Tuesday, June 12, 2018

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

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

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

These moves all have two points in common:

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 9, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

But where else to turn? How else to think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Readings in overcoming political tribalism — #2: With Honor (withhonor.org)

I just learned this morning (thanks to NPR) about what strikes me as a brilliant initiative for countering polarization and tribalism: an organization created by, and for, military veterans in late 2017 whose mission is “to elect principled next-generation veterans to office who will work in a cross-partisan way to create a more effective and less polarized government.”

It’s based on noticing that “partisanship in Washington is near a record high, while veteran representation in Congress is near a historic low.” The assumption is that military veterans make better politicians because they are attuned to service, respect, and teamwork.

With Honor started backing selected “next-generation veterans” running for public office in small numbers some months ago, and aims to expand its efforts over the next several years. Candidates who want With Honor’s support take “The Pledge” to put principles before politics” by agreeing to: (1) “speak the truth and prioritize the public interest”; (2) “focus on solving problems and work to bring civility to politics”; and (3) “defend the rights of all Americans and have the courage to collaborate across the aisle and find common ground.” This pledge also “includes a commitment to meet with someone from another party at least once a month and sponsor legislation with a member of another party at least once a year.”

I don’t recognize any of the names on the Executive Team. Rye Barcott is the co-founder and CEO, and may be who sleepy me heard interviewed on NPR this morning. However, the list of Advisors is chock full of impressive reassuring names.

I’ve lapsed lately in posting readings about overcoming excessive tribalism. This isn’t exactly a reading, but it’s one of the best practical ideas I’ve come across. So I hasten to share it, with hope it spreads and succeeds. To learn more, go here:

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Notes about the noosphere and noopolitik — #8: Getting back on track through noopolitik

Here's the working draft for the concluding Section VII of our prospective new paper on "The Continuing Promise of the Noösphere and Noöpolitik — Twenty Years After."

VII. Getting back on track through noopolitik

At this strategic moment, when it is advisable for U.S. strategy and diplomacy to lead the way in the direction of noopolitik, conditions are once again not ripe for doing so. It may be a while before propitious conditions re-emerge. For, as America’s soft power rises and falls, so do the prospects for noopolitik. And right now, America’s soft-power capabilities are unusually questionable.

America has long stood for vital ideals — freedom, equality, opportunity. America has also stood for ethical ways of doing things: competing openly and fairly, working in concert with partners, seeking the common good, respecting others’ rights, and resorting to war only after exhausting non-military options. By doing so, America built its legitimacy and credibility as a global power in the 20th century. But lately, due to assorted sorry matters, leaders and publics around the world have become increasingly doubtful that America is deeply dedicated to the ideals and practices it professes. U.S. public diplomacy is on the defensive more than ever before. Oddly, China is sometimes said to be more effective at soft-power appeals and techniques.

What would reinvigorate the prospects for noopolitik? Renewal of a clear intent to favor non-military strategies, operate in partnerships, and abide by stringent ethical standards would surely help. Yet, whatever other answers should be added, the key may well be a revitalization of a deep sense that ideas matter, along with a better grasp of how ideas move people to think and act in strategic ways — more along the lines of the complex efforts made during the Cold War than the simplifications seen in recent decades. Strings of overseas conflicts and other events, including domestic troubles, have undermined the preferred American story about fostering a peaceful, prosperous, civilized, democratic world in which all nations are bound together by shared values.

Look around: U.S. hard-power approaches to one conflict after another continue to incur high costs and new risks, in return for scarcely discernible benefits. Hard-power efforts have largely failed to unsettle Bashar al Assad’s rule in Syria, resulted in Iranian influence over Iraq, and perpetuated a quagmire in Afghanistan. Little has been done to impress (much less impose) the U.S. will on China and Russia. Realpolitik by itself, in either its military or economic applications, holds no real promise of solving these and other conflicts and challenges.

It is high time to invigorate the application of noopolitik. Whereas realpolitik is typically about whose military or economy wins, noöpolitik is ultimately about whose story wins. Thus it’s about affecting cognitions of all kinds — about inspiring, attracting, persuading, convincing, listening, sharing, and, alternately, about disapproving, dissuading, cajoling, maybe even shunning at times, too. It means communicating and collaborating with partners and allies, seeking them out, state and non-state, rather than going it alone or insisting on singular primacy. It requires the careful design and deployment of strategic narratives and messages: for finding common ground around a common good; imparting cautionary ideas about where a society’s evolution is headed; shaping people’s social space-time-agency perceptions; framing preferred values and sharing best practices; or letting someone know “there’s a better way.” The list goes on.

And it’s a list of ends, ways, and means that, above all, requires diplomacy, often especially public diplomacy. Noopolitik is far more a diplomatic than a military or intelligence enterprise. And like realpolitik, its effectiveness depends on the presence of skilled strategists, strong agencies, and other apparatuses and capabilities. But much of what used to exist along these lines, much of it designed to win the Cold War, has been dismantled and devalued since we started formulating noopolitik twenty years ago. Indeed, the current administration, with its penchant for relying on hard power and “deal power,” seems intent on disregarding the need to rebuild the institutional and other preconditions for using noopolitik effectively. While this is an implication of our work, its urgency is more fully revealed in others’ writings, notably in Ronan Farrow’s new book, War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence (W. W. Norton, 2018).

The way ahead as we previously saw it

We have expected, as noted in our 1999 and 2007 writings, that strategists and diplomats would be challenged to focus on how best to develop the noosphere and conduct noöpolitik. Much as the rise of realpolitik depended on the development and exploitation of the geosphere (whose natural resources enhance state power), so will the rise of noöpolitik depend on the development of the noosphere. The two go hand in hand. To pursue this, measures will have to be identified that, in addition to fostering the rise of a noosphere, are geared to facilitating the effectiveness of soft power, the deepening of global interconnections, the strengthening of transnational civil–society actors, and the creation of conditions for governments to be better able to act conjointly, seeking cooperative advantages with both state and non–state actors.

In our first writing on this topic (1999), we noted some measures for U.S. policy and strategy that could assist with the development of the noosphere and noöpolitik. All were taken from discussions back then about issues raised by the advance of the information revolution, and we thought that strategists and diplomats would be well advised to take an interest in them. These measures included the following:
• Supporting the expansion of cyberspace connectivity around the world, including where this runs counter to the preferences of authoritarian regimes;

• Promoting freedom of information and communications as a worldwide right;
• Developing multi-tiered information–sharing systems, not only to ensure cyberspace safety and security, but also to create shared infospheres for openly addressing other issues;

• Creating “special media forces” that could be dispatched into conflict zones to help settle disputes through the discovery and dissemination of accurate information; and
• Opening diplomacy to greater coordination between state and non–state actors, especially NGOs. (Arquilla & Ronfeldt, 1999; Ronfeldt & Arquilla, 2007)
These remain pertinent ideas. Ultimately, developing the noosphere and noöpolitik will involve more than just asserting, sharing, and instituting the particular values, norms, ethics, laws, and other ingredients of soft power that an actor wants to uphold. Specific policies, strategies, and mechanisms will have to be elaborated that make noöpolitik significantly different from and more effective than realpolitik in dealing with issues that may range from promoting democracy to pressuring regimes like those in Iran and North Korea, as well as resolving global environmental and human rights issues. Skillful diplomats and strategists are bound to face choices as to when it is better to emphasize realpolitik or noöpolitik, or alternate between them, or apply hybrid courses of action, especially when dealing with a recalcitrant adversary who has been able to resist realpolitik types of pressures.

As an urgent reason to revive the prospects for noöpolitik, we noted back then that several worldwide wars of ideas were underway. The most evident had spiritual, religious, ideological, philosophical, and cultural aspects, and were largely taking place on the Internet. In such wars of ideas, we further remarked, one’s information posture matters as much as one’s military posture. And at that time, America’s information posture did not appear to be well designed.

That’s part of what we concluded about noöpolitik and its prospects back in 1999 and 2007. And all our points look as true now, in 2018, as back then. Thus, noopolitik still seems to be an idea for the future. Traditional power politics — realpolitik — has provided the main basis for American foreign policy and strategy in the decades since 9/11. Today, various new wars of ideas are underway, but the U.S. government still is not participating in them in ways reflective of the noöpolitik paradigm. Instead, Washington’s continued threats of military force and coercive diplomacy imply the persistent primacy of older — and ever less effective — forms of statecraft.

Even so, we remain optimistic about the long–term promise of noöpolitik.

New measures for the way ahead

Compared to our 1999 and 2007 writings, this 2018 update offers significant improvements — notably: an expanded discussion of Teilhard’s, Vernadsky’s, and Le Roy’s foundational ideas about the noosphere (Section I); a broadened report about the spread of the noosphere idea in recent decades, including in Russia (Section II); a new assessment of the noosphere’s likely strategic implications for noopolitik (Section III); a warning that Beijing, Moscow, and other actors are using dark forms of noopolitik against America and its allies and friends, while Washington devalues “soft power” and tries out “deal power” (Section V); and a first-time analysis showing that the “global commons” may be a pivotal issue area for the noosphere and noopolitik (Section VI).

All this leads us to add two new recommendations to the old still-pertinent ones we reiterated above:
• The United States should take up the cause of the “global commons” as a vital issue area. As we found in Section VI, this has become a pivotal issue area for civilian activists and military strategists, though it has yet to receive widespread public recognition. We have previously listed democracy promotion, human rights, the environment, and conflict resolution as some issue areas that would benefit from skillful applications of noopolitik. We did so partly because addressing them depends so much on soft power and on government-NGO communication and collaboration, key traits of noopolitik. But they were also easy to list because they are so much in the public eye. The global commons rarely is. But now we see, as a major new finding from this update of our prior writings, that preserving, protecting, and promoting the global-commons concept — the pursuit of a secure, sustainable global commons — may be a crucial addition to our list. In brief, the prospects for noopolitik depend on the prospects for the noosphere, and the future of the noosphere depends on the future of the global commons — perhaps it’s as simple as that, a progression in which the one cannot evolve properly without the other.
• In addition, the U.S. government should institute a formal requirement for periodic reviews of our nation’s “information posture.” We mentioned this concept in our 2007 update, and reiterated it above, but only in passing. It deserves far more elaboration and attention — and emulation by other nations. The U.S. military posture receives regular assessments. So do aspects of America’s economic posture (even though it’s not called that). Information is now of such strategic importance that methodologies and measures should be deliberately designed for assessing one’s information posture globally. The creation of a new inter-agency office may be advisable to accomplish this, and to draw out the full range of implications for policy and strategy, say in the form of a periodic National Information Strategy document. This could be of great benefit for conducting noopolitik, as well as for understanding the status of the noosphere, and of the stocks and flows of information that comprise it. Again, the United States has a particularly pressing need for such an undertaking; but the fundamental concept of developing an “information posture” should have broad international application.
These new proposals, along with our older ones, point to the urgency to revitalize diplomacy, especially public diplomacy. It is in such decline and disarray that we feel a need to close by emphasizing this point explicitly, for turning to noopolitik depends on having strong diplomatic capabilities, especially for wielding soft power. Without them, our leaders in Washington will keep being tempted to rely on realpolitik and its amoral penchant for hard power. However, they’d be well advised to heed the wisdom of Hans Morgenthau (1948), the father of modern realpolitik. He warned that “there is the misconception … that international politics is so thoroughly evil that it is no use looking for ethical limitations of the aspirations for power” (p. 175). Which was why he heralded “the increasing awareness on the part of most statesmen of certain ethical limitations restricting the use of war as an instrument of international politics” (p. 180).

In other words, by invoking ethics and ethical limitations, this iconic arch-realist showed an early hopeful inclination toward noopolitik. But it seems to have gone missing from the sensibilities of too many of today’s leaders, perhaps because they still do understand the complex implications of the information age, preferring instead to cling to the mental models from simpler eras. Our hope is that the pull of the past, in particular of power politics, will lessen as the promise of a future is glimpsed through the lens of the noosphere and noopolitik.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Notes about the noosphere and noopolitik — #7: new hope for the noosphere and noopolitik — the global commons

UPDATE — May 4, 2018: Here’s my second draft for this section of our forthcoming paper on “The Continuing Promise of the Noösphere and Noöpolitik — Twenty Years After.” I’ve deleted what I originally posted here. This second draft contains considerable new material, but the analytical thrust remains the same.

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 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) 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. Both these civilian and military views were 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, and particularly for 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 agenda 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 unenvironment.org and thegef.org)

Initially, decades ago, environmental concerns were mainly about specific local matters, such as pollution. Late in the 20th C., after decades 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 on Our Common Future (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. …
“If we take the biosphere positive pathway, then the signs are good that we’ll find intelligent life on Earth by 2050.”
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 reporting3.org/gtac/).

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 terrains; 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 clout 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 leftist pro-commons civil-society proponents 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 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 — to network-based governance systems — for they know that uncertainties about global governance mean difficulties for protecting and preserving the global commons. Indeed, encouraging for us to see, Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation has remarked 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 uniquely 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- and late-20th C. The term “global commons” — hence, “command of the global commons” — arose in U.S. military thinking quite recently, notably with the National Defense Strategy of 2008 and especially 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 them as a “a complex, interactive system” (Redden & Hughes, 2011, p. 65). Its domains, though not exactly an integrated system, are so interconnected and interdependent that, in operational terms, they function as a whole, not just as an assemblage of parts — thus, “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 intricately 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 had strategic interests, especially since the end of World War II and throughout the Cold War, in assuring that U.S. military capabilities suffice to keep these commons openly accessible and usable by all actors, especially our allies and partners. 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 quite reflective of what Teilhard might have recommended, though it’s doubtful that military strategists were thinking about noosphere construction at the time. (See Flournoy & Brimley, 2009)

In that period, 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 U.S. command of the commons provided for acquiring transit rights and forward bases that compounded the ability to operate as a global power and contain the ambitions of adversaries.

Today, however, as the world has become even more globalized and multipolar, 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, and 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 — 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 wars and conflict 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.” 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 disposition of the Trump administration toward the global-commons concept is far from clear. But in military circles, it’s still alive. In late 2016, the Pentagon superseded its years-old 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, 138, 139)

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. 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 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, to reform 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, to overcome “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 no longer exist at home.

So, what we can start to 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 the military’s roles in humanitarian and disaster relief missions — 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 also favored the American role in nurturing the commons)? 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 go 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. We will have to put our hopes for the noosphere and 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 if not adaptive system, or 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 become 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 itself — “global commons”. 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, who have never accepted the concept and 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.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Notes about the noosphere and noopolitik — #6: implications of the noosphere concept for thinking about noopolitik

NOTA BENE: This is a preliminary draft section for a prospective paper.

Implications of the noosphere concept for thinking about noopolitik

The foregoing points about the noosphere, some nearly a century old, have implications for framing noopolitik in our era. We mean for the development of noopolitik to reflect a keen clear grasp of the noosphere concept, particularly along the following lines:
  • The noosphere remains a scientific and spiritual concept. It arose from revolutions in thinking about science and evolution, about complexity and consciousness, about the importance of cooperation as well as competition, about systems and self-organization, and about how the world is becoming evermore interconnected and interdependent. It makes knowledge and reason — the mind — crucial for humanity to attain its planetary potential and address matters that require systemic holistic analyses and answers.
  • The noosphere has become a visionary political concept as well. But it is not a fantastic utopian idea. It’s an evolutionary “protopian” idea — which means expecting “progress in an incremental way where every year it's better than the year before but not by very much” (Kelly, 2011, 2015). Accordingly, the noosphere concept is very much about anticipating and shaping what lies ahead, with a sense of grounded realism as well as hopeful idealism. It is about living within the permissible limits of the biosphere, in part by recognizing and attending to the effects of human activity, so that the biosphere and noosphere are kept in a mutually-beneficial balance. Thus the noosphere concept offers an engaging positive vision of the future; its proponents believe its emergence is the key to the future of humanity.
    http://kk.org/thetechnium/protopia/ OR https://www.edge.org/response-detail/26062
  • The noosphere concept is embedded with value orientations that its originators deemed best for protecting the biosphere and creating the noosphere. It means to favor views that are ethical and ecumenical, that seek harmony and mutual goodwill, that value freedom and justice, pluralism and democracy. It calls for the world and its cultures to be open and inclusive, in ways that foster unity and variety, a collective spirit as well as individuality — all in order to foster an “inter-thinking humanity”. It is a pro-humanity anti-war concept. As Moiseev said, “entering the age of the noosphere requires the practical reconstruction of the worldwide order and the establishment of a new thinking, a new scale of values and a new morality.” (BNR, p. 171)
  • From the beginning, the noosphere’s emergence has been a function of revolutionary advances in information and communications technologies across the centuries. More recently, and thus less noticed, yet increasingly important for the future, is that the noosphere’s growth is also a function of the development and distribution of all sorts of sensory apparatuses that will enable what McLuhan aptly called an “externalization of senses”. This revolution in sensory technologies is in early phases, and its maturation is surely essential for the noosphere’s growth.
  • The noosphere concept carries a set of standards for strategy. This is clearest if strategy is understood not only as an art of relating ends, ways, and means, but also as an art of positioning for spatial, temporal, and actional advantages. Then, valuing the noosphere strategically means thinking and acting in global/planetary ways (spatially), while minding long-range future end-stakes (temporally), and creating new means or forms of agency to shape problems and opportunities at all scales (actionally).
  • Moreover, the noosphere concept, like the biosphere concept, has long implied an end to Westphalian realpolitik-type thinking that nation-states are the most important actors and that material factors matter most. Now, in the information age, other actors and factors increasingly matter more. Reflecting this, proponents of the noosphere helped inspire the establishment of “noospheric institutions” such as the United Nations and UNESCO, as well as Green Cross International, and a range of activist civil-society NGOs (BNR, p. 184-185). The time may come when aspects and/or parts of the noosphere are defined as belonging to the “global commons”.
All these points about the noosphere apply to our vision of noopolitik. In a grand sense, the purpose of noopolitik is to prepare the way advantageously for the age of the noosphere, while also protecting the biosphere and geosphere. In a more practical sense, our early definition of noopolitik still reads well, even in light of our updated analysis of the noosphere concept:
In sum, noöpolitik is an approach to diplomacy and strategy for the information age that emphasizes the shaping and sharing of ideas, values, norms, laws, and ethics through soft power. Noöpolitik is guided more by a conviction that right makes for might, than the obverse. Both state and non–state actors may be guided by noöpolitik; but rather than being state–centric, its strength may well stem from enabling state and non–state actors to work conjointly. The driving motivation of noöpolitik cannot be national interests defined in statist terms. National interests will still play a role, but should be defined more in society–wide than state–centric terms and be fused with broader, even global, interests in enhancing the transnationally networked “fabric” in which the players are embedded. While realpolitik tends to empower states, noöpolitik will likely empower networks of state and non–state actors. Realpolitik pits one state against another, but noöpolitik encourages states to cooperate in coalitions and other mutual frameworks. In all these respects, noöpolitik contrasts with realpolitik. (2007)
All this implies that the noosphere begs for strategic thinking. Yet we’ve seen arguments that a key component of the noosphere, cyberspace, is “ill-suited for grand strategic theories” — the challenges it poses and the technologies it rests on are said to be changing too rapidly and too uncertainly for such thinking, at least for the time being. Do such arguments also apply to the noosphere? We think not. By comparison, the noosphere is a more complex, vastly larger, indeed cyberspace-encompassing “space” — and it too is evolving uncertainly, though maybe less rapidly. And the noosphere is even more difficult to pin down than cyberspace. Yet, our view, along with the views of others we discussed above, is that the noosphere does lend itself to grand strategic thinking. In our case, that means advancing the concept of noopolitik.
[Martin C. Libicki, “Why cyber war will not and should not have its grand strategist,” Strategic Studies Quarterly, (Spring 2014, pp. 23-39), p. 33.]

Besides, let’s notice that U.S. policy and strategy have long aimed to “assure access to and use of the global commons” — its land, sea, air, and space domains — and that cyber has lately been added to that set of domains. Thus cyberspace now seems increasingly headed for grand strategic theorizing. It makes sense to expect the noosphere, in at least some respects, to eventually be deemed part of the global commons. Indeed, viewing the noosphere from a global-commons perspective may help with framing and specifying what noopolitik is all about.
[Jasper, Scott, ed., Conflict and Cooperation in the Global Commons: A Comprehensive Approach for International Security. Georgetown University Press, 2012.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Notes about the noosphere and noopolitik — #5: spreading recognition of the noosphere concept

CAVEAT: Preliminary unfinished draft section for prospective new paper.
UPDATED — March 27: Edited to add quote from James Quilligan.
UPDATEd — March 29: Edited to add paragraph about Anton Vaino.

Noosphere concept gaining ground in recent decades

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

Unfortunately, this book was not out when we did our research and writing during 1997-1998. Today in 2018 we wish it could be updated with a second edition.

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

Boulding’s writings in particular showed that the noosphere concept was gaining resonance and credibility among transnational civil-society actors, more than among government and commercial actors. We still believe it is time for the latter to begin moving in this direction, too, particularly since power in the information age stems, more than ever before, from the ability of government and market actors to work conjointly with networked civil-society actors. [Sources: see our 1999 study]

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

At this writing, in 2018, the noosphere concept has still not gone mainstream, but recognition and validation have kept growing. One significant supportive venue is the website Edge, which consults a rich variety of leading thinkers around the world in order to compile answers to Edge’s Annual Question. Regarding the 2010 Annual Question “How Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?” psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi replied:
“The development of cooperative sites ranging from Wikipedia to open-source software (and including Edge?) makes the thought process more public, more interactive, more transpersonal, resulting in something similar to what Teilhard de Chardin anticipated over half a century ago as the "Noosphere", or a global consciousness that he saw as the next step in human evolution.”
And, to the 2017 Annual Question “What Scientific Term or Concept Ought to Be Better Known?” historian David Christian replied that
“The idea of the “Noösphere,” or “the sphere of mind,” emerged early in the 20th century. It flourished for a while, then vanished. It deserves a second chance. … Freed of the taint of vitalism, the idea of a Noösphere can help us get a better grip on the Anthropocene world of today.”
Elsewhere, former New York Times blogger, environmentalist Andrew Revkin cleverly called attention to the concept by referring to it as the “knowosphere” (and “no(w)osphere”) in 2012. Moreover, pro-commons P2P theorist James Quilligan included the noosphere along with the biosphere and physiosphere in his layout of “the global commons” — criticizing “the Market State” for creating contradictions and then proposing that
“Today’s global superbubble is the result of deep structural imbalances between economic ideology and policy (noosphere), and environment and labor (biosphere) and physical resources (physiosphere). The challenge is to assemble international representatives from all regions and sectors to discuss global commons issues in a negotiating format which integrates these three streams of evolution.”
Meanwhile, psychologist Roger Nelson led the unusual controversial inconclusive “Global Consciousness Project” (GCP; 1998-2015) at Princeton University, as “an international collaboration of researchers interested in the possibility that we can detect faint glimmerings of a coalescing layer of intelligence for the earth, what Teilhard de Chardin called the Noosphere.” Mostly a parapsychology experiment, it deployed engineering devices around the world to try to detect whether a collective consciousness might be forming in response to major world events (e.g., 9/11). According to Nelson, “Suggestions like those made in many intellectual and cultural traditions, that there is an Earth consciousness, appear to have a modicum of scientific support in the GCP results … and that we may be interconnected on a grand scale by consciousness fields.” (2007) Not exactly the kind of validation we are looking for, but it does provide another recent piece evincing interest in a “realm of the mind.”

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

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

Lately, extending Vernadsky’s influence and recalling the Global Consciousness Project at Princeton, Russian eclectic Anton Vaino co-invented and touted the “nooscope” during 2011-2012 as “a device that records changes in the noosphere” — and as “the first device of its kind that allows for the study of humanity’s collective mind.” If operationalized, it would deploy a complex system of “sensory networks”, potentially around the world, to collect data and scan activities in seven areas: the business sphere, market conscience, the infrastructure of human life support systems, technogeneous catastrophes, natural disasters, special-purpose layers, and collective consciousness. Vaino’s influence and the nooscope idea’s proposal are unclear. But, curiously, Vladimir Putin appointed him Chief of Staff in 2016, a position he holds today. This has aroused speculations as to whether Putin’s ideas for a “Third Way” and “managed democracy” may now mean imposing a “noocracy” — Plato’s term for “rule of the wise” that Vernadsky reiterated, but applied in mind-manipulating authoritarian Russian ways.
[http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37109169 ]

Actually, throughout history every expansion in interpersonal communications and connectivity has led to new notions that a collective, even global consciousness may taking shape. The noosphere is but one of many concepts for grasping this. Significant 19th C. precursors were Hegel’s idea of the “objective Spirit” and Emerson’s notion of the “Over–Soul”. The early 20th C. brought Henri Bergson’s work on “creative evolution” and H. G. Well’s call for a “world brain”. In the late 20th C., notions multiplied that collective intelligence, global consciousness, a global brain, and/or or a global mind may awaken from the growth of cyberspace and the Internet. These notions included, as noted above, Marshall McLuhan’s “global village” and James Lovelock’s & Lynn Margulis’s “Gaia”. These new notions also enlarged the possibilities for Benedict Anderson’s “imagined communities” to form in new ways, apart from territory and nation. A more recent manifestation is the concept of the Anthropocene. Making matters more nebulous and mysterious, philosophers interested in consciousness and quantum dynamics have lately proposed “panpsychism” and “cosmopsychism”, implying collective consciousness.

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