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Book: Seeing like a state

  • A state tries to gain legibility into the inner workings of the system it controls.

  • A lot of homogenization in society was gained through high modernist ideology that was a product of the renaissance.

  • Legibility of forests and society was achieved by narrowing the focus of the state.

    • The state saw in abstractions and tried to modify the underlying resource to allow abstract analysis
    • This caused massive harm.
      • Ex: Loss of old growth forests to modern forestry.
  • The state’s eye saw abstractions that ignored the immense diversity and uniqueness present in local populations

  • Unlike forests, people reacted politically to state interventions

  • Local measurement systems are incredible human.

    • They evolved out of human needs
    • They were only as accurate as the task at hand required.
      • Ex: “Within earshot”, “A handful”, “A basketful”
    • Sometimes they encoded variability too
      • Ex: “4-7 baskets”
  • Converting local customs into centralized law improved legibility for the state

  • History of property involved incorporating what was considered free gifts of nature into the existing property regime.

  • Map and property law were simplifying to the rulers and complex to the locals. They were an instrument of power.

  • The birds-eye view introduced with the invention of airplanes helped with the process of legibility.

  • Thought: Perhaps in the future, we’ll have tools to capture all complexity as opposed to the procrustean trimming of real world complexity that we do now.

  • The purpose of surnames and unique first names was imposed by the state to identify people

    • Often occupation, geography, and patrilineal descent were used for this.