utopia of rules
book links to amazon
via (on David’s new book):
in this book, he takes on the topic of bureaucracy, arguing that what we think of as the root of our civilzation — capitalism, technology, rules and regulations — may just be what’s keeping us in chains.
comes out feb 24 2015
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He denies “the fiction that rules and regulations apply to everyone equally” and sees the various elements of bureaucracy as “instruments through which the human imagination is smashed and shattered.”
Utopia of Rules, then, sets about convincing readers that the world is quite different from how they normally see it, and that there’s an urgent need for change.
.. a book that discusses things like “the very grounds of political being” and the need for “general theory of interpretative labor.”
Hannah Arendt ness – the promise of politics
(he’s been credited with coining the phrase “we are the 99%”). That ideological stance underlies Utopia of Rules‘s political project: To wake the left from its slumber and remind it of its anti-bureaucratic origins, and to explore how (or if) people can upend governments without erecting more labyrinthine structures in their place.
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(have on library request/recommend)
intro – from amazon site…
… while the less fortunate spent ever more hours of their day trying to jump through the increasingly elaborate hoops required to gain access to dwindling social services. (on the exponentiation of paperwork)
the vast majority of the paperwork we do exists in just this sort of in-between zone – ostensibly private, but in fact entirely shaped by a government that provides the legal framework, ..
in cases like this the language we employ- derived as it is from the right-wing critique – is completely inadequate. it tells us nothing about what is actually going on….. ie: deregulation…..pointing out that it was an orgy of this very deregulation that led to the banking crisis of 2008 – seems to imply a desire for more rules and regulations,
but this debate is based on false premises. … ie: there’s no such thing as an unregulated bank.
one result of all this debt is to render the government itself the main mechanism for the extraction of corporate profits. (just think, here, of what happens if one tries to default on one’s student loans: the entire legal apparatus leaps into action, threatening to seize assets, garnish wages, and apply thousands of dollars in additional penalties.)
what was being talked about in terms of free trade and the free market really entailed the self-conscious completion of the world’s first effective planetary-scale administrative bureaucratic system.
the bureaucratization of daily life means the imposition of impersonal rules and regulations; impersonal rules and regulations, in turn, can only operate if they are backed up by the threat of force.
what this suggests is that people, everywhere, are prone to two completely contradictory tendencies: on the one hand, a tendency to be playfully creative just for the sake of it; on the other, a tendency to agree with anyone who tells them that they really shouldn’t act that way. this latter is what makes the game-ification of institutional life possible. because if you take the later tendency to its logical conclusions, all freedom becomes arbitrariness, and all arbitrariness, a form of dangerous, subversive power. it is just one further step to argue that true freedom is to live in an utterly predictable world that is free from freedom of this sort.
couldn’t wait – bought it.. my notes/tweets from kindle:
bureaucracy has become the water in which we swim.
Historically, markets are generally either a side effect of government operations, especially military operations, or were directly created by government policy.
re mark et able ness
..the invention of coinage, which was first created and promulgated as a means of provisioning soldiers;
Modern central banking systems were likewise first created to finance wars.
“Democracy” thus came to mean the market; “bureaucracy,” in turn, government interference with the market; and this is pretty much what the word continues to mean to this day.
neither the German or American regimes had ever been especially interested in free trade. The Americans in particular were much more concerned with creating structures of international administration.
As one anthropologist, Sarah Kendzior, puts it: “The United States has become the most rigidly credentialised society in the world,” write James Engell and Anthony Dangerfield in their 2005 book Saving Higher Education in the Age of Money. “A BA is required for jobs that by no stretch of imagination need two years of full-time training, let alone four. Journalism is one of many fields of public influence—including politics—in which credentials function as de facto permission to speak, rendering those who lack them less likely to be employed and less able to afford to stay in their field. Ability is discounted without credentials, but the ability to purchase credentials rests, more often than not, on family wealth.
Almost every endeavor that used to be considered an art (best learned through doing) now requires formal professional training and a certificate of completion,
it’s precisely the children of the professional-managerial classes, those whose family resources make them the least in need of financial support, who best know how to navigate the world of paperwork that enables them to get said support.
For everyone else, the main result of one’s years of professional training is to ensure that one is saddled with such an enormous burden of student debt that a substantial chunk of any subsequent income one will get from pursuing that profession will henceforth be siphoned off, each month, by the financial sector.
Increasingly, corporate profits in America are not derived from commerce or industry at all, but from finance—which means, ultimately, from other people’s debts.
..while this system of extraction comes dressed up in a language of rules and regulations, in its actual mode of operation, it has almost nothing to do with the rule of law. Rather, the legal system has itself become the means for a system of increasingly arbitrary extractions.
It’s not just that some people get to break the rules—it’s that loyalty to the organization is to some degree measured by one’s willingness to pretend this isn’t happening. And insofar as bureaucratic logic is extended to the society as a whole, all of us start playing along.
we would magically whisk into existence thousands of heavily armed riot police ready to reveal just what those bureaucrats were willing to unleash against anyone—no matter how nonviolent—who tried to stand in their way.
this was on talking about ie: occupies.. seattle, wall st
At the time, we didn’t talk about things in quite these terms—that “free trade” and “the free market” actually meant the creation of global administrative structures mainly aimed at ensuring the extraction of profits for investors, that “globalization” really meant bureaucratization
schooling the world ness
The bureaucratization of daily life means the imposition of impersonal rules and regulations; impersonal rules and regulations, in turn, can only operate if they are backed up by the threat of force.
cure violence.. the center of the disease
Rather than causing our current situation, the direction that technological change has taken is itself largely a function of the power of finance.
It is felt most cruelly by the poor, who are constantly monitored by an intrusive army of moralistic box-tickers assessing their child-rearing skills, inspecting their food cabinets to see if they are really cohabiting with their partners, ..All rich countries now employ legions of functionaries whose primary function is to make poor people feel bad about themselves.
Matt Taibbi‘s the divide
And like a maze, paperwork doesn’t really open on anything outside itself.
It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that Weber and Foucault’s popularity owed much to the fact that the American university system during this period had itself increasingly become an institution dedicated to producing functionaries for an imperial administrative apparatus, operating on a global scale.
all that changed with the war on vietnam… campus mobilizations against war..spotlight.. complicity ness
we (academics) assume places of power.. from places of density.. power of bureaucracy shows opposite
structural violence, by which I mean forms of pervasive social inequality that are ultimately backed up by the threat of physical harm..
..—invariably tend to create the kinds of willful blindness we normally associate with bureaucratic procedures.
system of property rights regulated and guaranteed by govt in a system that ultimately rests on the threat of force. force in turn is just a euphemistic way to refer to violence..
.. spend days in .. libraries poring over Foucault-inspired .. about the declining importance of coercion as a factor in modern life without ever reflecting on that fact that, had they insisted on their right to enter the stacks without showing a properly stamped and validated ID, armed men would have been summoned to physically remove them, using whatever force might be required.
oh my. too resonating. in too many ways.
.. all of it ultimately depends on the threat of physical harm.
We have no idea how they would act, or what they would think, if the Alphas’ command of the means of violence were to somehow disappear.
science of people in schools – (he was talking – belief as a psychological technique to accommodate self to structure of violence)
“structural violence”—structures that could only be created and maintained by the threat of violence, even if in their ordinary, day-to-day workings, no actual physical violence need take place.
It was characteristic of contexts where explanations, deliberation, and, ultimately, consent, were not required, since such contexts were shaped by the presumption of unequal access to sheer physical force.
..generations of police sociologists have pointed out that only a very small proportion of what police actually do has anything to do with enforcing criminal law—.. Most of it has to do with regulations, ..threat of physical force, to aid in the resolution of administrative problems.
Jim Cooper, a former LAPD officer turned sociologist,68 has observed that the overwhelming majority of those who end up getting beaten or otherwise brutalized by police turn out to be innocent of any crime. “Cops don’t beat up burglars,” he writes. The reason, he explained, is simple: the one thing most guaranteed to provoke a violent reaction from police is a challenge to their right to, as he puts it, “define the situation.
…the powerless not only end up doing most of the actual, physical labor required to keep society running, they also do most of the interpretive labor as well.
Why do movements challenging such structures so often end up creating bureaucracies instead? Normally, they do so as a kind of compromise. One must be realistic and not demand too much.
Being “realistic” usually means taking seriously the effects of the systematic threat of violence.
This is the ultimate revolutionary question: what are the conditions that would have to exist to enable us to do this—to just wake up and imagine and produce something else?
a nother way – where there’s a mechanism in place to handle the initial chaos.. to shorten the lag time.. between intention and action.. so we don’t fall back into the “comfort/laziness” of bureaucracy/rules/supposed-to‘s. getting the sync of luxury for all.
… revolution is the actual immanent practice of the proletariat, which will ultimately bear fruit in ways that we cannot possibly imagine from our current vantage point.
and so .. we’re missing it. (this was from marx)
.. structural inequalities always create what I’ve called “lopsided structures of imagination,” that is, divisions between one class of people who end up doing most of the imaginative labor, and others who do not.
like Tim said of the web.. it doesn’t work unless the whole world is on it..
.. bureaucratic procedures, which have an uncanny ability to make even the smartest people act like idiots, are not so much forms of stupidity in themselves, as they are ways of managing situations already stupid because of the effects of structural violence.
getting to the root matters.. otherwise.. we’re spinning our wheels.. good by cycle.
stupidity in the name of fairness and decency is still stupidity, and violence in the name of human liberation is still violence.
Putting yourself in new situations constantly is the only way to ensure that you make your decisions unencumbered by the inertia of habit, custom, law, or prejudice—and it is up to you to create these situations.
.. the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free?76 The obvious question is how this approach can contribute to an overall strategy—one that should lead, perhaps not to a single moment of revolutionary redemption, but to a cumulative movement towards a world without states and capitalism.
Rebecca Solnit on times of natural disaster – opening opportunity
.. how to ensure that those who go through this experience are not immediately reorganized under some new rubric—..that then gives way to the construction of a new set of rules, regulations, and bureaucratic institutions around it, which will inevitably come to be enforced by new categories of police.
ch 2 (of 3) – technology
There appears to have been a profound shift, beginning in the 1970s, from investment in technologies associated with the possibility of alternative futures to investment technologies that furthered labor discipline and social control.
The Federation (in star trek) then, is Leninism brought to its full and absolute cosmic success – a society where secret police, reeducation camps, and show trials are not necessary because a happy conjuncture of material abundance and ideological conformity ensures the system can not run entirely by itself.
maybe the ideological conformity bit was off… 2 needs..
.. despite unprecedented investment in research on medicine and life sciences, as we still await cures for cancer or even of the common cold; instead, the most dramatic medical breakthroughs we have sen have taken the form of drugs like Prozac, Zoloft, or Ritalin – tailor-made, one might say, to ensure that these new professional demands don’t drive us completely, dysfunctionally, crazy.
What these management techniques invariably end up meaning in practice is that everyone winds up spending most of their time trying to sell each other things:
.. as American power grew more and more secure, the country’s bureaucracy became less and less tolerant of its outliers.
Meanwhile, in the few areas in which free, imaginative creativity actually is fostered, such as in open-source Internet software development, it is ultimately marshaled in order to create even more, and even more effective, platforms for the filling out of forms.
.. we’re going to have to figure out a different economic system entirely.
ch 3 (of 3) — why we really love bureaucracy after all – the utopia of rules
like money – bureaucracy can take out the soul/interpretive labor – the impersonal as convenient.
The post office was, essentially, one of the first attempts to apply top-down, military forms of organization to the public good.
big section on how germany had the po down. and how much came from that model. first from armies and empires… called an example of the socialist economic system.
Kropotkin often cited the international “universal postal union” of 1878.. as a model for anarchism..
already in the 1830s, Tocquevile had been startled by the size of the u.s. po and the sheer volume of letters…
.. and, unlike the situation in great britain and other european nations, the mail was transmitted w/o govt surveillance or control.
in 1790… carried only 30000 letters, one for about every fifteen person in the country. by 1815 it transmitted nearly 7.5 million… about one every person…. and unlike … great britain and other european nations, … the mail was transmitted w/o govt surveillance or control…. to now (several pages later) where most of us get mail we don’t want, ie: bills.
and then defunded by govt.. so that quickly became the very defn of everything we were supposed to think was wrong with state bureaucracies
journalists treated such outbreaks as the result of either individual insanity, or inexplicable malice. In fact, to even suggest possible structural explanations—.. to point out that before the eighties reforms in corporate culture that destroyed earlier assurances of secure lifetime employment and protections for workers against arbitrary and humiliating treatment by superiors, there had not been a single workplace massacre in all American history (other than by slaves)—seemed somehow immoral, since it would imply such violence was in some way justified
there are only some social systems in which politics in this sense becomes a spectator sport in its own right: where powerful figures engage in constant public contests with one another as a way of rallying followers and gathering support. We now think of this as an aspect of democratic systems of government, but for most of human history, it was seen as more of an aristocratic phenomenon
(There is a reason why the U.S. Senate, for example, is inhabited entirely by millionaires.)
“Aristocracy” after all literally means “rule by the best,” and elections were seen as meaning that the only role of ordinary citizens was to decide which, among the “best” citizens, was to be considered best of all,
One might well argue that political action—and this is true even on the micro-level—is a matter of acting in a way that will influence other people at least partially by their hearing or finding out about it.
This is why poets were so important. The whole point of life was to do things that other people might wish to sing about.
Europeans for most of this period were staunchly opposed to democracy—insisted that “the people” in such a system would inevitably end up behaving like the mob at the Roman circus: .. And to this day, almost all educated people still feel that, even if they are willing to grudgingly accept a few democratic elements in some aspects of society, they need to be kept entirely separate from the administration of justice and the law.
Administrative procedures are very much not about the creation of stories; in a bureaucratic setting, stories appear when something goes wrong. When things run smoothly, there’s no narrative arc of any sort at all.
Bureaucratic procedures in contrast are based on a principle of transparency. The rules are supposed to be clear, uniformly expressed, and accessible to all. As we all know, this is rarely actually the case. But it is supposed to be true in principle. For most of us, administrative forms are at least as obscure as elvish riddles that only become visible at certain phases of the moon. But they are not supposed to be. In fact, one of the most infuriating bureaucratic tactics is to disguise information through a false pretense of transparency: for instance, to bury a key piece of information in a flurry of departmental emails—so many that no one could possibly read all of them.
Fantasy literature then, is largely an attempt to imagine a world utterly purged of bureaucracy, which readers enjoy both as a form of vicarious escapism and as reassurance that ultimately, a boring, administered world is probably preferable to any imaginable alternative.
anti bureaucratic seen as too crazy.. ie: in need of magic to keep it from – running amok
In the Harry Potter books, that’s exactly the joke: let’s take the most drab, stuffy, institutions responsible for the disenchantment of the world, and try to concoct the most wildly enchanted versions of them we can possibly imagine.
Computer games could turn fantasy into an almost entirely bureaucratic procedure: accumulation of points, the raising of levels, and so on.
introducing role-playing back into the computer games (Elfquest, World of Warcraft …), in a constant weaving back and forth of the imperatives of poetic and bureaucratic technology. But in doing so, these games ultimately reinforce the sense that we live in a universe where accounting procedures define the very fabric of reality, where even the most absolute negation of the administered world we’re currently trapped in can only end up being yet another version of the exact same thing.
We play games. So does that mean play and games are really the same thing? It’s certainly true that the English language is somewhat unusual for even making the distinction between the two—in most languages, the same word covers both. (This is true even of most European languages, as with the French jeu or German spiele.) But on another level they seem to be opposites, as one suggests free-form creativity; the other, rules.
play can be said to be present when the free expression of creativ energies becomes an end in itself. it is freedom for its own sake……..it inevitably does produce at least tacit ones (rules), since sheer random playing around soon becomes boring..
? – do we know that? or is that just the perception of a world from an indoctrination of productivity..?
freedom has to be in tension with something, or it’s just randomness..
? what if randomness is freedom. ie: whimsy. again.. perhaps we don’t know how to describe freedom – since we’ve never experienced it..
this suggests that the absolute pure form of play, one that really is absolutely untrammeled by rules of any sort (other than those it itself generates and can set aside at any instance) itself can exist only in our imagination, as an aspect of those divine powers that generate the cosmos.
ah. i don’t know. i don’t believe that to be true. and again – we don’t know – because it’s something we’ve not yet tried. perhaps.
what ultimatley lies behind the appeal of bureaucracy is fear of play.
i buy that. as in – fear of uncertainty. but i believe we’ve trained ourselves into that. trained ourselves into a play is subversive mentality/legality.
sovereignty – to make rules up as you go along.
rules are safe. game-like behavior seen as transparent/predictable – so seen as freedom.
on language – grammar was invented after language.. but then we use it even as people’s languages morph (as they should) to say they are ie: speaking incorrectly.
nothing to do with a distaste for arbitrary authority, and everything to do with a distaste for arbitrariness itself – a distaste which leads to unthinking acceptance of authority.
freedom, then, really is the tension of the free play of human creativity against the rules it is constantly generating.
Yaacov‘s defn of demo ed
Jo Freeman ness
yes. mechanism. huge.
so what if we did have a mechanism.. that perpetuated self-organizing/regeneration.. a starting over ness (at minimum) everyday..
Jim Rutt (@jim_rutt) tweeted at 4:05 AM on Mon, Aug 12, 2019:
This is an illuminating look at our world. Recommend Utopia of Rules by @davidgraeber https://t.co/vz4LTZ1snU
Walter Phippeny (@Igelritter) tweeted at 0:42 AM on Mon, Aug 12, 2019:
Started reading @davidgraeber ‘s book about Bureaucracy; 108 pages and several hours later I had to force myself to put it down. You know how it is when someone pulls back the curtain on a truth you feel, but have never been able to put into words? Well, it’s a like that. https://t.co/7TyaW1vYDx
Nicholas Bagley (@nicholas_bagley) tweeted at 6:06 AM – 28 Jan 2020 :
From @sangerkatz, this is an *essential* piece. Medicaid’s work requirements are a policy calamity because beneficiaries struggle to handle the paperwork.
If you think they’re lazy or that you’re different, take the quiz. They’re not, and you’re not. https://t.co/2bQSeJV2RR(http://twitter.com/nicholas_bagley/status/1222144026750738433?s=17)
title of piece: are you good enough at paper work to manage as a poor american
paywalled nyt piece
earlier tweet on have 10 days since initiation of first contact et al