, p. 15). But, at this point, the United States is not in a position to impose such regimes, nor would it want to use hard power to do so — for that would undermine the very notion of a global commons. It’s become a matter of having to share responsibility and work with allies and partners, in diplomatic soft-power ways akin to noopolitik.

The challenge is that efforts to establish governance regimes for the global commons have to involve not only other countries’ militaries (e.g., NATO) but also various public and private actors. That can result in complex network cooperation and coordination problems. As Jasper & Giarra (2010, p. 3)observe,
“It is misleading to conceptualize or deal with the interests of stakeholders in the global commons independently, that is, to differentiate between the military, civil, or commercial spheres, or to segregate military service roles. This is because the domains of the commons are inherently interwoven — military maritime, space, aerospace, and cyberspace operations overlap with civilian and commercial activities — and because the networks that enable operations or activities in the various overlapping sectors are themselves threaded together.”
Denmark & Mulvenon (2010, p. 2) further clarify the challenge by concluding that “the United States should renew its commitment to the global commons by pursuing three mutually supporting objectives:
“• Build global regimes: America should work with the international community, including allies, friends, and potential adversaries, to develop international agreements and regimes that preserve the openness of the global commons.
“• Engage pivotal actors: The United States should identify and build capacities of states and non- state actors that have the will and ability to responsibly protect and sustain the openness of the global commons.
“• Re-shape American hard power to defend the contested commons: The Pentagon should develop capabilities to defend and sustain the global commons, preserve its military freedom of action in commons that are contested, and cultivate capabilities that will enable effective military operations when a commons is unusable or inaccessible.”
Of potential interest here, their first two recommendations are commonly found not only in military circles but also in civilian circles concerned about the global commons, as discussed above. Variants of their third point also appear in civilian circles, but without the bit about reshaping hard power — unless that reshaping were to be interpreted to mean a conversion into soft-power measures.

By some accounts, there are also serious organizational challenges at home. Several reports during 2010-2011 advised strategists and planners to revamp their approach to the global commons. One proposed to “depart from the domain-centric mindset” and “employ a holistic approach that breaks down domain stovepipes and treats the global commons not as a set of distinct geographies, but rather as a complex, interactive system” (Redden & Hughes, 2011, p. 65). Another urged reform of our “decentralized system of responsibility, in which dozens of agencies and departments are charged with securing specific aspects of the air commons” (Denmark & Mulvenon, 2010, p. 23). Yet another called for overcoming “inadequate governance, insufficient norms and regulations, a lack of verification measures to ensure compliance, and more often than not ineffective mechanisms for enforcement” (Barrett et al., 2011, xvii). We’ve found no indications that these organizational challenges have been mastered.

So, what we can say here is that U.S. military perspectives on the global commons have evolved in directions we’ve been forecasting about the noosphere and noopolitik. What may make this more interesting is that the U.S. military and Department of Defense have lately determined that climate change is real, and that it has potentially threatening security and military implications for the global commons, not to mention other matters. It’s deemed a “threat multiplier” and “an accelerant of instability or conflict”. Key concerns include ways that climate change may affect not only the military’s own operations, infrastructures, communities, supply chains, and budgets, but also the military’s roles in humanitarian, disaster-relief, and border-security missions, especially in the event of massive population displacements — roles that may require accessing and using all the commons quickly and efficiently. (La Shier & Stanish, 2017)

However, we may have to remain patient about our hopes that positive attention to the global commons will favor a turn to noopolitik anytime soon. For one matter, as pointed out for years, “Washington has yet to articulate a diplomatic strategy to sustain access to the commons.” (Denmark, 2010, p. 166) Making matters worse, the current administration and its attendant policymakers and strategists have so far shown no interest in the global-commons concept. To the contrary, one administration appointee, National Space Council director Scott Pace, recently disparaged it in harsh, dismissive terms:
“Finally, many of you have heard me say this before, but it bears repeating: outer space is not a “global commons,” not the “common heritage of mankind,” not “res communis,” nor is it a public good. These concepts are not part of the Outer Space Treaty, and the United States has consistently taken the position that these ideas do not describe the legal status of outer space. To quote again from a U.S. statement at the 2017 COPUOS Legal Subcommittee, reference to these concepts is more distracting than it is helpful. To unlock the promise of space, to expand the economic sphere of human activity beyond the Earth, requires that we not constrain ourselves with legal constructs that do not apply to space.” (Pace, 2017)
Could this be a position that the current administration will extend to the other domains? Will it be touted as another purported repudiation of Obama (even though prior administrations, including Republican ones, also favored the American role in nurturing the commons)? It is too soon to tell. But if so, it augurs a return to a neo-mercantilist approach to taking hold of territories and resources in all four domains, a denial that the global-commons concept has validity or legality, the alienation of the pro-commons environmental science and civil-society movements, a further repudiation of U.S. allies and partners, and new difficulty if not confrontation with China as it expands its global reach to all domains.

If the current White House does indeed shift in this direction, it will interrupt America’s long positive progression from supporting freedom of the seas to securing the global commons. Instead, it will mean an inadvisable return to realpolitik, and a further decline in America’s capacity for public diplomacy. Given the huge influence American actions have on the course of world affairs, it seems we will have to put our hopes for the noosphere and the rise of noopolitik on hold for a few years.

Intersecting implications — a new combination of forces for the future? 

Comparing the views held in civilian and military circles about the global commons leads to noticing significant overlaps and intersections:
• All their definitions overlap as to the meaning of “global commons” — essentially, material and immaterial terrains and/or resources located outside national jurisdictions, tantamount to global public goods, thus available for mutual sharing and governance.
• All view the global commons as a set of interconnected interdependent domains that, together, comprise a complex interactive system of systems, that girds Planet Earth.
• All see crucial interests in protecting and preserving the global commons, some for humanity’s sake, others more for security’s sake. At the same time, all detect that the global commons are under increasing pressures, if not threats, as a result of people’s behaviors of one kind or another.
• All believe that current governance regimes are inadequate for preserving and protecting the global commons, and that work is urgently needed to create new global governance regimes, associations, and frameworks that are multilateral in myriad senses — they’re inter-governmental, state–non-state, public-private, IGO-NGO, civil-military, local-global, and/or combine hierarchical and networked forms of governance — for purposes that include mutual stewardship and shared responsibility.
• All regard the global commons as strategic resources and/or assets, essential factors for humanity’s future, around which grand strategies should be formulated, at least in part. For military as well as civilian actors, a strategy based on applying soft-power, not hard-power, is considered the way to pursue whatever grand strategy is proposed — in other words, noopolitik, not realpolitik.
There’s something else which all global-commons proponents seem to agree deserves greater attention: sensors to detect and monitor what’s transpiring throughout the global commons. This isn’t missing from current discussions, but it’s rarely highlighted as a crucial matter, especially compared to the attention devoted to organizational matters. Yet the two matters are related — networked sensor arrays and “sensory organizations” look to be part of what’s urgently needed, for social as well as scientific monitoring, including to support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions.

In addition to these overlaps and intersections, two significant differences stand out between civilian and military intentions toward the global commons:
• The military’s intentions are focused on domain security matters; they say nothing, or very little, about societal matters. In contrast, the civilian circles discussed above do intend to transform societies in order to make them better suited to living with, and from, the global commons. The big environmental science circle has issued proposals for myriad social, economic, and political reforms, some quite radical. The leftist civil-society, social-activist circle foresees societies being radically transformed, entering a next phase of social evolution, as a result of pro-commons forces.
• Both military and civilian proponents of the global commons talk about the importance of “hegemony” — but in opposite ways. An oft-mentioned goal of the military has been hegemonic command of the global commons (though less so now). In contrast, an oft-mentioned goal of civil-society commoners is “counter-hegemonic power” — seeing pro-commons forces grow so strong that they can counter the hegemonic power of today’s established public and private sectors, indeed of capitalism itself. This makes it difficult to imagine today’s pro-commons social activists relating well to today’s global-commons military strategists. But the day may come, especially if/as climate change and its effects are eventually perceived to be a mutual concern.
These findings support our up-front observation that the noosphere and noopolitik concepts will fare better in the future the more they are associated with the global-commons concept. And the latter will flourish the more it is associated with the noosphere and noopolitik. This may be so partly because both the global-commons and noosphere are everywhere viewed as linked to the biosphere. Recognizing the noosphere’s association with the global commons may then help put noopolitik back on track in various strategic issue areas.

True as that may be, optimism and enthusiasm are barely warranted right now. Looking ahead with the current political environment in mind — especially the orientations of today’s leaders in Washington, Beijing, and Moscow — what may be most in need of near-term protection and preservation are not so much the global commons and their domains per se, but rather the very concept of “global commons” itself. The current administration in Washington seems poised to deny and disparage this long-standing strategic concept — hopefully not, but if so, it could play into the hands of Beijing and Moscow, neither of which as ever accepted the concept — both would rather pursue their grand strategies without it. Leadership on behalf of the global commons — and thus the prospects for the noosphere and noopolitik — would then fall more than ever to the mostly non-state circles we identified earlier.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

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

This draft, as well as all others in this series, was completed in May.

Draft of Section V. Pessimistic appraisal of today’s turmoil for the noosphere and noopolitik

Our earlier work warned that, while some state and non-state actors might find noöpolitik attractive, they might care less about the emergence and construction of the noosphere. In the hands of a democratic leader, noöpolitik might then amount to little more than airy, idealistic rhetoric with little or no structural basis; whereas in the hands of a dictator or demagogue, noopolitik could be reduced to manipulative propaganda and perception-management. Narrower versions of noöpolitik might be also attempted for private gain — in the commercial worlds of advertising and public relations, this already occurs when companies field media blitzes and plant testimonials to “spin” public opinion. These were among the risks that may have to be faced, we warned long ago.

Unfortunately, that warning has been borne out, for noopolitik has been largely co-opted by dark actors. Today, despite its promise, noopolitik is not alive and well in the environment in which it should be most thriving: the United States, where now even “soft power” is ailing as a strategic concept. Instead, America’s state and non-state adversaries — notably Russia, and until lately, al Qaeda and ISIS — have developed their own versions of noopolitik, albeit by other names, and they’ve applied it effectively against the United States and its allies and friends. As noted earlier, these new circumstances mean we are now living not only in the worst of times for noopolitik, but also in the most pertinent — and urgent — of times for revisiting the promise of the noosphere and the prospects for noospolitik.

Washington failing at noopolitik

Not long ago, the United States (and individual Americans) had the lead in shaping the global noosphere and the ends, ways, and means it implies, both at home and abroad. Not anymore — not since Washington began downplaying public diplomacy decades ago, not since the ideational wear-and-tear wrought by recent U.S. military engagements in the Middle East and South Asia, and not since a polarizing populist with authoritarian tendencies ascended to the White House. Articulating and promoting America’s beacon values and ideas — like the American dream, the American experiment, American exceptionalism, America as a shining model of freedom and democracy, America as protector of the global commons, etc. — have become increasingly difficult, even controversial and questionable. Abroad, Washington continues to pull back from the war of ideas, instead putting more emphasis on the idea of war as the principal tool of foreign engagement. So much so that, as Andrew Bacevich (2010, p. 27) wrote, “To cast doubts on the principles of global presence, power projection, and interventionism … is to mark oneself as an oddball or eccentric.” Meanwhile at home, American society has become so tribalized that ideas are being used more as divisive weapons than unifying agents.

For two decades, our prognosis has been that traditional realpolitik, which ultimately relies on hard (principally military) power, would increasingly give way to noöpolitik, which relies on soft (principally ideational) power. But today’s atmosphere is barely conducive to nurturing the noosphere or noopolitik. Washington seems bent on reaffirming guardedness over openness, and hard power over soft power. Indeed, Washington is floundering on soft-power matters. The current mishmash of arguments about hard vs. soft vs. smart vs. sharp types of power is muddling rather than clarifying the bases for future U. S. strategy. Making matters even more ill-defined, the current President seems bent on exalting what may be termed “deal power” — a narrow approach unsuited to long-range, world-wide noosphere-building. Making matters still more uncertain, Washington seems to be backing away from having a grand strategy and strategic narrative that are forward-looking about where the world is and should be heading — which means we are ceding much noospheric ground to visions that our state and non-state adversaries are promoting.

All this is most dangerous. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright (2018) has summed up America’s current situation and leadership:
“Instead of mobilizing international coalitions to take on world problems, he touts the doctrine of “every nation for itself” and has led America into isolated positions on trade, climate change and Middle East peace. Instead of engaging in creative diplomacy, he has insulted United States neighbors and allies, walked away from key international agreements, mocked multilateral organizations and stripped the State Department of its resources and role. Instead of standing up for the values of a free society, Mr. Trump, with his oft-vented scorn for democracy’s building blocks, has strengthened the hands of dictators. No longer need they fear United States criticism regarding human rights or civil liberties. On the contrary, they can and do point to Mr. Trump’s own words to justify their repressive actions.”
Besides pulling back from promoting traditional American values abroad, Washington has allowed setbacks on its commitments to science. Remember, the noosphere began as a scientific concept — Teilhard, Le Roy, and Vernadsky were all serious scientists concerned about the future of Planet Earth. But in today’s America, we see mounting attacks on science and scientific research that enable new commercial and governmental exploitations of the geosphere, the biosphere, and ultimately the prospects for the noosphere. In recent decades, Washington-based setbacks have ranged from denying tobacco research, to outlawing gun research, to discrediting climate research, and lately in the EPA, to fiddling with what kinds of public health and environmental research studies can be used by policymakers. In many controversial issue areas, science has become polarized and politicized.

Perhaps the iconic examples of Washington’s current disregard for noospheric initiatives are the rejections of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on trade and investment in 2017. These dismissals represent turns away not only from liberal internationalism but also from the promise of noopolitik. Fortunately, there are other American actors — in military as well as civil-society circles concerned about the global commons — who are quietly working on pro-commons noospheric initiatives that may energize the rise of noopolitik. We discuss that later. But first Washington needs to face a more urgent challenge: the resort to dark forms of noopolitik by our state and non-state adversaries.

Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, and Wikileaks turning noopolitik against us 

The soft-power concept undergirds the noopolitik concept. But the former is usually defined to make soft power look bright and hard power dark, and to ignore the dark uses to which soft power could be put. Not so noopolitik, which, as we have recognized from the beginning, can be put to dark purposes. Indeed, each of America’s challengers has shown considerable aptitude for noopolitik. Moscow has resorted to longstanding political warfare techniques, finding them highly useful for undermining democracy. Beijing is working on expanding its global reach via a mix of soft- and hard-power initiatives. Tehran is fashioning its expansionist strategy around its Shi’ite co-religionists, basing its kind of noopolitik on a religious noosphere. In addition, various non-state actors, notably Wikileaks, are also employing darker forms of noopolitik to attack U.S. values and interests.

What are these darker forms? They go by many names: cognitive warfare, information warfare, information operations, political warfare, memetic warfare, epistemic warfare, neo-cortical warfare, perception management, strategic deception, along with such older terms as the war of ideas and the battle for hearts and minds, and newer expressions about weaponized social networks and weaponized narratives. What these terms have in common is that they all represent ways to work on the mind — sometimes for good, other times for ill. By way of contrast, we view noopolitik as a way to work with the mind.

For a while, our non-state adversaries — notably Al Qaeda and ISIS — seemed to have the lead in mastering the arts and techniques of cognitive warfare. But they no longer pose the threats of a few years ago. Now our state adversaries have the lead in using dark varieties of noopolitik against us.

In the case of Russia, this means influence operations that go by names like Active Measures, kompromat, dezinformatsiya, reflexive control, and hybrid warfare. These operations also involve Moscow’s deployment of strategic narratives that extol “Eurasianism” and disparage democracy. Actually, Russian use of political warfare is deeply rooted in Russian history — partly in Grigory Potemkin’s use of deception and disinformation in the late 18th C. to make people think things were better (or different) than they really were, as in the creation of “Potemkin villages”; and also in Ivan Pavlov’s work on reflexive conditioning in the late 19th C., resulting in “Pavlovian conditioning”. To say that Russian strategy has Potemkin-ed and Pavlov-ed many American minds may sound odd, but may well be accurate. (See Pomerantsev & Weiss, 2014; Walker & Ludwig, 2017)

As for China, Beijing has begun fielding strategic narratives that call for a new type of great power relations, a new type of international system, and a better future for China and others — a Chinese Dream, to rival the American Dream. Beijing’s enticing but exploitive grand strategy includes its Belt-and-Road Initiative, the deployment of Confucius Institutes around the world, and the obligatory creation of local political-party cells by Chinese students studying abroad. These and other soft-power measures reflect, in part, a Chinese approach to cognitive influence known as “Three Warfares” — a way to use public-opinion, legal, and psychological operations in an integrated manner. One major element is huayuquan — a cognitive-warfare concept that refers to “the capability to control the narrative in a given scenario,” or “discursive power” (Kania, 2016). In short, Beijing is taking noopolitik seriously, though by other names.

As for non-state actors, ISIS is presently in retreat, but Wikileaks remains a potent user of cognitive warfare. Julian Assange (2013, 2016) believes that “conspiracies are cognitive devices” that enable conspirators to form into a distributed “computational network” for purposes such as creating deceptions and organizing resistance. His main target is “authoritarian conspiracy” by those he opposes — but he also aims to enhance “total conspiratorial power” for his side by using communications technologies to improve organization and decision-making. The way he wants to accomplish this is through “simulated annealing”: “So we have this system we're developing where we will put all these people into a network which we will anneal, using a simulated annealing method. So that there is the tightest possible human arrangement between these million people.” The unifier? It’s “a set of principles.” The goal? It’s to create “an efficient computational network which can observe, plan and act.” The strategic purpose? Assange does not say so explicitly, but by inference it’s to conduct cognitive warfare, both defensively and offensively, through the skillful deployment of information, much of it illicit. Assange seems intent on binding his side into it’s own mini-noosphere, while breaking into and busting up the other side’s noosphere.

The noosphere in fragmented disarray

What would a full-fledged noosphere encompass? What ideas, values, and norms — what principles, practices, and rules — should it embody? We presume these would include much that America stands for: openness, freedom, democracy, the rule of law, humane behavior, respect for human rights, a preference for peaceful conflict resolution, etc. — all that the noosphere’s original proponents said should and would be embedded. In addition, a full-fledged noosphere would require an interactive organizational and technological foundation to uphold its ideational essences.

However, the world is not yet in the age of the noosphere, but rather in an era of transition that is far from smooth or peaceful. When we first started writing about the noosphere and noopolitik, we figured we were witnessing halting steps forward. Yet it’s the steps backwards that are most evident today, especially in the behavior of some of the world’s most powerful states, as discussed above.

No methodology exists for assessing the status of the noosphere from strategic standpoints; nobody has yet seen to that potentially valuable task. But what we can observe is that the noosphere is in terribly fragmented disarray in the very country, the United States, that should be taking the most initiative to uphold and foster it.

Much of America’s evolving noosphere has become highly compartmented — broken up into what are called information silos, filter bubbles, and echo chambers, tantamount to volatile micro-climates. Many of these “compartments” and “cultural units” (Teilhard’s terms) are engaged in “ruthless struggle” (Vernadsky’s words), far from being ready for the “fusion” that Teilhard forecast, or to “open up and finally link up their spouts, spreading a layer that covers the Earth” as Le Roy depicted. Indeed, America’s noosphere is presently so fragmented, and many of its “units” are so polarized and tribalized, that it could be said that a war — a culture war — is underway for control of the noosphere. And it reflects the essence of noopolitk, for it is a war that will be decided by whose story wins.

For example, the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) gun-rights advocacy is not just about guns anymore, but rather about defending a way of life, a culture, a system of beliefs and principles. Its leaders, members, and supporters are tightly networked, in organizational and media terms. If criticized or otherwise attacked rhetorically, they rarely waiver — they have value orientations and memetic reflexes at the ready. Altogether, it’s like a tribal mini-noosphere with a hard shell. And similar entities, in one issue area after another, are spread all across America, some with transnational ties to compartmentalized entities elsewhere.

None of the foregoing bodes well for the kinds of noopolitik we’ve proposed. It’s all grounds for pessimism about the future of the noosphere. But while the foregoing dominates the news and other informative media, shaping people’s impressions and reflexes about what’s going on in the world, we’ve found a new reason to regain our hopes for the future of the noosphere and noopolitik. A hope that we share in the following section.