[#7 in a chronological series meant to update this blog with write-ups I failed to post during 2021-2022.]
During early 2022, determined to return to blogging about TIMN and other matters, but displeased about aspects of my long-standing Google blog and its interface (where we are right now), I looked for alternatives. Substack came to the fore (good design, etc.).
So, in February I registered a blog presently (and accurately, but admittedly awkwardly) named “Onward With TIMN … STAC, NOO, and CYBOC too” at:
On Feb 24, to fill out the About This Blog section, I laid out four ideas that I want to continue blogging and plugging:
The oldest idea is about social cognition: the simple idea that people’s cardinal cognitions from infancy onward are their social space, time, and action (agency) cognitions, and that the three function as an interdependent interactive set: a space-time-action triplex. [acronym: STAC] …
The second idea is about how the digital information revolution may reshape societies and their political systems: the idea that “cyberocracy” is coming. [acronym: CYBOC] …
The third idea is about social evolution: the idea (observation) that four forms of social organization — tribes, institutions, markets, and networks (TIMN) — largely explain how societies have developed and progressed over the ages. …
The fourth idea springs from the emergence of the long-predicted “noösphere” (globe-circling “realm of the mind”): the idea that, as a planetary noösphere spreads and takes form atop our planet’s geosphere and biosphere, statecraft and grand strategy will be affected so extensively that geopolitics, a primarily hard-power concept, will increasingly be paralleled and eventually surpassed by noöpolitics, a primarily soft-power concept. [acronym: NOO] …
The full text is re-posted below. It applies to this blog’s purposes as well.
Months later (September 27), I added two posts about a prospective manuscript on HOW AND WHY SOCIETIES EVOLVE, SOME BETTER THAN OTHERS. One post is titled “Chapter 1. Anticipating The Emergence Of Quadriform Societies.” The second is “Points To Ponder As We Move Ahead With TIMN—#1.” I will re-post them later in this backlog-catchup series.
All my Substack posts are freely accessible. It remains to be seen whether I can fulfill my objectives.
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About This Blog
Ever assume you have a good idea, but you take so long to focus on working it out and writing it up that you eventually doubt you will ever be able to finish? Yet you still feel driven to lay out as much as you can, and hope it’s enough that someday maybe others can run further with it?
I still have three such ideas in tow, and in some ways a fourth. I remain years behind on fully elaborating them and their implications. Yet I want to keep trying. And evidently this is the place where I will do so next, but with an emphasis on just one of the three.
• The oldest idea is about social cognition: the simple idea that people’s cardinal cognitions from infancy onward are their social space, time, and action (agency) cognitions, and that the three function as an interdependent interactive set: a space-time-action triplex. This idea (observation) struck me during a stressed-out nap in graduate school in the late 1960s, a sudden sharp epiphany I’ll relate some other time. It may not seem like much of an idea, but no one has pursued it yet.
Briefly, by space I refer to how people see their identity positioned in relation to others, and how they perceive other subjects and objects — near and far, strong and weak, etc. — as being spatially structured, arrayed, and linked (or not). By time, I refer to how people perceive, prioritize, and interrelate their sense of the past, present, and future, and what content they give to the past, present, and future. By action, I mean a sense of agency, of efficacy — whether and how people think they can or cannot act to affect matters around them.
Back then, these three cognitions (perceptions, orientations) were mostly studied singly and separately in specialized writings by psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, cognitive scientists, cultural historians, and philosophers. At best, one or another of these specialists might write about two of the cognitions together, usually space and time, but never all three. Yet, according to observations I have yet to fully write up, the three should be treated as a set. For there is no way to write about one without bringing the other two into the picture, one way or another. And there is also no way for one to change without having an effect on the other two. I remain amazed (and fortunate?) that no one else has noticed and advanced this observation in the decades since it occurred to me.
Why keep proposing this idea about people’s space-time-action cognitions (STAC)? Because the better we understand how the three cognitions function as an integrated interactive set, the better we can understand why people think and act as they do, how cultures and civilizations evolve and settle around particular ideas (e.g., order, freedom, progress, the American Dream), and what makes one historical era different from another, particularly as advances in information and communications technologies alter people’s space-time-action perceptions about the world around them. Also, I want to persist because the few specialists to whom I have tried circulating the idea have shown no interest in it.
I have a bunch of old blog posts and one long draft paper (2018, at SSRN.com) about STAC, but there is much still to be said and done — for example, to identify the spatial, temporal, and agentic orientations of mindsets that become susceptible for recruitment to terrorism and other extreme isms, at home and abroad; to analyze the mindsets of leaders who develop a “hubris-nemesis complex” (e.g., currently, Trump, maybe Putin); and more grandly, to see whether it may be helpful to view strategy as the art of positioning for spatial, temporal, and agentic advantages (whereas it is ordinarily defined as the art of relating ends, ways, and means).
• The second idea is about how the digital information revolution may reshape societies and their political systems: the idea that “cyberocracy” is coming. I coined the word for the first paper I wrote (in 1991/1992) on the topic as I moved out of working on U.S.-Latin American security affairs, into this new field whose proponents were starting to put “cyber-“ (from Greek kyber, meaning information) in front of one word after another, most notably by coining “cyberspace.”
While I always kept this idea in mind, I did not get back to revisiting and updating the original paper until 2008 (it’s on SSRN.com, with Daniel Varda as co-author). Since then, except for a few blog posts, I’ve neglected advancing it. I’d even forgotten about it until I’d nearly completed this write-up. Then, while rummaging in old files, looking for something else, I came upon a few pages I wrote in 1990, not long after the Tiananmen Square protests were quashed, mentioning how the information revolution may affect China. Accordingly,
“The events in China confirm that exposure to the information revolution is politically risky for a totalitarian regime. But they also show that such a regime can learn to exploit the new technology. There is no assurance it will favor glasnost and democracy in the long run. …
“Cyberocracy, far from favoring democracy or totalitarianism, will lead to advanced, more divergent forms of both. Divergence, not convergence, is the historical rule. In countries like the United States, we may yet see how fruitful democracy can be. But the situation in China—not to mention other countries—indicates that we also have yet to see how thorough totalitarian control can be.
“The Cold War may be over. Democratic liberalism may be carrying the day-most notably in Eastern Europe. But totalitarianism is far from finished.”
Reading that 30 years-old assessment, which then figured in my papers about cyberocracy (1991, 2009), reminds me to keep this idea in tow too. It needs further work and attention, including in the context of the next idea.
• The third idea is about social evolution: the idea (observation) that four forms of social organization — tribes, institutions, markets, and networks (TIMN) — largely explain how societies have developed and progressed over the ages. Accordingly, these four forms have existed incipiently since the ancient origins of society, but they have emerged and matured at different rates, partly because each requires a new information-technology revolution to fulfill its potential. Tribes arose first, institutions next, then markets, and now information-age networks are emerging. Societies have thus progressed over the past ten thousand years or so according to their abilities to add and combine these forms, their bright and their dark sides, thereby evolving from monoform (T-centered), to biform (T+I), to triform (T+I+M), and next (potentially) to quadriform (T+I+M+N) types of societies.
The TIMN framework came to mind gradually in the early-to-mid 1990s, when I first figured that the digital information revolution would favor network forms of organization, then wondered what other forms of organization mattered and why, and settled on these four forms. I then spotted that their histories seemed to spell an evolutionary progression, hence framework — leading to my original paper about TIMN in 1996, a monograph about T/tribes as the first and forever form in 2007, and a long series of blog posts after I retired from RAND in 2008.
I have never regarded TIMN as something I am inventing or constructing. Instead, it feels like an archeological artifact that I stumbled upon and am still trying to unearth, open up, and see inside. As I proceed, what seems most interesting is not only the progression of forms in various guises and combinations, but also the recurrence of a set of system dynamics (which I’m still trying to fully identify) during each transition in the progression from monoform to quadriform societies. For instance, each time a new form arises and takes hold, a society becomes not only more complex but also more simplified for addressing problems that the old form(s) were finally failing at.
Why keep at TIMN? Because TIMN’s potential is good, possibly very good, for evaluating not only the past and present but also the likely future evolution of advanced societies. Of note, TIMN implies that people will revert to the tribal form if they lose faith and trust in the later institutional and market forms — precisely what has been occurring in American society over the past twenty years, as more people turn to malignant forms of political tribalism. Looking ahead, TIMN implies that the rise of the network form will, in time, lead to the emergence of a fourth sector, probably a commons sector, that will be distinct from yet interdependent with our existing three major sectors: civil society (as the modern expression of the T form), the government’s public sector (from +I), and our market economy’s private sector (from +M).
What this fourth sector (from +N) may look like remains a matter of speculation, but TIMN offers a vision different from any others being offered (as I’ll describe in a future post). If so, America will emerge stronger and better-structured as a quadriform society, innovatively getting more things done more simply and effectively. If not, America’s current (and two-centuries old) triform design will probably collapse, or at least become evermore stuck and unworkable.
My TIMN efforts have been haphazard and in disarray for several years now, though I have made episodic progress with posts at my old “Materials for Two Theories” blog (also on my Facebook page). My goal here is to revise, update, and publish (republish) a handful of the most basic posts in a chapter-like order that would make sense if I were drafting a short forward-looking book. I’m also certain to post a variety of asides along the way, for example by commenting on how other analysts have viewed and used TIMN.
• The fourth idea springs from the emergence of the long-predicted “noösphere” (globe-circling “realm of the mind”): the idea that, as a planetary noösphere spreads and takes form atop our planet’s geosphere and biosphere, statecraft and grand strategy will be affected so extensively that geopolitics, a primarily hard-power concept, will increasingly be paralleled and eventually surpassed by noöpolitics, a primarily soft-power concept. Ideational territory will then matter as much as physical territory. Narrative strategy will grow in significance. Conflicts will be increasingly about whose story wins, not simply whose weaponry wins.
Former co-author John Arquilla and I have written about this idea four times since 1999, always framing it as a contrast between realpolitik and “noopolitik” (a term we coined from the Greek word noos meaning “mind”). However, since a year or so ago, lamenting that our realpolitik-vs.-noopolitik framing was still not gaining traction among U.S. strategists, I began to figure that noöpolitics (with or without the umlaut) may to be a more viable concept than noopolitik, and that a geopolitics-vs.-noöpolitics framing may make better sense. So I’m adding it (acronym: NOO) to my writing efforts, alongside our earlier stream.
Why is this idea significant? Because the rise of noopolitics is well underway, propelled by the world-wide spread of digital information technologies. And much of it is underway to America’s disadvantage. While U.S. strategists have lately tended to neglect or misconceive the ideological and other ideational dimensions of conflict, Russian and Chinese strategists have moved adroitly to design new concepts and techniques for waging political, psychological, cultural, and other modes of cognitive warfare — in Russia’s case, through its efforts at reflexive control, hybrid warfare, and “noomakhia” (“wars of ideas”); in China’s case, through its efforts at “discourse power,” “cognitive domain operations,” and “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy. Moreover, the culture wars lately tearing Americans apart domestically are highly noöpolitical in nature, as their various tribalized actors fight to control the parts of the emerging noösphere that matter to them.
Yet NOO isn’t just about conflict. It’s also about discerning new visions and narratives for constructing a more harmonious peaceful world. As the noösphere and its dynamics become more evident, national-security and foreign-policy strategists better learn to think and act noöpolitically as well as geopolitically.
Overall, I hope to keep elaborating all four of these ideas, pushing their potentials as frameworks that have sensible forward-looking implications for theory and practice, for policy and strategy. However, while drafting this post, then pondering the heaviness of this four-fold challenge, I could see that I better focus primarily on just one of the three, lest I get boggled by the burden (again).
I will emphasize TIMN. Over time, it has felt the most pressing and potentially the most significant of the four. Moreover, good start already exists that has attracted interest and encouragement among some among readers. Besides, I can still post episodically about STAC, NOO, and CYBOC; indeed, all these ideas overlap and interconnect in various ways.
Why here on Substack? I’m not entirely sure, but it certainly provides a cleaner, more writerly-looking screen than other options. I have long had a blog where I endeavored for years to do much of the above; but then I joined Facebook and began neglecting the blog. By now it feels so out-of-the-way and cluttered, that a fresh start elsewhere seems advisable. So here I am, and here we go.
Even though I post this explanatory marker with a feeling of anticipation, it may be a while before I am able to post in earnest, and even then probably not very often. Hey, I’m getting old and slow, often feeling not only like one or more of Snow White’s seven dwarfs (Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Dopey), but also more and more like two she never mentions: Creaky and Cranky.
Anyway, those are my hopes for being here. If you subscribe (it’s free, should remain so), that will provide me with some encouragement. Besides, I welcome your interest and possible advice. Onward.
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