Author David Brin, in part commenting on a new paper from RAND titled “The promise of noöpolitik“, today posted “Are We Giving Birth to …well… “Gaia”?“, an entry on the emergence of the noosphere, a concept of interest to me & a topic I’ve blogged on before. I found it worth the read, even with typos. However, I probably liked it primarily because I see the emergence of the noosphere as obvious, putting me among “society’s smartest men & women” by Brin’s assessment. 😉 That’s certainly not true, as it’s nothing I’ve seen by myself, just what I’ve gleaned from reading a bit of Teilhard, as well as Robert Wright’s Nonzero, Gregory Stock’s Metaman, Robert Pirsig’s Lila, among others that play on the concept.

I agree with Brin that the birthing of the noosphere will be a difficult one, and definitely opposed by the both the elite & the alienated, though I think that the current elite will no doubt find ways to make money off of the noosphere, allowing those in power to leverage their current positions into comfortable niches in the new world order, perhaps somewhat lessening resistance in some quarters. Further, the disaffected will likely stay offline & thereby become marginalized, minimizing the impact of their traditionalism.

However, I think the birthing of the noosphere will not just be difficult, but also dangerous. The question I find frightening is what level of discourse the emerging noosphere will attain. As Ronfeldt & Arquilla point out in The promise of noöpolitik, the tribal-level thinkers of Al Qaeda have a better grasp of the nascent noosphere than the heir to the Enlightenment & most powerful nation-state. I think that the noosphere, like any democratizing force, transfers power to the individual. But what happens when the individuals it gives power to are tribalists & feudalists whose literalist worldviews are threats to others in a pluralistic world? What happens when the use of noöpolitik to spread ideologies of exclusion & hate turns into the realpolitik of terrorist bombings & other criminal & destructive acts?

I think that integral theory & the Spiral Dynamics analysis of social development is apropos here. What we’re foreseeing is the technologically-enabled emergence of a new “we”-space–a shared cultural dimension–that connects & empowers individuals at almost all levels of development. The critical question is how we quickly move masses of humanity from lower levels of psychological & social development to higher ones so that our civilization gives birth to the “ecumenical, ethical” noosphere Teilhard envisioned instead of a matricidal monstrosity.