Oct 20, 2009

The Noömanagement Crisis

   That information is power or that the media are the space where that power is decided is not news. What is new, however, is the increasingly near-“perfect” information that can be transmitted and accessed by virtually anyone (at least in theory), unquestionably giving power to those with the ability and shrewdness to manage these flows to serve their interests, be it states, companies, civil society groups, or insurgent movements. What they have to do is just to overwhelm the “info market” with the right information, which will then transform into their desired result (propaganda, advertising, public relations, strategic communication, etc…). As Castells put it, “What does not exist in the media, does not exist in the public mind.” So they key is to put the “right” image in the public mind. But that image has to live up to its promises, even if partially.

   As all of this week’s readings pointed out, the new media are changing the structures of information flows, robbing the formerly powerful players of their ability to shape public opinion, and making the latter more malleable and susceptible to “counter-power” influence. This is not necessarily bad, but can be used to serve many not-so-friendly goals, too, as the success of various insurgent movements has come to prove. Networks such as Al Qaeda or Hizballah have utilized new media and the communication space not only for achieving financial sustainability and waging their war of ideas (which are among the key components of Mary Kaldor’s “New War” model), but also for achieving legitimacy outside of their own local communities. They have successfully created a new set of goals and ethics – be it the fight against a hostile foreign nation state (US or Israel, in these cases), or the provision of local support networks vital for the day-to-day survival of the local population due to the total absence of functional societal or state institutions (Qandahar or Southern Lebanon) – and have proved to be consistent in matching their deeds with their promises.

(Although the cartoon makes a "somewhat" different argument, it's still one of my all-time favorites! Courtesy of Cox & Forkum)

   Despite the increasing prominence of non-state actors, the nation state has not lost its status completely – yet – as many states are still attempting to manage the information flows so as to contain the “counter-power” influence over state objectives. Prominent examples of such attempts, to name just a few: the American efforts to embed reporters within military units in Afghanistan or Iraq; Russia (or Georgia and NATO, for that matter) flooding the international media with biased reports on the war in South Ossetia in August 2008; the desperate attempts by the Islamic Republic of Iran to control the web-space in the post-election debacle this June. And when these attempts fail, all the state can do is finding a clearly identified scapegoat to blame: Al Jazeera, NATO, or "The Great Satan." 

   As it has become increasingly obvious, addressing Noöpolitik with Realpolitik has not only NOT been successful, but has further discredited the attempts of the state to maintain legitimacy. To use the America example – after the alleged “win” in the Cold War, the US simply stopped its efforts in maintaining its international image, and even the eight years of “War of Ideas” have not brought it back to senses. Just as it is currently being discussed - openly - despite all the fluffy names, such as “public diplomacy” or “strategic communication,” effective coordination is nonexistent and the government has no clue as to what is REALLY being done, how to gauge the efforts and their success, or how to manage them more efficiently.

   The incumbent “powers” in the international sphere will need to adapt if they want to survive; otherwise, the increasing number and influence of the global “counter-powers” will deem them irrelevant in the Noosphere age. Arquilla and Ronfeld say that this would require rebalancing of relations among state, market, and civil-society actors. But then, why not match the rhetoric with deeds, for starters?

1 comment:

  1. Hmm indeed the modern networks do provide information, support funds and recruits. However, they provide something more-they provide legitimacy. If as you mentioned people are fed daily with reports for this and that, slowly the news become reality and as most people will argue, listeners/viewers LOVE "true"stories and "unedited" reports. Through the networks, being virtual or palpable, the engaged sides gain legitimacy through popularizing their efforts. While the taleban fighters are presented like terrorist on the official media mediums, in reality they are lifesavers in certain regions where they provide food and shelter for the people. Questionable as their intents are still thanks to certain media they are shown as a group that actually cares for people and through that network, they gain legitimacy, at least in the eyes of those who are neglected by everybody else. As for the official state censoring-it is inevitable and I think you will agree, just because it is the right thing to do. You have to put aside the usual democratic argument of free speech and the rest, just because in order to sustain a state and make it flourish you have to have control over the population. There is no such thing as unbiased/free media. Oh and one more thing-have you ever considered the possibility of the non-state actors actually pursuing a policy that has been "suggested" to them?