Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Henry Farrell, Crooked Timber,  Feb. 2008
In one of the early chapters of Seeing Like a State, Scott gives us a Foucauldian view of how formal knowledge increases the power of the state.
Legibility implies a viewer whose place is central and whose vision is synoptic. State simplifications of the kind we have examined are designed to provide authorities with a schematic view of their society, a view not afforded to those without authority. Rather like U.S. highway patrolmen wearing mirrored sunglasses, the authorities enjoy a quasi-monopolistic picture of selected aspects of the whole society. This privileged vantage point is typical of all institutional settings where command and control of complex human activities is paramount. The monastery, the barracks, the factory floor, and the administrative bureaucracy (private or public) exercise many statelike functions and often mimic its information structure as well. (Scott, p. 79)
NB that this isn’t one of the later chapters that deals with the specific phenomenon of ‘high modernism’ – as I read it, this is a generalized claim about how increases in legibility enhance the power of the state (or of whoever the eye-in-the-pyramid/dude at the center of the Panopticon) is. But it’s also wrong.
Tom Slee, Crooked Timber, June 2012
In the state of Tamil Nadu, near the town of Marakkanam, right next to a reserved forest, lies a contested plot of land. Records say these three acres belong to a member of the Mudaliar caste, but lower-caste Dalits living nearby claim the plot should be part of the reserved forest, which is not privately owned. The Dalits claim that the Mudaliars have pulled a fast one, using their influence in the local bureaucracy to fix the land records, and that older records will bear out the Dalit claim. Complicating the case, officials say that boundaries between land parcels in the area are often difficult to ascertain.

...A new generation of land developers grew up alongside the digitized records: firms with the skills and information to make efficient use of this new resource. These developers lobbied effectively for records and spatial data to be made open, and then used their advantages to displace smaller firms who, as Raman writes, "relied on their knowledge of local histories and relationships to assemble land for development". The effects went far beyond the three-acre plot near Marakkanan: newly visible master plans became used as "the reference point to label legal and illegal spaces and as a justification for evicting the poor from their economic and residential spaces." The "pro-poor" initiative turned out to be anything but. Tamil Nadu was not alone in running an open data project that made life harder for the poor; neighbouring Karnataka’s "Bhoomi" (or ‘land’) e-governance program has had similar effects: a 2007 publication concluded that "the digitization of land records led to increased corruption, much more bribes and substantially increased time taken for land transactions. At another level, it facilitated very large players in the land markets to capture vast quantities of land at a time when Bangalore experiences a boom in the land market."
Henry Farrell, January 2013.
I’m bullish about how experimentalism can improve democratic practice, when it happens under conditions of rough power equality. But it can equally be used to improve techniques of manipulation.
I'll begin here:
"The genuine traditionalist does not know that he is one; he who proclaims himself to be one, no longer is one."

Every actor is a traditionalist and knows it. Every lawyer is a traditionalist and knows it. Every novelist worth his weight, or hers, is a traditionalist and knows it.

I've repeated this more than enough:
In the five lectures on psychoanalysis Freud says that as the result of a successful treatment repression is replaced by "a condemning judgment". He doesn't explain the difference between the two. What's the difference between "I don't want to kill my father and sleep with my mother" and "I don't want to kill my father and sleep with my mother"?
Our audience is the judge.
"Of course I'm a feminist! …  Honey could you get me another beer?"
Call it moral quasi-realism without individualist assumptions.

Farrell, Bertram et al. so obviously begin with what they want or need to be true. Arguments careen between attempts to design technologies to regulate self-interest, and fantasies of human selflessness.
The only constant is the certainty of their own superiority.

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