Monday, February 26, 2018

Notes about the noosphere and noopolitik — #2: draft of introduction to new paper

[UPDATE — MARCH 20, 2018: What follows is a preliminary draft introducing our likely new paper. I have deleted what was here before about the origins of the noosphere concept, and moved it — revised, expanded — to post #3 in this series]

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

 David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla

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

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

Ten years ago we provided an update on the promise of noopolitik for a handbook on public diplomacy (2007; 2008). In it, we summarized our 1999 report and added four new points: (1) Other new information-age concepts similar to noopolitik — notably, netpolitik, cyberpolitik, infopolitik — had appeared, but all (including noopolitik) were having difficulty gaining traction. (2) Instead, the concept of “soft power” had come to dominate strategic discourse in government, military, and think-tank circles, even though its definition was flawed and lacked operational clarity. (3) Meanwhile, in non-state arenas where noosphere-building ideas had taken hold, activist NGOs representing global civil society were becoming major practitioners of noopolitik — but the most effective practitioners were militant jihadis organized in global networks and outfitted with sophisticated media technologies. (4) Against this background, we argued that American public diplomacy would benefit from a course correction to head in the direction of noöpolitik. But we also cautioned that conditions for doing so were less favorable than when we first fielded the concept a decade earlier — and propitious conditions seemed unlikely to re–emerge anytime soon.

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

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

This update proceeds this new way partly because we have learned more about the concept. We have also found new implications for discussing the prospects for noopolitik. We then go on to provide a new assessment of noopolitik for America’s current strategic situation.

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