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DanAllosso

DanAllosso

Currently reading

400 Years Of Freethought
Samuel Porter Putnam
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
Jon Meacham
Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version
Philip Pullman, Jacob Grimm
Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson
Jennifer Michael Hecht
The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in 19th-Century America
Paul E. Johnson, Sean Wilentz

Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (The Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University)

Seeing like a State : How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (Yale ISPS Series) - James C. Scott “Nomads and pastoralists…hunter-gatherers, Gypsies, vagrants, homeless people, itinerants, runaway slaves, and serfs have always been a thorn in the side of states,” says Scott. (1998, 1) Premodern states, Scott continues, had great difficulty “seeing” their people, and this interfered with “the classic state functions of taxation, conscription, and prevention of rebellion.” (2) Efforts to render populations more “legible” included “processes as disparate as the creation of permanent last names, the standardization of weights and measures, the invention of freehold tenure…language and legal discourse.” These “simplification” practices of early modern states, Scott says, paved the way for “huge development fiascoes” of the modern era like China’s Great Leap Forward. (which killed at least 45 million people, 3)These modern-day state disasters, Scott says, rest on four elements: the administrative ordering of nature and society, a high-modernist ideology that puts undue confidence in technicians’ ability to reorganize the world through top-down planning, an authoritarian state that can enforce the technicians’ plans, and a prostrate population that cannot resist these plans. (4,5) “Designed or planned social order,” Scott reminds us, “is necessarily schematic; it always ignores essential features of any real, functioning social order. This truth is best illustrated in a work-to-rule strike, which turns on the fact that any production process depends on a host of informal practices and improvisations that could never be codified. By merely following the rules meticulously, the workforce can virtually halt production.” (6) This is such a rich analogy—I can think of a dozen ways to use it in domestic history. And of course, for my purposes, this is the point. To support his point, Scott describes early modern forests, modern city-builders, Bolsheviks, African villages, and modern agriculture. Comparing modern monoculture to shifting and polycultural farming styles, Scott calls attention to the difference between experimental results and real-world results. He describes the “Blind Spots,” “Weak Peripheral Vision,” and “Shortsightedness” of industrial agriculture, as well as the fact that “Some Yields are More Equal than Others.” (290-306) The missing link, Scott says, is local, practical knowledge, which he calls “Mētis.” (309) Interestingly, Scott says that many early technocrats, including Frederick Taylor, were aware that “under scientific management…the managers assume…the burden of gathering together all of the traditional knowledge which in the past has been possessed by the workmen…” (Taylor, quoted in Marglin, Dominating Knowledge, 336) The objective, from the manager’s perspective, is to eliminate the possibility of a work-to-rule strike by owning all the knowledge. Interesting implications for contemporary intellectual property theory.