John Robb is a United States Air Force Academy graduate, working counterterrorism with the US Special Operations Command and continuing to write books and research in the areas of military theory and resilient communities. Robb also is a technical expert on technology trends including the Internet and social networks. In The War for the Future, John Robb discusses the third world war which you are currently, probably unknowingly, taking part in.
The western world is now engaged in a guerrilla information war, and it’s a guerrilla war where everyone is a participant, whether they know it or not. We can see evidence of this war all around us.
- We saw it in the sudden, unexpected, and potentially catastrophic mobilization for a global war with Russia after it invaded Ukraine.
- We see it in the efforts to control online speech, the war on misinformation, and the disconnection of politicians.
- We see it in the increasing distrust of institutions and experts.
This is an online war to decide who controls the western technosphere — an environment of interconnected technological artifacts that most of the world is now living within.
What does control of the network technosphere provide the winner? It provides the winner with the ability to:
- to set and strictly enforce standards of speech and behavior of billions, both online and offline (increasingly).
- to direct or redirect public debate and political discourse (either to solve problems or control outcomes).
- implement sweeping social change on a global scale using online incentives, control over information flows, and draconian punishments (the ability to disconnect dissenters).
Let’s explore this a bit.
The Network Technosphere
We don’t live in a physical environment anymore.
- We now live inside a networked technosphere. A world operated and controlled by interconnected technologies. While the environment provides us with new capabilities, it has complexified the challenges (from terrorism to financial collapse to COVID) we face, making them difficult to solve using traditional methods.
- The technosphere envelops and immerses us from the moment we wake up until we go to sleep. In most cases, our ability to utilize it effectively determines our success or failure, both economically and socially. In short, we’ve become so dependent on it.
- Our immersion has altered us. It’s rewiring our brains in ways we don’t fully comprehend, from processing information to relating to others, and that rewiring is driving changes in the way we organize our society.
Swarm vs. Horde
The antagonists in this war consist of people who have responded to this rewiring differently. One network seeks cohesion, consensus, and collective action, and the other wants to leverage the network to maximize individual and local autonomy. Here’s some detail:
- The cohesive network swarm seeks to impose a strict secular orthodoxy over the west. It engages in moral warfare to coercively align people, corporations, and governments with influence over the technosphere into alignment.
- The disorganized network horde seeks to prevent the swarm from imposing its orthodoxy through disruptive dissent. It uses the leverage provided by the network to mount disruptive attacks that actively erode support for the swarm’s alignment.
- This war will rage on until one side wins or we develop a method of networked decision-making that incorporates the strengths of each approach into an integrated whole.
Let’s dig into the details of each.
Coercive Alignment (The Swarm)
The network swarm wants to tame the technosphere by using it to aggressively eliminate everything they see as a threat (racism, sexism, colonialism, fascism, etc.). When it sees a threat, it rapidly mobilizes (using empathy triggers) to amplify the danger posed by the threat and gain (or coerce) support for network controls to prevent it from reoccurring in the future.
Online, the swarm fights through moral warfare. It does this by using the network to amplify the menace of new threats — which creates widespread fear and anxiety — to force people to act cohesively and forcibly (usually by imposing limits and restrictions) to oppose it1. The more threatening the danger, the larger and faster the response. The moral axis of the swarm has three parts:
- Equalization. “We can only be free when we are equal in every way.” The elimination of all power differentials between individuals, from wealth to weapons ownership to social status. Example: “Gun owners put us all at risk.” Equity: equality of outcome. Restorative justice: compensation for groups that have suffered historical inequality through forced restitution (by those in privileged groups) and enhanced opportunities.
- Transhumanism. The need to transcend the human condition’s limitations, tyranny, and weaknesses. Transsexualism (LGBTQ….) is merely the tip of the iceberg. Transhumanism also radically transforms human relationships (friendship, family, sex, etc.). Transhumanism isn’t just an option; it’s a moral imperative. NOTE: Transhumanism will accelerate with the advent of augmented reality (AR).2 AR allows people to change how they are perceived.
- Safeness. “An injury to one person is an injury to all of us.” No damage or injury is morally permissible if due to human action or inaction and must be prevented, regardless of the costs or limitations on freedoms involved. Injuries range from death to a loss of self-esteem/image. Injuries caused due to power differentials (privilege) or opposition to transhumanism are seen as existential threats and/or unmitigated evil.
Disruptive Dissent (The Horde)
The horde’s goal is to slow, alter, or prevent the establishment of a restrictive online orthodoxy. It spontaneously forms in response to encroachment. Disruptive dissent is usually only cohesive when it mobilizes to protect a superempowered individual who has the ability to hold the Swarm at bay (Trump, Musk, etc.).
Online, the horde fights in the psychological realm through maneuver and fast transients (quickly changing topics)3. It does this to disrupt, disorient, and overload the swarm’s thinking ability. Unlike the swarm, the horde is motivated by underlying factors that energize human behavior. These include:
- Autonomy. Freedom of mind and body. To be allowed to think, speak and act differently, particularly in opposition to the prevailing wisdom—the ability to take significant or dangerous risks and occasionally be wrong. Autonomy is only restricted when those actions would cause tangible and considerable harm to others (a high bar).
- Localism. A desire for control over the local environment (the physical offline reality). The ability of individuals, families, and communities to think, behave, and operate differently than what the present consensus mandates — which often manifests as a focus on family (formation), religion (local moral standards), and community (the rules). Opting out of global standards is prized both individually and collectively.
- Dissimilarity. Reverence for differences in human beings due to innate characteristics (intelligence, strength, gender, upbringing, etc.), those achieved through status-seeking behaviors (wealth, bodybuilding, knowledge, experience, etc.), and choices (owning guns, religious beliefs, etc.). In short, they believe that seeking differences is a good thing.
We’ll get into how this war will play out in a future report.