We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

As the scientific forester may dream of a perfectly legible forest planted with same-aged, same-species, uniform trees growing in straight lines in a rectangular flat space cleared of all underbrush and poachers, so the exacting state official may aspire to a perfectly legible population with registered, unique names and addresses keyed to grid settlements; who pursue single, identifiable occupations; and all of whose transactions are documented according to the designated formula and in official language. This caricature of society as a military parade-ground is overdrawn, but the grain of truth that it embodies may help us understand the grandiose plans [for a planned society] we will examine later. The aspiration to such uniformity and order alerts us to the fact that modern statecraft is largely a project of internal colonization, often glossed, as it is in imperial rhetoric, as a “civilizing mission.” The builders of the modern nation-state do not merely describe, observe, and map; they strive to shape a people and a landscape that will fit their technique of observation.
The more static, standardized, and uniform a population or social space is, the more legible it is, and the more amenable it is to the techniques of state officials. I am suggesting that many state activities aim at transforming the population space and nature under their jurisdiction into the closed systems that offer no surprises and that can best be observed and controlled.

– James C Scott,Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (1998)

8 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • I recall reading of how the local government reorganisation that was imposed during the Heath era was designed to solve the problem that local government in Britain was rather hard to understand in London. This bit was to small, these bits were too numerous, this bit was too big, etc. The answer was for the people in London to spend a few more hours understanding it, if they needed to. Not to impose turmoil on the local government arrangements of about half the country.

    But then, “local” government in Britain is not done by localities; it is done to localities.

  • Paul Marks

    The spirit of Colbert in France and the spirit of Sir William Petty (the founder of econometrics) in Britain.

    Although Petty (in his own lifetime) has vastly less influential than Colbert.

    An “enlightened” government “planning” or “oganizing” society.

    How can the world be freed from this folly?

  • steve

    “How can the world be freed from this folly?”

    I am afraid it won’t be until it results in human tragedy on an epic scale. Eugenics is a branch of the scientism aflicting all governments today. If it wasn’t for the Nazis discrediting it, I believe it would still be with us today. Hopefully, we won’t have to fight another world war to descredit the idea that government can perfect society using unverifiable scientific theories backed by force.

  • “You remember how one of the Greek Dictators (they called them “tyrants” then) sent an envoy to another Dictator to ask his advice about the principles of government. The second Dictator led the envoy into a field of grain, and there he snicked off with his cane the top of every stalk that rose an inch or so above the general level. The moral was plain. Allow no preeminence among your subjects. Let no man live who is wiser or better or more famous or even handsomer than the mass. Cut them all down to a level: all slaves, all ciphers, all nobodies. All equals. Thus Tyrants could practise, in a sense, “democracy.” But now “democracy” can do the same work without any tyranny other than her own. No one need now go through the field with a cane. The little stalks will now of themselves bite the tops off the big ones. The big ones are beginning to bite off their own in their desire to Be Like Stalks.”

    C. S. Lewis, “Screwtape Proposes a Toast”

  • RRS

    This brings to mind a very vague recollection from (what is now called “middle school”) days some 75 years or so ago of a poem that compared the “ordered” forests of Germany to the random wilderness of North America; exactly, the ordered rows and uniform growth ….

  • K

    So you are trying to rule 100 million people – all in diverse circumstances, personalities and capabilities- using rules created by a few hundred or so experts within an election cycle or three.

    Reaction of some people: this is impossible – so keep it simple and let them rule themselves.

    Reaction of other people – Simple: just get control of the press, the schools and the culture. Force people into a hive like sameness and our simple models can be applied quite easily. And never mind the cranks – they just need a little hospitalization is all.

  • Paul Marks

    I wish I could find some flaw in the logic of the comments – but I can not.

    The present system will just carry on till it produces economic and social collapse.

    That will indeed destroy the statist system (and for that we should be thankful), but it will also produce terrible suffereing – on a vast scale.

  • John Betjman had it right even to the forest metaphor-

    Cut down that timber! Bells, too many and strong,
    Pouring their music through the branches bare,
    From moon-white church-towers down the windy air
    Have pealed the centuries out with Evensong.
    Remove those cottages, a huddled throng!
    Too many babies have been born in there,
    Too many coffins, bumping down the stair,
    Carried the old their garden paths along.

    I have a Vision of The Future, chum,
    The worker’s flats in fields of soya beans
    Tower up like silver pencils, score on score:
    And Surging Millions hear the Challenge come
    From microphones in communal canteens
    “No Right! No wrong! All’s perfect, evermore.”