Metis and .*-rationality

High modernism, spontaneous order, legibility, the Great Society, technocracy, local knowledge

Lou Keep, The Use and Abuse of Witchdoctors for Life:

In 2012, the recipe for gri-gri was revealed to an elder in a dream. If you ingest it and follow certain ritual commandments, then bullets cannot harm you. The belief is puzzling, inasmuch as bullets did seem to keep killing people. More puzzling: not only did it survive, it was adopted by many neighboring villages, cities, and regions. “Why?”

The paper argues that gri-gri encourages resistance on a mass scale. Beforehand, given a mix of brave and cowardly, only a small percentage of a village would fight back. If you want to have any hope of surviving, then you need everyone to fight back. Gri-gri lowers the perceived costs of said resistance, i.e. no reason to fear guns when the bullets can’t hurt you. Now everyone fights, hence, gri-gri’s positive benefits. Moreover: since more people are fighting, each gri-gri participant also raises the marginal utility of the others (it’s better to fight together). And, since there are highly specific requirements for using the powder (if you break a certain moral code it doesn’t work), gri-gri also probably cuts down on non-war related crimes. Take group-level selection: the belief in and use of gri-gri will thus allow any given village to out-compete one without gri-gri. After a time, these will either be replaced by gri-gri adherents (hence spreading it geographically), or they’ll adopt gri-gri themselves (also spreading it).

As far as “sober looks at horrifying situations” go, this is a good one. It’s clever, it’s a decent analysis of why certain beliefs persist despite being false, and I’m glad to know that economics has finally found Nietzsche.

[…] most outside members would classify their beliefs as “irrational” or “stupid”. Hell, I remember people mocking this belief when I was growing up, and there are still somehow-still-considered-liberal-but-look-at-the-exotic-natives Vice documentaries about this. One can well imagine a government program to ban gri-gri, which would misunderstand its value, and therefore expose the villagers to raiding parties with no decent defense mechanism. […]

I’ll presuppose that local powers have all read the paper, recognize the importance of gri-gri, but still want to modernize.[…] They decide to retain the effects, but remove the “magical” aspect as unnecessary. This presupposition is how a whole lot of people do read Seeing Like a State. You make the previously-strange beliefs legible in state language. In doing so, you assume that you have “understood them” yourself well enough to continue modernizing. The problem with High Modernism, it’s assumed, is that the capital-S State is destroying useful practices, not necessarily that it’s destroying those practices period. Retain the utility and you might as well get rid of the superstitious beliefs.

Machines of loving grace

See legibility and automation. Think about Rao’s essay A Big Little Idea Called Legibility.

The rituals of my tribe

See tribal rituals and beliefs.

Legibility and communicative standards

See intelligibility as compatibility for an analysis of speech in terms of technical standards.

Make yourselves illegible

See misrule.


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