stories for the network age

The TIMN model [Tribes + Institutions + Markets + Networks] developed by David Ronfeldt has influenced much of my own work in looking at how we are moving toward a network society and must create organizational forms that are beyond national governments and beyond markets. Even combining the efforts of civil society, governments, and markets will not be enough to address our greatest challenges — climate change and environmental degradation.

These have been my assumptions to date.

  1. The three organizing forms for society, chronologically — Tribes, Institutions (Governments), Markets — are widely applicable across history.
  2. Each form builds on the other and changes it.
  3. The last form is the dominant form — today that would be the Market form (witness the emerging pandemic-induced recession and its influence on national governance)
  4. A new form is emerging — Networks (Commons)‚ and hence the T+I+M+N model.
  5. This form has also been called the noosphere.
  6. I have found evidence that what initiated each new form was a change in human communication media — T+I (written word), T+I+M (print), T+I+M+N (electric/digital).
  7. I believe we are currently in between a triform (T+I+M) and a quadriform (T+I+M+N) society, which accounts for much of the current political turmoil in our post-modern world.
  8. This model can help inform us how to build better organizational forms for a coming age of entanglement.

David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla have recently published an update of their original 1999 work on the ‘Noosphere’ — Whose Story Wins: Rise of the Noosphere, Noopolitik, and Information-Age Statecraft.

The authors expand on many of the ideas they first proposed in a 1999 RAND Corporation report titled The Emergence of Noopolitik: Toward an American Information Strategy, in which they described the emergence of a new globe-circling realm: the noosphere. First, Earth developed a geosphere, or a geological mantle; second, a biosphere, consisting of plant and animal life. Third to develop will be Earth’s noosphere, a global “thinking circuit” and “realm of the mind” upheld by the digital information revolution. As the noosphere expands, it will profoundly affect statecraft—the conditions for traditional realpolitik strategies will erode, and the prospects for noopolitik strategies will grow. Thus, the decisive factor in today’s and tomorrow’s wars of ideas is bound to be “whose story wins”— the essence of noopolitik. To improve prospects for the noosphere and noopolitik, U.S. policy and strategy should, among other initiatives, treat the global commons as a pivotal issue area, uphold “guarded openness” as a guiding principle, and institute a new requirement for periodic reviews of the U.S. “information posture.”

What is the Noosphere?

It goes beyond civil society, government, and markets. It has a planetary perspective. The Noosphere is a global narrative, hence the title — Whose Story Wins — which can be developed through Noopolitik, including “international ‘special media forces’ that could be dispatched into conflict zones to help settle disputes through the discovery and dissemination of accurate narratives and for purposes of rumor control“. We sure could use some of that right now.

The noosphere favors upholding ethical and ecumenical values that seek harmony and goodwill, freedom and justice, pluralism and democracy, and a collective spirit harmonized with individuality. It is an anti-war and pro-environment concept. Strategically, it implies thinking and acting in global or planetary ways while minding long-range ends and the creation of new modes of agency to shape matters at all levels. It implies humanity coming together through all sorts of cognitive, cultural, and other close encounters. It is about the coevolution of the planet and humanity—thus, it implies understanding the nature of social and cultural evolution far better than theorists have up to this point. And it means engaging non-state, as well as state, actors in a quest to create a new (post-Westphalian) model of world order that is less tethered to the nation-state as the sole organizing principle and focus of loyalty. Furthermore, the noosphere favors the widespread positioning of sensory technologies and the creation of sensory organizations for planetary and humanitarian monitoring purposes. —Ronfeldt & Arquilla

The concept of a Noosphere is almost a century old and the authors describe its history from the beginning — “… coined by French theologian-paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, French mathematician Édouard Le Roy, and visiting Russian geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky when they met together in Paris in 1922” —  to the past few decades where it has been picked up by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Kevin Kelly, Michel Bauwens, and many others.

The authors clearly differentiate Noopolitik and Realpolitik, the latter which has dominated international affairs for over a century.“Noopolitik is a present-day alternative to realpolitik, but, in addition, it represents an evolutionary step beyond it. As mentioned earlier, realpolitik was originally an industrial-age concept; noopolitik is a postindustrial, information-age concept. Realpolitik is a concept from the past; noopolitik is a concept for the future.”  Noopolitik is focused on sharing power, not projecting it against others.

Where are we now?

The authors state that the USA has abandoned any progress toward a Noosphere and that its darker sides have been allowed to manifest, in America and beyond. These dark sides have many names — “information warfare, information operations, cognitive warfare, political warfare, memetic warfare, epistemic warfare, neocortical warfare, perception management, and strategic deception, along with such older terms as the war of ideas and the battle for hearts and minds and newer terms about weaponized social networks and weaponized narratives.” They say that we are in a fragmented state of disarray in our potential evolution toward a Noosphere.

Current manifestations of a move toward a ‘global commons’ include the big-environmental-science circle (government, big business, banks, NGO’s), as well as the social-activist civil-society focused on commons-based peer production and new social contracts. We can see how big-science is working on coordinated collaboration efforts to address the global pandemic. Social-activist networks have created global movements like the school strike for climate. At least there are some positive signs of evolution.

Whose Story Wins?

The book focuses on US military strategy options which is not surprising as it is published by RAND. I will not cover those details here as they are not of professional interest, though I did find these parts informative. I am interested in how the ideas in this book might influence sensemaking, collaboration, and knowledge-sharing in our organizations and societies. It comes down to one core idea.

Noopolitik depends on knowing—and finding new ways of knowing — about ideational, cognitive, and cultural matters that have not figured much in traditional statecraft.
As we have always said, noopolitik is ultimately about whose story wins. Thus, the kinds of stories, or narratives, that matter in noopolitik must be carefully constructed to suit the context. That narratives are crucial for maneuvering in today’s world is widely accepted; but designing them remains more of an art than a science, and there is still plenty of room for new ideas about how to build expertise. —Ronfeldt & Arquilla

Stories are the key to influencing people, especially on a large scale. I have discussed some of this already in mapping stories. Comprehension = “mapping your stories onto my stories”.

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