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Interchange – Great Heaps of Grain and People (and Diseases): On Being Domesticated by the State

James Scott-Field Work in Myanmar
James Scott-Field Work in Myanmar

There seems to have been a massive intellectual and political push lately to frame the state as a clear force for good all in the face fraudulent war, fraudulent economics, and terror-practices–Steven Pinker’s Better Angels, and the American Psychological Association’s deal with the torture devils; Martin Seligman’s cadre of Positive Psychologists telling us to “come on get happy” in the face of mass incarceration, police violence, lead poisoning in municipal water supplies, “no excuses” urban charter schools, forever war, and climate catastrophe. Behaviorists want to create the predictable human in the same way Monsanto wants to make predictable crops. My guest in this hour is James Scott whose writing is a trek through the history of state-making and resistance to being shackled to governance. His most recent book is Two Cheers for Anarchism (he tells us why on only two cheers rather than three) and he is working on a book about how sedentary agriculture, grain production, cultivates conditions that make states possible, domesticating animals, plants, and humans. He was in Bloomington to deliver the Patten Lectures at Indiana University: “The Domestication of Fire, Plants, Animals, and…Us,” and “A Brief History of Flight from the State.”

Miracle and mystery run together, they merge. Then there is the third thing, authority…”that which men bow down to”…They will bow down first, the Inquisitor saw, to the one who has the power to control the bread.

The bread, the earthly bread, while it is being reaped and grown, it is life. But once it is harvested and stored, it becomes a commodity, it becomes riches. And then it becomes a danger. For men think, if they only possessed the hoard, they need not work; which means, really, they need not live…

–D. H. Lawrence in an essay on Dostoyevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor”

James C. Scott is Sterling Professor of Political Science and Professor of Anthropology and founding director of the Program in Agrarian Studies at Yale University. He is the author of The Moral Economy of the Peasant (Yale University Press, 1976), Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (Yale University Press, 1980), Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (Yale University Press, 1998), The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (Yale University Press, 2008), Two Cheers for Anarchism (Princeton University Press, 2012)

“Cassava” by P Zed
“Taxman” by the Beatles
“The Trees” by Rush
“Ain’t Got No…I’ve Got Life” by Nina Simone

Professor Who Learns From Peasants
The Trouble with the View from Above
Crops, Towns, Government, James C. Scott reviews Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday (“sloppy and lazy”)
Society Against the State by Pierre Clastres (excerpt)

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