Shrinking the Technosphere
By Dmitry Orlov
On September 28, while addressing the UN General
Assembly, Putin proposed “implementing naturelike technologies,
which will make it possible to restore the balance between the
biosphere and the technosphere.” It is necessary to do so to combat
catastrophic global climate change, because, according to Putin, CO2
emissions cuts, even if implemented successfully, would be a mere
postponement rather than a solution.
I hadn't heard the phrase “implementing naturelike technologies”
before, so I Googled it and Yandexed it, and came up with nothing
more than Putin's speech at the UN. He coined the phrase. As with
the other phrases he's coined, such as “sovereign democracy” and
“dictatorship of the law,” it is a game-changer. With him, these
aren't words thrown on the wind. In each of these cases, the phrase
laid the foundation of a new philosophy of governance, complete with
a new set of policies.
In the case of “sovereign democracy,” it meant methodically
excluding all foreign influences on Russia's political system, a
process that culminated recently when Russia, in tandem with China,
banned Western NGOs, which were previously making futile attempts to
destabilize Russia and China politically. Other countries that find
themselves having trouble with the Orange Revolution Syndicate can
now follow their best practices.
In the case of “dictatorship of the law,” it meant either explicitly
legalizing and absorbing into the system, or explicitly outlawing
and destroying, every type of illegal or semi-legal social
formation, first by focusing on the criminal gangs and protection
rackets that proliferated in Russia during the wild 1990s, and now
expanding into the international sphere, where Russia is now working
to destroy the products of illegal Western activities, such as ISIS,
along with other US-trained, US-armed, Saudi-funded terrorist
groups. “Dictatorship of the law” means that no-one is above the
law, not even the CIA or the Pentagon.
This being a given, it makes sense to carefully parse the phrase, in
hopes of gaining a better of understanding of what is meant, and
this particular phrase is harder to parse than the previous two,
because the Russian original, “внедрение природоподобных технологий”,
is laden with meanings that English does not directly convey.
“Внедрéние” (vnedrénie) can be translated in any number of
ways: implementation; introduction; implantation; inoculation,
implantation (of views, ideas); entrenchment (esp. of culture);
enacting; advent; launch; incorporation; adoption; inculcation,
instillation; indoctrination. Translating it as “implementation”
does not do it justice. It is derived from the word “нéдра” (nédra)
which means “the nether regions” and is etymologically connected to
the Old English word “neðera” through a common Indo-European
root. In Russian, it can refer to all sorts of unfathomable depths,
from the nether regions of the Earth (where oil and gas are found)
to the nether regions of human psyche, as in the phrase “недра
подсознательного” (the nether-regions of the subconscious).
Translating it with the tinny, technical-sounding word
“implementation” does not do it justice. It can very well mean
“implantation” or “indoctrination.”
The word “природоподóбный” (priródo-podóbnyi) translates
directly as “naturelike,” although in Russian it has less of an
overtone of accidental resemblance and more of an overtone of active
conformance or assimilation. It is of recent coinage, and can be
found in a few techno-grandiose articles by Russian academics in
which they promote vaporous initiatives for driving the development
of nanotechnology or quantum microelectronics by simulating
evolutionary processes, or some such. The gist of it seems to be
that once widgets get too complex for humans to design, we might as
well let them evolve like bacteria in a Petri dish.
Based on what Putin said next, we can be sure that this is not what
he had in mind: “We need qualitatively different approaches. The
discussion should involve principally new, naturelike technologies,
which do not injure the environment but exist in harmony with it and
will allow us to restore the balance between the biosphere and the
technosphere which mankind has disturbed.” It seems that he meant
that people should conform to nature in daily life rather than try
to simulate nature in a laboratory setting.
But what did he mean by “technologies”? Did he mean that we need a
new generation of eco-friendly gewgaws and gizmos that are slightly
more energy-efficient than the current crop? Again, let's see what
got lost in translation. In Russian, the word “tekhnológii”
does not directly imply industrial technology, and can relate to any
art or craft. Since it is obvious that industrial technology is not
particularly “naturelike,” it stands to reason that he meant some
other type of technology, and one type immediately leaps to mind:
political technologies. In Russian, it is written as one word,
polittekhnologii, and it is a common one. At its best, it is the
art of shifting the common political and cultural mindset in some
favorable or productive direction.
Putin is a consummate political technologist. His current domestic
approval rating stands at 89%; the remaining 11% disapprove of him
because they wish him to take a more hard-line stance against the
West. It makes sense, therefore, to examine his proposal from the
point of view of political technology, jettisoning the notion that
what he meant by “technology” is some sort of new, slightly more
eco-friendly industrial plant and equipment. If his initiative
succeeds in making 89% of the world's population speak out in favor
of rapidly adopting naturelike, ecosystem-compatible lifestyles,
while the remaining 11% stand in opposition because they believe the
adoption rate isn't high enough, then perhaps climate catastrophe
will be averted—or at least its worst-case scenario, which is human
In the next part of this series, we will learn what political
technology is, what sorts of political technologies we can see used
all around us. Then we will move on to addressing the main
questions: What does it mean for us to become naturelike, and,
finally, How can we invent or evolve political technologies to bring
about this transformation while there is still time (if we are
Shrinking the Technosphere, Part II
Political technologies have three main goals:
1. Changing the rules of the game between participants in the
2. Introducing into the mass consciousness new concepts, values,
opinions and convictions.
3. Direct manipulation of human behavior through mass media and
Political technologies pursue these tactical goals in accordance
with higher, strategic imperatives, and it is only the noble nature
of these higher imperatives that can justify the use of such
high-handed, nondemocratic means. Yes, the ends justify the
means—once in a while. It is better to save humanity and the natural
world through nondemocratic means than to let it go extinct while
adhering to strictly democratic ones.
But often the imperatives are far less than noble. They can be
separated into two kinds:
1. To improve everyone's welfare by pursuing the common good of the
entire society, as it is understood by its best-educated, most
intelligent, most decent and responsible members. Political
technologies of this kind result in a virtuous cycle, building on
previous successes to increase social cohesion, solidarity and
setting the stage for great achievements. (These are the good kind.)
2. To enrich, empower and protect special interests at the expense
of the rest of society. These kinds of political technologies either
fail through internal contradiction, or result in a vicious cycle,
in which those who benefit from them strive for ever-higher levels
of selfish behavior at the expense of the rest, setting the stage
for poor social outcomes, economic stagnation, mass violence and
eventual civil war and political disintegration. (These are the bad
Let's take the United States as an example The United States
currently has more than its fair share of the latter sort. Let's
briefly review a dozen of the most important ones.
1. The fossil fuel lobby. Objective: convince the US population that
catastrophic anthropogenic climate change is not occurring. Means:
smear campaigns against climate scientists, injection of fake
science, denigration of science as a whole, portrayal of the
movement to stop catastrophic climate change as a conspiracy, etc.
Shows some signs of failing through internal contradiction, as parts
of South Carolina—a self-styled “conservative” state—go underwater
in a so-called “thousand-year flood” (soon to be renamed a
“hundred-year flood,” then “ten-year flood” and, finally, a
“blub-blub-blub” flood). Unlike North Carolina, Florida (another
“blub-blub-blub” state) and Wisconsin, South Carolina hasn't banned
the use of the term “climate change” by state workers; not that
anyone has heard them use it in any case. When political
technologists start banning the use of words, you know that they are
becoming desperate. At a meta-polittechnological level, when a
polittechnology shows signs of failing through internal
contradiction, it is often best to let things run their course.
After all, what does it matter whether officials in the Carolinas or
in Florida use the term “climate change” or the term
2. The arms manufacturers. Objective: convince the US population
that private gun ownership makes people safer, is effective in
preventing government tyranny, and is a right to be defended at all
costs. This too is showing some signs of failure through internal
contradiction, as the number of mass shootings in the US shoots up.
But the level of brainwash here is rather high, and the US
authorities may find themselves forced to resort to direct
manipulation to bring the situation under control (or so they would
hope). This may involve some sort of mass standoff between the
government and the “gun nuts,” in which the gun nuts are described
as terrorists, outlawed and, in a demonstration exercise,
instantaneously wiped out by the army, the navy and the air force.
But this would only bring out the next layer of internal
contradiction: in decisively demonstrating that owning a gun does
not make one safer, and that guns are useless in preventing tyranny,
the government would be forced to tacitly admit that it is, in fact
a tyranny, at war with its own people. And this would undermine a
number of other political technologies on which the government
depends for its political survival.
3. The two-party political system, along with the lobbyists and its
corporate, big-money and foreign sponsors. Objective: keep the
people believing that the US is a democracy and that people have a
choice. On the one hand, this technology seems to be working. A lot
of the people voted for Obama (some of them twice!) and then had a
difficult time facing up to the fact that he is an impostor, barely
different from his predecessor, and that everything he had said to
get their vote was just hopeful noise. And now a lot of these same
people are ready to vote again—for some other democratic career
politician making similar kinds of hopeful noise. On the other hand,
this piece of political technology seems to be in rather sad shape.
The party machinery seems unable to produce viable candidates. The
Republicans are internally in disarray and seem especially
vulnerable to being upstaged by outsiders like Trump. Moreover, most
of the voters no longer identify with either party—an unnerving
development for political technologists in charge of herding them
toward one of the political spectrum or the other.
4. The defense contractors and the national defense establishment.
Objective: justify exorbitant defense budgets by claiming that they
keep the nation safe by thwarting evildoers or some such nonsense.
The US has a very expensive defense establishment, but a very
ineffectual one. Case in point: as the hostilities in Syria threaten
to escalate, the US orders the aircraft carrier USS Theodore
Roosevelt out of the Persian Gulf, leaving it without a US aircraft
carrier there for the first time in 6 years. The reason is simple:
although very expensive and impressive looking, American aircraft
carriers are only effective against very weak and disorganized
adversaries. When it comes to major powers such as Russia, China and
Iran they are no more than sitting ducks, being defenseless against
attacks by supersonic cruise missiles and supercavitating torpedoes,
which the Americans simply don't have. Such obvious signs of
weakness (and there are many others) undermine the claim that
defense dollars are money well spent. After a time, the message is
bound to sink in that the US defense establishment produces useless
military boondoggles and baseless, dreamed-up intelligence reports,
resulting in a serious internal contradiction. Couple the relative
impotence of American high-tech weaponry against similarly equipped
adversaries with the inability or unwillingness to deploy ground
troops (after the great “successes” in the meat grinders of Iraq and
Afghanistan) and you have an erstwhile superpower whose ability to
project force is rather circumscribed. Why, then, does it cost so
much? Defeat can be had for a lot less money. A sign of desperation
is the latest US initiative to drop palettes of small arms
ammunition and hand grenades into the deserts of Northern Syria,
hoping that some “moderate” (LOL) terrorist would find them and use
them against the Syrian government.
The list goes on but, for the sake of brevity, and as an exercise
for the reader, I will let the reader fill in the details about the
remaining examples of bad political technologies that are found in
the US. The information is not hard to find. Ask yourself whether
these technologies will fail through internal contradiction, by
triggering a wider conflict, or by causing widespread degeneracy in
the population they afflict.
5. The medical industry. Objective: keep people convinced that
private health insurance is necessary, that exorbitant medical costs
are justified, that socialized medicine is somehow evil, and that
they are getting good quality medical care in spite of all evidence
to the contrary.
6. The higher education industry. Objective: keep people convinced
that higher education in the US is a good value in spite of its
exorbitant costs, the student debt crisis, and the fact that over
half of recent university and college graduates have been unable to
find professional employment.
7. The prison-industrial complex. Objective: keep people convinced
that imprisoning a higher percentage of the population than did
Stalin, mostly for nonviolent, victimless crimes, somehow keeps
people safe, in spite of there being absolutely no evidence of that.
8. The automotive industry. Objective: keep people convinced that
the private automobile is the hallmark of personal freedom while
denigrating public transportation, in spite of the fact that if you
factor in all of the costs and the externalities of private cars and
translate them into the working hours it takes to pay for them,
driving a car turns out to be slower than walking.
9. The agribusiness industry. Objective: keep people convinced that
a diet made up of cheap, chemical-laden, industrially produced food
is somehow acceptable in spite of the high levels of obesity, heart
disease, diabetes and other ailments in which it results.
10. The financial industry. Objective: keep people convinced that
their money is safe even as it disappears into an ever-expanding
black hole of unrepayable debt.
11. Organized religion. Objective: keep people convinced that
kowtowing to a big white man in the sky, who might send you to hell
in spite of the fact that he loves you, and who, in spite of being
all-powerful, always needs your money, takes precedence over using
your own reason and relying on facts to find your own way in the
world. Cause simple-minded people to insist that a worked-over story
of the Egyptian god Horus, stuck together with bits of the Gilgamesh
Epic and other ancient myths, is the word of God and the absolute
literal truth. Keep alive the fiction that religious people are
somehow more moral or more ethical than nonreligious people.
12. The legal system. Objective: keep people convinced that the
legal system somehow produces justice instead of selling positive
outcomes to the highest bidder, that feeding a huge army of
well-paid lawyers is somehow worth the money, and that obeying a
codex of laws so voluminous and so convoluted that is completely
incomprehensible to the average person, and most lawyers, is what it
means to be a good citizen.
As you see, the US has quite a parasite load of bad political
technologies. Each special interest group can hire some political
technologists to put together a system for them that will assure
them of a disproportionately large piece of the pie to the detriment
of everyone else.
This is bad enough, but bad political technologies cause an
additional problem: they debilitate the minds of those they afflict.
Their main objective is to keep people convinced of things that are
false. Once they succeed, these people become personally invested in
these falsehoods, come to identify with them, and regard any
information that contradicts them either as a personal affront or,
at the very least, as a source of unwelcome cognitive dissonance.
This makes them impervious to good political technologies—ones that
seek to convince them of things that are true and of approaches that
do in fact work, and steer them in the direction of doing what is
necessary. They are what Andy Borowitz called “fact-resistant
Because of its high parasite load of bad political technologies, the
population of the US may not be worth the trouble when it comes to
putting together good political technologies, such as the one to
prevent catastrophic climate change. A lot of these bad political
technologies are poised to fail, either through internal
contradiction, or because of their deleterious effects on the people
held in their spell, so it makes sense to wait.
Also, the problem of the US being a major polluter and climate
disrupter may resolve itself: the US stands to suffer immensely from
climate change, with the west coast and the southwest running out of
water, the south decimated by heat waves and the eastern seaboard
disappearing under the waves. Keep in mind that it amounts to less
than 5 percent of the world's population—a significant number, but
not significant enough to hold up the rest of the planet.
Trying to negotiate with the US when it comes to preventing
catastrophic climate change is starting to seem like a waste of
time. Why should the 95 percent wait for the 5 percent to dig a deep
enough hole for themselves? But what wouldn't be a waste of time?
This is the question we will take up next.
Orlov is a Russian-American engineer and a writer on subjects
related to "potential economic, ecological and political decline and
collapse in the United States," something he has called “permanent