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 and

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

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. OR
  • 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.,%20Pitt%20-%20The%20Biosphere%20and%20Noosphere%20Reader%20Global%20Environment%20Society%20and%20Change.pdf

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.
[ ]

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.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Notes about the noosphere and noopolitik — #4: origins of the noosphere concept (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Vladimir Vernadsky, and Edouard Le Roy)


The noosphere: a concept about the world’s future evolution

For discussing information-based realms, the grandest, most abstract, and so far least favored term is the noosphere. This term, from the Greek word noos, meaning “the mind,” was coined — whether separately or collectively is unclear — by French theologian-paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, along with French mathematician Edouard Le Roy, and visiting Russian geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky, in Paris in 1922. They were already familiar with the terms “geosphere” and “biosphere”, long in use, and innovatively decided that the planet would next evolve a noosphere. The idea spread in Europe and America following Teilhard’s posthumous publications in the 1950s-1960s, and in Russia following Vernadsky’s return there in the 1920s-1930s.

Our earlier writings credited only Teilhard. We did not know about Vernadsky (nor Le Roy, who left few writings behind). So we slightly expand here on our past discussion of Teilhard, then provide a long new discussion about Vernadsky, followed by some comparative remarks. We also add important points from Le Roy’s perspective. Most helpful for doing so was our finally reading David Pitt & Paul R. Samson (eds.),‎ The Biosphere and Noosphere Reader: Global Environment, Society and Change (1998 — hereafter abbreviated as BNR). It contained extracts from Vernadsky’s and Le Roy’s writings that were previously unavailable to us.

Teilhard’s thinking about the noosphere: In Teilhard’s view — especially as expressed in The Phenomenon of Man ([1955] 1965) and The Future of Man ([1959] 1964) — the world first evolved a global geosphere and next a biosphere. Now that people are communicating on global scales, the world is starting to create a noosphere — what he variously describes as a globe-circling realm of “the mind,” a “thinking circuit,” “a new layer, the ‘thinking layer’,” a “stupendous thinking machine,” a “thinking envelope” full of fibers and networks, indeed a “planetary mind” and a planetary “consciousness”, where Earth “finds its soul.”

In the 1964 book’s Introduction, Julian Huxley further defines Teilhard’s concept as “web of living thought” and “a common pool of thought”. He also praises Teilhard for advancing “a threefold synthesis — of the material and physical world with the world of mind and spirit; of the past with the future; and of variety with unity, the many with the one.” And he clarifies that “we should consider inter-thinking humanity as a new type of organism, whose destiny it is to realise new possibilities for evolving life on this planet.”

According to Teilhard, then, forces of the mind — first “psychogenesis’ and then “noogenesis” — have gradually created pieces of the noosphere for ages, while increases in social complexity and human consciousness have laid further groundwork for the noosphere’s emergence. Now it is finally achieving a global presence, and its varied “compartments” and “cultural units” are beginning to fuse. As he puts it, equating cultures with species, “cultural units are for the noosphere the mere equivalent and the true successors of zoological species in the biosphere.” Eventually, a synthesis will occur in which peoples of different nations, races, and cultures will give rise to “unheard-of and unimaginable degrees of organised complexity and of reflexive consciousness” that is planetary in scope (a “mono-culturation”), without people losing their personal identity and individuality.

Fully realized, the noosphere will raise mankind to a high new evolutionary plane, one shaped by a collective coordination of psychosocial and spiritual energies and by a devotion to moral, ethical, religious, juridical, and aesthetic principles. However, he counsels, “No one would dare to picture to himself what the noosphere will be like in its final guise”. Moreover, he warns that the transition may not be smooth — a “paroxysm”, a global tremor and possibly an apocalypse may characterize the final fusion of the noosphere. (Sources: 1964, pp. 175–181, 200–4, 235, 303; 1965, pp. 287–290; 1998, p. 77)

Although Teilhard’s concept is essentially spiritual, and far less technological than cyberspace or the infosphere, he identified increased communications as a cause. Nothing like the Internet existed in his time. Yet he sensed (1964) that 1950s-era radio and television systems were already fostering “a sort of ‘etherized’ universal consciousness,” and someday “astonishing electronic computers” would give mankind new tools for thinking. Today, he is occasionally credited with anticipating the Internet, as well as the idea of the Anthropocene.

Vernadsky’s thinking about the noosphere: Vernadsky’s views parallel but also differ from Teilhard’s — Vernadsky’s are much more materialist, in spots more mystical, and always less spiritual (Vernadsky was an atheist). Like Teilhard, he too held that Earth first evolved a geosphere, then a biosphere — and a noosphere is next. Indeed, he wrote the first book on The Biosphere (1926), in which he treated the spread of life as an essentially geological force.

In his landmark paper, “New Scientific Knowledge and the Transition from the Biosphere to the Noösphere” (1938), Vernadky argues that increases and changes in the nature of “biogeophysical energy” — owing to a progression of inventions from fire-making, to agriculture, to modern communications technologies, etc. — explain the planetary spread of the biosphere and the coming emergence of a noosphere. In his words, “This new form of biogeochemical energy, which might be called the energy of human culture or cultural biogeochemical energy, is that form of biogeochemical energy, which creates at the present time the noösphere.” (p. 16) This kind of energy, he wrote, lay behind the development of the human mind and reason itself; and it will lead “ultimately to the transformation of the biosphere into the noösphere, first and foremost, through the creation and growth of the scientific understanding of our surroundings.” (p. 20)

Vernadsky goes on to say that the creation of the noosphere has “proceeded apace, ever increasing in tempo” during the “last five to seven thousand years” despite “interruptions continually diminishing in duration” (p. 29). He evidently expects “the unity of the noosphere” to bring “a planned unified activity for the mastery of nature and a just distribution of wealth associated with a consciousness of the unity and equality of all peoples”. But while it is “not possible to reverse this process”, he expects “the transitional stage” to be accompanied by “ruthless struggle” and “intense struggles” that may span several generations. Nonetheless, he doubts “there will be any protracted interruptions in the ongoing process of the transition from the biosphere to the noösphere.” (p. 30) Finally, as he conveys all this with confidence, he nonetheless seems to wonder whether it all “transcends the bounds of logic” and whether “we are entering into a realm still not fully grasped by science.” He even makes positive closing references to Hindu philosophy and to the role of art in man’s thinking (p. 31).

Later, despite his dismay about the destructiveness of WWII, Vernadsky clarified optimistically in an article based on translations of earlier writings, in “The Biosphere and the Noösphere” in the journal American Scientist in 1945 that:
“The historical process is being radically changed under our very eyes. For the first time in the history of mankind the interests of the masses on the one hand, and the free thought of individuals on the other, determine the course of life of mankind and provide standards for men’s ideas of justice. Mankind taken as a whole is becoming a mighty geological force. There arises the problem of the reconstruction of the biosphere in the interests of freely thinking humanity as a single totality. This new state of the biosphere, which we approach without our noticing it, is the noösphere. …
“Now we live in the period of a new geological evolutionary change in the biosphere. We are entering the noösphere. This new elemental geological process is taking place at a stormy time, in the epoch of a destructive world war. But the important fact is that our democratic ideals are in tune with the elemental geological processes, with the laws of nature, and with the noösphere. Therefore we may face the future with confidence. It is in our hands. We will not let it go.” (in BNR, p. 99)
Note that despite despair about WWII, he still identified the nascence of the noosphere with such values as freedom, justice, and democracy.

Throughout his varied writings about “the evolution of the biosphere into the noosphere,” Vernadsky extolled the emergence of reason as a powerful, even geological force tied to the development of science and scientific thinking. He thus mostly regarded the noosphere as the “sphere of reason”, the “realm of reason,” the “reign of reason,” and as “the way through which the noosphere manifests itself in the thinking process” — even as “life's domain ruled by reason.”

Vernadsky’s audience was mostly fellow scientists in Russia, not policy-makers. But he did occasionally argue that government administrators should attend to his findings, and that “Statesmen should be aware of the present elemental process of transition of the biosphere into the noosphere.” (in BNR, p. 38)

Teilhard and Vernadsky compared: Both Teilhard and Vernadsky shared a deep belief in our planet’s evolving a geosphere, then a biosphere, and next a noosphere. Yet their views about causes and consequences differ enough to be worth comparing. Teilhard’s views were far more spiritually-grounded than Vernadsky’s. He preferred to explain the noosphere’s emergence in terms of geological and technological forces. Yet, like Teilhard, he expected the noosphere to have wonderful ethical consequences for humanity — as he noted, “a just distribution of wealth” and “the unity and equality of all peoples”. Moreover, while both viewed the noosphere optimistically as a realm of collective consciousness, neither regarded it as a realm of uniformity. Both valued individualism and variety. Both favored a future built on democracy. And, seemingly contrary to Charles Darwin, both thought that evolution depended on cooperation as much as competition.

Both are quite unclear regarding what the transition to the noosphere will be like for people. They both make the transitional phase seem inevitable. At times, Teilhard even makes it seem alluringly smooth and peaceful. Yet, if they’d just offered comparisons (which neither evidently did) to the transitions to the geosphere and biosphere, they’d surely have noted that evolution of any kind is often far from smooth and peaceful; indeed, it is often chaotic, disjointed, and violent. Fortunately, Teilhard and Vernadsky at least allude to this prospect — Teilhard by noting that a global tremor if not an apocalypse may characterize the final fusion of the noosphere, Vernadsky by noting the likelihood of intense ruthless struggles spanning several generations. Both recognized humanity’s capacity for self-destruction.

Which raises another question about the nature of the transition: Teilhard and Vernadsky both see the noosphere as evolving piecemeal around the planet, much as did the geosphere and biosphere, with some parts arising here and then spreading there, other parts elsewhere, with interconnections and interactions increasing over time, until the entire planet is caught up in webs of creation and fusion. But neither Teilhard nor Vernadsky specifies exactly what parts and pieces may matter along the way. Teilhard at least mentions that “compartments” and “cultural units” will do the “fusing”. That isn’t much to go on, but it’s a bit helpful for thinking strategically, as we elucidate later.

Le Roy’s depiction of the transition: Concept co-founder Le Roy’s few writings offer further insight into how the transition may occur. In his book on The Origins of Humanity and the Evolution of Mind ([1928] in BNR, 1998), Le Roy turns to a “hydro-dynamical” metaphor for showing how the noosphere may emerge from the biosphere. It would not resemble the growth of a branching tree, but instead occur by way of spurts, jets, and spouts that finally link to form a layer. In his words,
“Take the biosphere. Let us imagine in it a few points here and there where spurts, strictly limited and hardly surpassing above the middle level, and where jets grow little by little, open up and finally link up their spouts, spreading a layer that covers the Earth.” According to his imagery, it is “the spurting points that [will] attach the noosphere to the biosphere.” (BNR, p. 66)
Those metaphors aside, Le Roy goes on to identify real-world factors that will drive creation of the noosphere: “division of work, game of association and habit, culture and training, exercise of all types; from where come social classes, types of mind, forms of activity, new powers”. And he says this will ultimately lead to a separation and spiritualization of the noosphere — “a disengagement of consciousness increasingly free and pure, and the constitution of a superior order of existence; the order of spirituality, reaching a point of perfection where the noosphere would strain to detach itself from the biosphere as a butterfly sheds its cocoon.” According to Le Roy, it is “this mysterious force of thought cohesion between individuals that allows the start of organised union in a unique layer”. (BNR, p. 67, 69)

In other words, Le Roy views the expansion of the mind and the creation of the noosphere as a planetary process that will lead to the noosphere’s separation from the biosphere:
“We are, in truth, confronting a phenomenon of planetary, perhaps cosmic, importance. This new force is human intelligence; the reflexive will of humankind. Through human action, the noosphere disengages itself, little by little, from the biosphere and becomes more and more independent, and all this with rapid acceleration and an amplification of effects which continue to grow. Correlatively however, by a sort of return shock, hominisation has introduced, in the course of life, some formidable risks.” (BNR, p. 5)
Quite a depiction.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

TIMN’s “forms” vs. their “fields” and “logics” (Part 3 of 4) — Fligstein & McAdam’s “Toward a General Theory of Strategic Action Fields” (2010)

Parts 1 and 2 in this series discussed “forms”, the concept TIMN is based on. Next up are two or three rival concepts, starting here with “strategic action fields”.

The best source for my purposes appears to be Neil Fligstein & Doug McAdam’s “Toward a General Theory of Strategic Action Fields” (2010). In it, they outline their “general theory of social change and stability rooted in a view of social life as dominated by a complex web of strategic action fields.” (p. 4)

I construct this Part 3 the way I did Part 2 on Levine: by excerpting numerous points about “fields” from their paper that resonate, more or less, with my usage of “forms”. Then I discuss whether their points overlap with TIMN and help validate it. (N.B.: Many of their sentences are dense with bibliographic references; I omit these from quotes I use.)

• Fligstein & McAdam propose a grand conceptual agenda for organizational studies — the study of “meso-level social orders” and “strategic action fields”. Their “radical view” is that all scholars of organizations, social movements, and institutional actors are “interested in the same underlying phenomenon: collective strategic action.” This term refers to “the efforts of collective actors to vie for strategic advantage in and through interaction with other groups in what can be seen as meso-level social orders. We call these orders “strategic action fields” and use the terms interchangeably.” Thus they present “a view of social life as dominated by a complex web of strategic action fields.” (p. 4) They seek “a generic field approach” (p. 38).

I take this to mean that TIMN’s four forms of organization — tribes, hierarchical institutions, markets, and information-age networks — are all strategic actions fields (as well as meso-level orders). Thus, what I study as “forms” Fligstein & McAdam study as “fields”, in a framework where TIMN’s “forms” amount to subsumed varieties of “fields”. Well, maybe, but let’s see what else they mean before I start raising objections.

• To define their central concept, Fligstein & McAdam state up front that “strategic action fields (hereafter, SAFs) are the fundamental units of collective action in society.” These fields are
“ … where actors (who can be individual or collective) interact with knowledge of one another under a set of common understandings about the purposes of the field, the relationships in the field (including who has power and why), the rules of the field, and a situation where actors have frames that produce an understanding of what other actors’ moves in the field mean.” (pp. 6-7)
Further clarifying their meaning, the authors state that “field processes are about who gets what” (p. 8). Moreover, in alternate phrasing, they define strategic action as “the attempt by social actors to create and maintain stable social worlds by securing the cooperation of others. Strategic action is about control in a given context.” So, the purpose of creating “identities, political coalitions, and interests is to promote the control of actors vis a vis other actors,” in and between particular fields. (p. 15)

That pretty much fits with TIMN. It’s forms are not exactly “the fundamental units of collective action”, but in their own way they’re pretty close, for they are the four fundamental forms of collective organization and endeavor that societies depend on using. And each form’s actors do indeed require “a set of common understandings about the purposes”, relationships, rules, and moves for assuring that form functions properly. This includes understandings about “who has power and why” as well as “who gets what” for each TIMN form. I’ve written as much.

Those are good ways to think about TIMN’s forms. Yet, as I write this, I sense that Fligstein and McAdam would not agree with me that TIMN’s four forms are the cardinal strategic action fields behind the organization and evolution of all societies. For they never make such a claim regarding any limited set of fields. Instead, they seem close to claiming that societies consist of unlimited plethoras of fields, though some (e.g., “states”) may be more cardinal than others.

And here’s another difference: Fligstein and McAdam repeatedly say that strategic action is about control. I find no mention of de-control. Yet, while each TIMN form is about a different kind of control, the TIMN progression depends on “de-control” — as a society becomes more complex, it’s crucial to let the next form’s actors and entities emerge to take over activities and address problems that the established forms are less suited to resolving. Here’s how I’ve written about this TIMN system dynamic before:
To advance through the TIMN progression, control must give way to decontrol: The evolution of complex societies is often said to involve increases in control (and coordination), partly so that all the differentiated parts work together. But social evolution does not revolve solely around ever-increasing capacities for control. Each transformational step in the TIMN progression requires some kind of decontrol — realizing that a new form and realm are taking hold, letting go of its activities, and allowing self-organization to develop around that form’s own rules. This is essential for the re-simplification and resynthesis process noted above. Over the long run, harmonious decontrol becomes as important as control; in advanced societies, power extends as much from decontrol as control. Thus, to refer back to the preceding proposition, the evolution of social complexity leads to increases in differentiation and control, but it also eventually requires some systemic de-differentiation and decontrol. Societies whose leaders exalt the tribal and hierarchical forms may have the hardest times with this.” (source)
Fligstein and McAdam’s approach involves so much contention and conflict, so much vying for control among strategic actors, that fields and their relations often give way to reorganization (see discussion below). But if I understand their approach correctly, this turmoil is explained solely in terms of shifts in power and control — not as transformative adaptations that may depend partly on deliberate attraction to de-control.

• Matters get complicated when Fligstein & McAdam begin arguing that SAFs are everywhere in society — so myriad that many are nested “like Russian dolls”, while others overlap and intermingle side-by-side, with new ones being created whenever two SAFs interact. Moreover, since they’re all SAFs, they’re all generically similar, despite specific differences from SAF to SAF. Here’s the pertinent quote:
“All collective actors (for example, organizations, extended families, clans, supply chains, social movements, and governmental systems) are themselves made up of SAFs. When they interact in a larger political, social, or economic field, that field also becomes an SAF. In this way, SAFs can look a lot like Russian dolls: open up an SAF and it contains a number of other SAFs. … Each of these SAFs constitutes a meso-level social order in the sense that it can be fruitfully analyzed as containing all of the elements of an order from the perspective we outline here.” (p. 7)
Does that benefit or contradict TIMN? I’m not sure. Their approach to “fields” seems more like Levine’s expansive approach to “forms” (see Part 2) than like TIMN’s delineated approach. It’s four forms do correspond to strategic action fields, or sets of fields. And the entities and actors that embody TIMN’s forms may well intermingle and interact in ways that create smaller (or bigger?) new fields of endeavor.

But so far I don’t find this illuminating for TIMN. Fligstein & McAdam’s “fields” offer a different way of looking at tribes, institutions, markets, and networks — but I don’t see that it’s better than the “forms” approach. Besides, it looks to me as though their approach, as it presently stands, risks descending into a hunt for micro-fields rather than helping identify grand system dynamics that apply across TIMN’s four forms.

• If I understand Fligstein & McAdam correctly, there are so many kinds of “strategic action fields”, in theory and practice, that only some can be mentioned, few can be typologized, and many are creatures unto themselves and unto others as well. Here’s what I mean by that:

> As they lay out their theoretical perspective, much of their paper critiques rival views about organizational theory, notably new institutional theory (including institutional-logics theory), network analysis, and social movement theory, plus Pierre Bourdieu’s “habitus theory” and Anthony Giddens’ “structuration theory” (p. 5; p. 37ff). I skip over most of that, but must point out that they all get subsumed as ways to study SAFs.
> Indeed, as noted above, they treat “All collective actors (for example, organizations, extended families, clans, supply chains, social movements, and governmental systems)” as strategic action fields (p. 7). That’s further evidence that their SAF concept encompasses all four TIMN forms — those “extended families” and “clans” pertain to the T/tribal form, and “governmental systems” to the +I/institutional form.
> A little later, still writing in a theoretical sense, they use their “insight that action takes place in meso-level social order” to show that their SAF concept also encompasses what are variously called “sectors, organizational fields, games, fields, networks, or, in the case of the government, policy domains. In the economic realm, markets can be thought of as a specific kind of constructed order” (p. 7). Apropos TIMN, I see no mention of “forms” here, but at least “markets” and “networks” show up.
> Then, more concretely, when they apply their perspective to analyzing the civil rights revolution (1932-68), the five SAFs they highlight are: America’s competitive party politics; the Democratic Party; the cotton economy; the field of U.S. constitutional law; and the international system of nation states (p. 45ff). Wow, those are very very different kinds of “strategic action fields” than the ones mentioned elsewhere.
> Finally, in conclusion, they remark “ … it is clear that action in states, markets, and non state-non-market fields do have different dynamics.” They further note that “the invention of new forms of collective action and their spread has not been well theorized. The modern world has created the “social movement”, the “organization”, and the idea that one can deploy networks to expand one’s power.” (p. 51) Again, apropos TIMN, notice the highlighting of “states” and “markets”, plus a nod to “networks”.
At least all of TIMN’s forms — tribes, institutions, markets, networks — get mentioned by them in some fashion. But I hesitate to say there’s much overlap with TIMN. It looks to me as though TIMN might get buried in their approach.

• Fligstein & McAdam’s aim (stated late in their paper) is “to account for field emergence, stability and transformation” by laying out a theory of strategic action fields “that allows us to understand how new meso-level social orders are produced, sustained, and come unraveled.” (p. 43) Thus they seek to offer “a much broader view of social change and conflict, one that grants attention to a much larger cast of characters and centers on the interplay of a good many state and non-state SAFs.” (p. 44)

This approach leads to several theoretical consequences (laid out earlier in their paper). One is that “fields are constructed on a situational basis, as shifting collections of actors come to define new issues and concerns as salient.” (p. 9) Another is that “All of the meanings in a field can break down including what the purpose of the field is, what positions the actors occupy, what the rules of the game are, and how actors come to understand what others are doing.” If so, then “the whole order of an SAF is up for grabs” — possibly leading to a “whole new order”. (p. 12)

In so saying, Fligstein & McAdam clarify that the key actors in these fields are “comprised of “incumbents, challengers, and sometimes governance units.” The authors also clarify that they view “all fields as embedded in complex webs of other fields” — with relations depending on whether these other fields are distant or proximate, vertical or horizontal, and/or state or non-state. Moreover, states themselves amount to “dense collections of fields, whose relations can be described as either distant or proximate and if proximate, can be characterized by horizontal or vertical links.” (pp. 12, 16-17)

Quite a picture emerges from this analysis. Collective strategic action fields are characterized by so many links and ties, so much “connectedness”, that they become “embedded in one another”. Such high levels of interdependent interaction mean these fields are never really separate and settled — they don’t amount to “self-contained autonomous worlds.” As a result, these fields are open to “exogenous shocks, field ruptures, and the onset of contention”. They’re “in some flux” and “continuously contested” — often afflicted with “round after round of reactive struggle”. (pp. 6, 12, 20) All of which leads the authors to conclude as follows:
“The main theoretical implication of the interdependence of fields is that it is a source of a certain level of rolling turbulence in modern society. A significant change in any given SAF is like a stone thrown in a still pond, sending ripples outward to all proximate fields.” (p. 18)
Wow. All quite understandable from their “fields” perspective. Lots of overlaps with Levine’s “forms” perspective too (see my Part 2 installment). But I see only limited instructiveness for TIMN.

For one thing, “roiling turbulence” can be found somewhere in most societies, not just modern ones. Yet many systems afflicted with turbulence often do not change much for long periods of time, especially in societies that may be culturally too tribal or institutionally too hierarchical (from a TIMN perspective). In such societies, that roiling turbulence may be kept under control by deeply embedded, deliberately concerted rigidities. TIMN seems better suited to explaining this than does Fligstein & McAdam’s approach (though they/I will address that further in the next bulleted sub-section).

More to the point, TIMN is mostly about evolutionary change and stability over long periods of time. Fligstein & McAdam’s view seems directed at analyzing change (and stability) over much shorter periods of time. TIMN could be used to diagnose a society’s evolutionary status and potential at any given time, including short periods. But the picture that would emerge would be about how that society is using and combining TIMN’s four cardinal forms. I don’t see that TIMN could be improved by substituting a fields approach, especially in light of what appears to be its bias toward emphasizing turmoil, instability, even conflict.

• Nonetheless, Fligstein & McAdam turn to analyze “the conditions that make for stability and change in strategic action fields and the potential role of strategic actors in these processes.” Their view is that “SAFs tend toward one of three states: unorganized or emerging, organized and stable but changing, and organized and unstable and open to transformation.” (p. 22) [Hmm: note the presence of some kind of turbulence in each of those three states.]

So they pose a series of propositions about this. The ones that resonate with TIMN are as follows: “Proposition 2: Skilled social actors are pivotal for new fields to emerge. … Proposition 3: Skilled social actors can help produce entirely new cultural frames for fields. … Proposition 8: Emergent fields produce new forms of organizing.” (pp.24-26) I’d say all three apply to the rise of each TIMN form, for each requires “skilled social actors” who fashion “new cultural frames” and “new forms of organizing”. Those are good points — I’ve written as much, though not that way.

But I wonder about their Proposition 4, where they claim that “Initial resource allocations affect whether or not SAFs become organized hierarchically or cooperatively.” They claim that there are only two ways for SAFs to settle “the problem of order”: impose hierarchy, or form political coalitions. (p. 24) What I find unclear is whether Proposition 4 is about people settling the rules for managing a field, or about determining the very nature of the field. If the former, well, maybe so. But if the latter, no way — the hierarchy-coalition dichotomy is insufficient to capture the varied natures of TIMN’s four forms. Fligstein & McAdam’s field theory does not — cannot? — account for how and why the tribal form rises first, the institutional form next, then the market form, and now the network form. Nor can their theory account for why different problems of order lead to the rise of different forms (fields?) of order over the long course of social evolution.

I’d also comment on Proposition 11, which states that “Strategic action fields are generally destabilized by external shock originating from other strategic action fields, invasion by other groups of organizations, actions of the state, or large scale crises such as wars or depressions.” (p. 30) That makes sense, as does their follow-up point that “The more fields involved in these crises, the more likely the state is to become destabilized. To the degree that these crises reach epic proportions, the opportunities for collective action to transform the entire system may be present.” (p. 32) Yet, much as I appreciate these Proposition 11 points, they don’t strike me as unique or unusually insightful — they’re rather traditional points reiterated in SAF language. As I recall, Levine makes virtually identical points from a forms viewpoint (see Part 2 post), and I don’t see that their “fields” approach can outperform her (or my) “forms” approach.

I also think there is something valuable about Proposition 12, which posits that “The more connected an SAF is to other SAFs, the more stable that SAF is likely to be. Similarly, new SAFs or those with few connections will be unstable.” But a page later they also point out that “The "connectedness" of SAFs is a source of both strength and weakness.” (pp. 33-35) I could ask, so which is it? But I think a better point to make is that this disparity helps shows that, because of their fields orientation, they have spotted an important duality about connectivity — sometimes it strengthens and solidifies, and sometimes it weakens and disturbs relations. However, I can’t tell where they want to go with this observation. Yet, according to where I think TIMN is headed, but contrary to their Proposition 12, extreme levels of connectivity between forms is a bad sign. Too much connectivity — connectivity to the point of infestation, say between the tribal and institutional forms, or between the institutional and market forms — is likely to have all sorts of adverse effects that end up distorting and decreasing a society’s potential for next-step evolution.

From my TIMN perspective, then, Fligstein & McAdam have made a start at showing how their “fields” framework may help explain social stability and change, and whether, how, and why a society may become “open to transformation”. But from what I see, their fields approach isn’t designed to explain social evolution. TIMN’s “forms” approach is better designed for that.

• In concluding their overview, Fligstein & McAdam reiterate that they “have tried to sketch … the central animating principles of a theory of SAFs that we think makes sense of strategic collective action across these nominally distinct social realms.” But while their paper mostly treats all “collective strategic action as having similar theoretical underpinnings”, here at the end they finally observe “it is clear that action in states, markets, and non state-non-market fields do have different dynamics.” Which leads them to ask “if the modes of collective action are similar in markets and politics, then what makes them different?” They add that “It is also the case that the invention of new forms of collective action and their spread has not been well theorized” — including “the idea that one can deploy networks to expand one’s power.” (pp. 50-51)

I’m pleased to see their closing recognition that “action in states, markets, and non state-non-market fields do have different dynamics.” That is almost TIMN-ish, even though it comes with a reiteration that all collective strategic action has “similar theoretical underpinnings”. But they leave unresolved how and why different dynamics arise in the fields of “markets and politics”, despite both being “fields” that are supposed to be theoretically similar. Which means they still have quite a research agenda ahead of them. Perhaps, I wonder, they will end up having to go in directions that TIMN is already going.

Also, here in closing, they suddenly note that “the invention of new forms of collective action and their spread has not been well theorized”. Forms!? What do they mean by “forms” — a term they rarely use elsewhere? Don’t they mean “fields”? Or, here at last, is a conflation? I can’t tell. But I’d sure like to know how they see “forms” and “fields” as being different, and what they’d make of the differences they see.

In sum, I see no reason to switch from “forms” to “fields” as a basis for TIMN. Their theory is too filled with whirling swirling interactions in fights for power and control, and too lacking in long-range evolutionary structures and dynamics to warrant my switching. But I’ve benefitted from reading their work, and so may others whose focus is on “forms”.

To read Fligstein & McAdam’s paper for yourself, go here for easy access:
Next up, a look into another alternative for TIMN: “institutional logics”.