Seeing like a State in the time of Trump

Today at the AMS (Amsterdam Advanced Metropolitan Solutions) course METROPOLITAN INNOVATORS, I had the pleasure to listen to my friend and colleague Clemens Driessen explain how States are also a ‘technology’ that gives us certain ways of knowing, organising and understanding reality, akin to other technologies and ways of knowing. These are ideas are contained in (among others) the excellent book Seeing Like a State, by James C. Scott.

My mind is boozing with ideas about how the modern nation state evolved in parallel with capitalism (and in some places with democracy), and how all of those constructions are now in crisis.

But the high point of the afternoon was to watch students represent possible futures in short skits and discuss the State in alternative scenarios where the world is faced with radical new technologies that challenge the organising power of the State.

Suddenly, we were transported to places where technology allows for new forms of relationships (and sometimes new forms of oppression), where private property, work, personal relationships and consumption are challenged and have to exist in radically different forms.

That’s when you understand that reality as we know it is indeed a constructions and a product of several other human constructions. And that change is around the corner, for the better or for the worse. I am an optimist by nature, but technology is changing our societies really quickly and something tells me not everybody is able to profit from this change, or understand and deal with change. Not everyone is equipped and too many people are being oppressed by new emerging technologies and orders.

Maybe this general feeling of unease and uncertainty is fuelling the rise of extreme ideologies and people who pretend to speak for the oppressed, while oppressing them even more.


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