The Utopia of Rules

The Utopia of Rules

On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy

Book - 2015
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"Where does the desire for endless rules, regulations, and bureaucracy come from? How did we come to spend so much of our time filling out forms? And is it really a cipher for state violence? To answer these questions, anthropologist David Graeber ... traces the peculiar and unexpected ways we relate to bureaucracy today, and reveals how it shapes our lives in ways we may not even notice"--Jacket.
Publisher: Brooklyn :, Melville House,, [2015]
Copyright Date: ©2015
ISBN: 9781612193748
Branch Call Number: 302.35 G756u 2015
Characteristics: 261 pages : illustrations, map ; 23 cm


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Dec 14, 2018

Incoherent. Graeber is an anarchist. And, it shows. For him every aspects of our civilization boils down to a nefarious, stupid, inefficient, overwhelming bureaucracy. In summary, civilization = bureaucracy and it is really bad. He can never articulate a coherent alternative. And, on many occasions he completely misses the boat. The onset of technology is a case in point.

In his view, the rate of technological innovation has very much flat lined since the early 1970s. Manned aerospace ventures were abruptly interrupted. Government funding in primary research were drastically cutback. And, in his view major innovations really did not materialize after that. Thus, he dismisses the threat of automation replacing labor.

Martin Ford, the author of “The Rise of the Robots” has a far better take on the situation. One can observe how numerous industries have been lethally disrupted for decades including booksellers by Amazon, travel agencies by Expedia, tax preparation by Turbo Tax, music industry by ITunes, and now movie and TV industry by Netflix, printed Media by Google and Facebook. The platform that has the algorithm, the customer information, that can scale up at near zero incremental costs just takes over the more capital & labor intensive industries. Martin Ford states that we have not seen anything yet. Smart robots with AI have barely gotten started. No industry (blue or white collar) is safe from the prospective labor disruptions. Several recent studies indicate that nearly 50% of jobs are vulnerable to automation within the next few years. Graeber misses all that.

He advances that the US is the most bureaucratic society as he states: “no population in the history of the world has spent nearly as much time engaged in paperwork.” Graeber does not provide any supporting data. So, I just checked World Bank data to check how many hours citizens and businesses spent on filing their income tax returns. Here are the results: World average is 240 hours; Italy 239, Germany 218, China 207, US 174. If one fact-checked Graeber’s other numerous subjective opinions, nothing would hold up.

On other counts, Graeber is so anti-civilization (indeed as mentioned earlier Graeber’s bureaucracy is very much synonymous with our civilization) that he very much agrees with Donald Trump. The latter single handedly is attempting to dismantle the Bretton Woods order (World Bank, IMF, WTO) associated with rapid globalization that has generated a remarkable increase in world trade, GDP, and living standards while preventing any major international conflicts ever since WWII. Graeber abhors this collective system of international “bureaucracies” without acknowledging their mentioned respective achievements.

Graeber is a nihilist. And, he reminds me of Yuval Noah Harari, a historian, who wrote almost an entire book on how devastating the invention of agriculture was to humankind (“Sapiens”). Just as Graeber wrote this whole book of how devastating civilization is to civilization. They don’t make any sense.

Thanks to the review of StarGladiator, I checked out THE UTOPIA OF RULES. It is the most-recent book by Occupy Wall Street activist academic anthropologist anarchist David Graeber, and it was a pleasure to read. Graeber moves effortlessly between history, sociology, feminist theory, comic books, movies, anthropological field work and personal anecdotes. There aren't many thinkers who can display such erudition and in a style that is accessible. What you should come away with is a deeper understanding how the state works at the most basic of levels. Violence. All these rules that the state is forever promulgating, as our lives grow ever more complicated with "paperwork," Graeber reminds us, it is all built, both implicitly and explicitly, on violence.

Mar 21, 2015

Truly a delightful and brilliant book, as to be expected from anthropologist/anarchist, Prof. David Graeber. My one criticim of this brilliant thinker, on p. 129, when he suggests that neoliberalism created a new form of predatory capitalism, I would say it was the opposite: neoliberalism was the creation of predatory capitalists, the purging of real liberals and the transformation of the amoral to faux crats. Several pages later, in typically brilliant style, Prof. G. explains that research and academia have been decimated by the corporatization of research, and the corporatization of academia. [Just recently the senior editor of Lancet, a prestigious British science publication, stated that about one-half of published science was fiction.]
My own example: when AT&T's Bell Labs, exempted from market competition, produced so many innovations and inventions [ref: The New Prophets of Capital, by Nicole Aschoff], but then many of those innovations were kept off the market as AT&T's management feared they would interfere with existing product lines - - we could have had the cell phone 20 years soon! [ref: The Master Switch, by Tim Wu]
On p. 146, Prof. G. states:
// . . . is that invention and true innovation will not happen within the framework of contemporary corporate capitalism -- or most likely, any form of capitalism at all. \\
One is reminded at the failure to establish a city-wide monorail system in Seattle due to the countermeasures and resistance of the Community Development Roundtable.


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