Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Russian Request to Translate “The Prospects for Cyberocracy (Revisited)”

[#10 in a chronological series meant to update this blog with write-ups I failed to post during 2021-2022.]


In June 2022, a Russian scholar associated with the Russian State University of Justice sent me a surprise request to translate, and then circulate, an old paper on my concept of cyberocracy: i.e., David Ronfeldt and Danielle Varda, “The Prospects for Cyberocracy (Revisited),” December 1, 2008, available at:


Abstract: The deepening of the information age will alter the nature of the state so thoroughly that something new emerges: cyberocracy. While it is too early to say precisely what a cyberocracy will look like, the outcomes will include new kinds of democratic, totalitarian, and hybrid governments, along with new kinds of state-society relations. Thus, optimism about the information revolution should be tempered by an anticipation of its potential dark side. This paper reiterates the view of the cyberocracy concept as first stated in 1992, and then offers a postscript for 2008. It speculates that information-age societies will develop new sensory apparatuses, a network-based social sector, new modes of networked governance, and ultimately the cybercratic nexus-state as a successor to the nation-state.


Accordingly to the request to translate into Russian,


Previously, the analysis of your articles was replicated in Russian scientific publications, but these were only free interpretations of the main ideas, and I found a lack of understanding of the foundations and essence of your thoughts among Russian-speaking authors.


Our research group is engaged in the study of modern forms of government, and I think this publication might became popular among scientists and can lead to a broad scientific study of cyberocracy in our political and legal science.


This was all fine with me, especially since his translation and circulation were to be a non-commercial endeavor.  After some delays in ascertaining whether and how to grant permission, I finally just granted it personally, without signing any document.  Then I emailed a long comment in October, in order to offer some additional thoughts:


Yes, I wish sometimes that I could write an updated paper.  But I do not see that I will ever be able to do so, given other priorities I have (and limitations).  However, I may try to write a blog post eventually about the continuing prospects for cyberocracy.  


If so, I would surely include something about China’s social-credit and other monitoring and surveillance systems.  I may also want to include something about the concept of “noocracy.”  I learned about it only a few years ago when researching to write about the emergence of the noosphere and noopolitics.  Which is when I also learned that the noocracy concept is fairly well-known among Russian theorists and analysts, perhaps especially those influenced by Vernadsky’s writings since the 1920s.


A concern I have is that many developments that may be related to cyberocracy are mainly about political and economic control, as in writings about the “surveillance state” and “surveillance capitalism” and “hyper-surveilled office.”  But I have deduced from my efforts to write about long-range social evolution that a system’s (society’s) capacity for “decontrol” (or de-control) is also crucial, within limits.  One example from ages ago being where ancient tribal, clan, and other kinship forces had to let go of (separate from) the construction  of states and other institutions, so that these more modern forms of organization became free enough to professionalize.  A later example being about states having to let go of market actors and activities so that a market system can emerge and mature properly, separate from old tribal and statist controls.  To a balanced degree, of course.  I am not sure how cyberocracy and control impulses may affect each other, but it seems an important topic.


A related concern I have is, What happens to civilization if cyberocracy takes hold?  If cyberocracy develops mainly as a system of control, it will offer rulers new ways not just to control but even to stifle civilizational impulses.  When I was in high-school and college decades ago, we took courses in Western Civilization, and those courses were only about the great figures of high civilization, mostly in fields of the arts and culture.  Since then, and really only in the latest two decades, I have realized that great civilizations are (and should be) great at all levels, from “high” to “low” and with all sorts of mixings across all levels and domains: painting, sculpture, music, dance, cinema, theater, fashion, food, etc.  Which helps explain why I watch lots of TV and streaming series about “street food”:  I like street food, bt more than that, I have come to regard the presence of thriving innovative street food (e.g., tacos, noodles) as a sign of a country’s capacity to contribute to civilization, and as a sign of the capacities for diversity and decontrol that I have come to believe are long-term necessities


Anyway, these are just some preliminary thoughts about which I sometimes wonder if/when I try to think about the future prospects for cyberocracy.


We were both pleased we were able to accomplish these email exchanges while the Russo-Ukraine war was going on.


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