Tuesday, July 24, 2018

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


III. 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 intend 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 conflict and competition, about whole systems and self-organization, and about how the world is becoming evermore interconnected and interdependent. It makes knowledge and reason — the expansion of 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” (Shermer, 2015; Kelly, 2011). 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.
  • 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.” (Samson & Pitt, p. 171)
  • From the beginning, the noosphere’s emergence has been a function of revolutionary advances in information and communications technologies across the centuries. A more recent point, 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 networked sensory technologies is in early phases, and its maturation will surely prove transformative for the noosphere’s growth, perhaps especially for civil-society NGOs.
  • 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).
  • Indeed, 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 (Samson & Pitt, p. 184-185). The time may come, as we propose in Section VI, when aspects and/or parts of the noosphere are defined as belonging to the “global commons” (and vice-versa).
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.” (Arquilla & Ronfeldt, 1999; Ronfeldt & Arquilla, 2007)
While all this implies that the noosphere begs for strategic thinking, 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 uncertainly for such thinking, at least for the time being (Libicki, 2014, p. 33). 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, if perhaps 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 require grand strategic thinking. In our case, that means advancing the concept of noopolitik.

Besides, let’s notice that U.S. strategy has long aimed to “assure access to and use of the global commons” — its sea, air, and space domains — and cyber has lately been added to that set of domains (Denmark & Mulvenon, 2010; Jasper, 2012). 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. Starting to see the noosphere from a global-commons perspective may even help with framing and specifying what noopolitik is all about, as we further discuss in Section VI.


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