Russian digitalization through a Cosmist lens

April 8, 2022

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. 

Series 'AI Metaphors'

1. The Tool
Category: Objects
Humans shape tools.

We make them part of our body while we melt their essence with our intentions. They require some finesse to use but they never fool us or trick us. Humans use tools, tools never use humans.

We are the masters determining their course, integrating them gracefully into the minutiae of our everyday lives. Immovable and unyielding, they remain reliant on our guidance, devoid of desire and intent, they remain exactly where we leave them, their functionality unchanging over time.

We retain the ultimate authority, able to discard them at will or, in today's context, simply power them down. Though they may occasionally foster irritation, largely they stand steadfast, loyal allies in our daily toils.

Thus we place our faith in tools, acknowledging that they are mere reflections of our own capabilities. In them, there is no entity to venerate or fault but ourselves, for they are but inert extensions of our own being, inanimate and steadfast, awaiting our command.
Read the article
2. The Machine
Category: Objects
Unlike a mere tool, the machine does not need the guidance of our hand, operating autonomously through its intricate network of gears and wheels. It achieves feats of motion that surpass the wildest human imaginations, harboring a power reminiscent of a cavalry of horses. Though it demands maintenance to replace broken parts and fix malfunctions, it mostly acts independently, allowing us to retreat and become mere observers to its diligent performance. We interact with it through buttons and handles, guiding its operations with minor adjustments and feedback as it works tirelessly. Embodying relentless purpose, laboring in a cycle of infinite repetition, the machine is a testament to human ingenuity manifested in metal and motion.
Read the article

About the author(s)

With a background in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and a Master’s in History, Martine Dirkzwager Wu is intrigued by researching what the new conditions for the Humanities are in the age of the Anthropocene. In trying to understand a fundamentally unintelligible world, her thought process aims to be as critical as creative. She celebrates an era of post-truth in which knowledge can be traced through academic, but also natural and artistic networks.

You may also like