Russian digitalization through a Cosmist lens

April 8, 2022

Russian digitalization through a Cosmist lens

Martine Dirkzwager Wu
April 8, 2022

Russian digitalization through a Cosmist lens

To understand Russian politics, we need to understand Russian Cosmism, a philosophy that supports the digitalization of the Arctic.
Martine Dirkzwager Wu
April 8, 2022
Russian digitalization through a Cosmist lens
Martine Dirkzwager Wu
Maya Turolla
April 8, 2022
Design by Zeynep Algan. Inspired by Tatlin's Tower. © FreedomLab

Western media commonly frames Russian politics as childishly infantile and irrational, almost unintelligible. When we take a closer look at some Russian schools of thought, we can get a better understanding of the rationale behind Russian politics. Russian Cosmism is an example. Russian Cosmism imagined technology would enable humans to resuscitate their ancestors and achieve immortality. By getting rid of their ordinary human condition through science and technology, humankind would conquer the cosmos. 

The early Cosmist Nikolai Fydorov (1829-1903) laid out by one of the propositions of Cosmism: that natural forces were ‘blind forces (...) of senseless dictates’, ‘destructive power[s]’ that enslaved humans. The tasks that stemmed out of this assumption were - amongst others - the following:

  1. Make rational use of the Earth’s reserves: minerals, petroleum, metal, coal, gems, plants, animals, timber, etc.
  2. Construct a new culture based on a human common cause against nature.
  3. Conquer the world and establish a cosmocracy - a global government -, and a pantocracy - the rule of all by all.
Photo taken by Alexandr Lobanov, November 2019. Source: Google Maps

Whether it is on purpose or not, the fact that Russia sees the melting ice sea as an opportunity rather than a crisis, that it aims to exploit resources until their total depletion to fulfill human demands, and that it is doing so through a polar conquest with no consensus, all correspond to Cosmist logics. This idea resonates with philosopher Yuk Hui’s argument that approaches to technology vary according to the cosmic and moral orders of the locality in which the activity is undertaken. 

Fydorov claimed that everything in the Cosmist universe exists in material form. Further, Fyderov claimed that technology can manipulate any materiality. Indeed, technology in the Arctic is being used to take advantage of the region’s extreme conditions. A freezing climate and an almost infinite landscape have sparked a vision in making the Arctic a global node for data centers. Just like the cold Swedish town of Luleå saw an economic boom after Meta and bitcoin opened data centers that fostered a digital ecosystem of information and communication technology, the Arctic economy will most likely grow with the demand of data centers that digitalization will produce. Banks, entertainment industry, even the international development of the Internet of Things (IoT) are expected to surge.

Photo taken by Dan Schwietert, April 2019. Source: Google Maps

The magnitude of Russian intervention in the Arctic corresponds to the radical nature of Cosmism. Knowledge of Cosmism makes the Arctic digital project more intelligible. Russia’s strategy entails exploiting the Arctic’s resources and conditions for the wealth of the nation. The abundant access to raw materials - especially oil and natural gas - have made Russia an ‘energy superpower’, granting it a great degree of autonomy in the international scene. We can see this follows a Cosmist logic because the strategy consists of harming the environment to make the nation richer. A richer nation translates to more global power, which is something Russia is (in)famous for desiring. The imperial nostalgia met by expansionist policies that characterizes Russian foreign policy reflect the Cosmist desire of expanding their governance and sphere of influence globally. 

About the author
With a background in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Martine is researching the rise of Asia and what new world order it might bring. Concerned by societal, economic and environmental issues worldwide, she is interested in learning how Asian nations search for proactive solutions through technology. In trying to understand a fundamentally uncertain world, her thought process aims to be critical and creative. She celebrates an era of post-truth in which her task is to trace knowledge all along its distribution network, including but not limited to nature, academia and culture.
You may also like