Rare Earth's most recent video, The People Who Hate Us, is one of my favorite pieces of media that I've seen recently. It's made me think a bit about James Mill's History of British India. In the preface, Mill attempts to justify the writing of the book without knowing any Indian languages, nor ever having visited the subcontinent by suggesting that the British information gathering system was so good that it would be unecessary, even detrimental to try and get first hand information. James Mill's son, the tyke bomb John Stewart Mill's ideas are oddly related to the ideas stated by Evan Hadfield in the video concerning the comparative hedonic yield of different kinds of narrative and experiential exploitation in the depiction of peoples with variable power differentials. The interesting thing to note concerning those ideas is that J. S. Mill's Utilitarian moral philosophy requires the ability to accurately produce a shared unit of account between alien populations. Such divisions, be they geographic, ethnic, racial, gendered, class/caste, or even temporal/generational, provide such opportunities for arbitrage that obfuscation is the order of the day, and the measure is unevenly applied, sometimes to a three-fifths measure, sometimes not at all. In such a utilitarian schema, it matters not what the motivation for the obfuscation is. The assumption that the unit of account could symmetrically account for the lives of perspectives of alien parties is absurd on its head, ignoring the realm of the unknown unknown. This arbitrage can easily be concealed, and an untrue but public narrative is then proliferated, not accounting for the fraud that makes utilitarian accounting possible.
The elder, James Mill's book is correspondent pretty directly to the ideas in Edward Said's Orientalism, though I can't remember if Said ever directly mentioned it. Said's basic idea is that there is a paradox of depiction: one is both able to have accurate information concerning a subject, as well as use the claim to having accurate information regarding that subject to state falsehoods. Thereby, one may change the way that the subject is treated, changing the subject itself. The whole system is a set of nonlinear feedback relationships between depictor and depicted, with the power held in the hand and eye of that which controls the feedback relationship of depiction, rather than either the image or the original. It seems like there's an overall theme, between Hadfield and Said against the Mills, of attempting to question the assumption that its possible to have complete information, and thus that all attempts at representation are misrepresentation. Both of the Mills assume that the information gathering infrastructure around them—especially the monetary credit allocation processes—are accurate, thereby assuming that its possible to engage in just action by acting within an already debased credit allocation system. Again, this is a willful act of bad faith. It is debatable as to whether or not the Utilitarian intention is viable within an accurate credit allocation system, but the model advocated by Mill the Younger and picked up by modern Utilitarians—especially the present Negative Utilitarian death cult—is limited again by this failure to produce and objective unit of account. This failure of the project of Objectivity has led to men like Said's work being taken up—both inside and outside of the ivory towers of the academy—as a potential justification for theoretically infinite violence for simply making incorrect good-faith assumptions. The Utilitarian perspective does not appeal to liars, it appeals to those privileged souls who have themselves been deceived. Yet, the proliferation of untruth out of incompetence is considered as awful as willful deception in much of the modern world. This lack of compassion is absurd. Ignorance changes the conditions of production so drastically that the young nerd who comes to Mill is not to be blamed for hoping that the world had attained an objective standard. Indeed, all the dominant propaganda has spoken to him, suggesting this to be the case. The question is how to develop viable error correction and model-extension protocols that can justify connection between peoples in good faith by all parties, rather than an accelerating decay into xenophobic depravity. There's no sense in trying to reform the failures of accounting of the past, that will simply perpetuate a cyclic violence, where ones efforts at reform are simply an over or under-compensated derivative effect on the original fraud.
The following paragraph from Kaplan's The Revenge of Geography has been quite dear to me since I read it for the first time around its publication in 2012:
"And yet within this sad acceptance there is hope: for by becoming more expert at reading the map, we can, helped by technology as the Arab Spring has attested, stretch some of the limits the map inflicts. That is the aim of my study—to have an appreciation of the map so that, counterintuitively, we need not always be bounded by it. For it is not only narrow-mindedness that leads to isolationism, but the overstretching of resources that causes an isolationist backlash."
This contains the proper emotional tone for the beginner's mind that can analyze the world in a proper fashion. In addition to the geographic map that Kaplan speaks of, there is also a map of the process of epistemology that is as invariant as the instantaneous state of any given territory. Technology—for example media technologies such as Twitter as in the Arab Spring, or printed copies of History of British India, or anything that might modify the physical or human landscape such as bulldozers or CRISPR—can contort geographic and indeed biological and cultural elements into more logistically (and by extension morally) advantageous topologies. However, it cannot change the basic relationship between depiction and depicted, map and territory, and thus the protocol for aspiring to truth in description will not be transcended by technological advancement, only made less physically or socially costly.
Of course, a cursory look at Said and others like him (Baudrillard, Taleb, etc.) makes it clear that while that the relationship of truth and depiction is clearly invariant in theory, it's certainly not invariant in practice, as any given perspective attempting to implement a process of accurate depiction is operating with limited information of the subject, the substrate, and the means of depiction. This leads to the only solution to this problem being an aspirational, rather than deterministic protocol, as any protocol stated to be deterministic would be fraudulent if developed by any actor with incomplete information, which is to say any actor that is not a literal god. This produces all sorts of opportunities for corruption, where cruel defection rears its head under the excuse of imperfection, needing to be policed by detecting laziness, malice and bad faith, rather than only incompetence, as an assumption that incompetence is the only problem would also assume that the protocol could be deterministic and formulated from a perspective of complete information.
These questions are increasingly dominant in my mind, and seem to be central to the questions of civilizational development. An increasing consensus that I'm seeing among those I respect is that one must attempt to embrace the Achaemenid strategy of strategic centralization without loss of diversity, which is something that has been completely lost in the modern world at least partially because the selection pressures that used to generate an aristocracy competent enough to speak honestly no longer exists. Without an administrative class that is competent at speaking the truth, it is impossible to even begin answering the questions that Said, Hadfield, and others have brought up, and without answering those questions, Utilitarians like Mill are silly children, failing to notice what they don't know. The last paragraph of Herodotus is perhaps the earliest complete written example of the thought that Kaplan expressed earlier. (This is from the Godley translation, and though I prefer the Greene I don't have it on hand at the moment.)
This Artaÿctes who was crucified was grandson to that Artembares who instructed the Persians in a design which they took from him and laid before Cyrus; this was its purport: “Seeing that Zeus grants lordship to the Persian people, and to you, Cyrus, among them, by bringing Astyages low, let us now remove out of the little and rugged land that we possess and take to ourselves one that is better. There be many such on our borders, and many further distant; if we take one of these we shall have more reasons for renown. It is but reasonable that a ruling people should act thus; for when shall we have a fairer occasion than now, when we are lords of so many men and of all Asia?” Cyrus heard them, and found nought to marvel at in their design; “Do so,” said he; “but if you do, make ready to be no longer rulers, but subjects. Soft lands breed soft men; wondrous fruits of the earth and valiant warriors grow not from the same soil.” Thereat the Persians saw that Cyrus reasoned better than they, and they departed from before him, choosing rather to be rulers on a barren mountain side than slaves dwelling in tilled valleys.
I share this as an expression of the basic behavior that would grant one the credibility to depict the world, as in a way it is a way of being able to have the competence to decide how the world depicts you. I am not speaking of the action taken by Cyrus to relocate his people to the steppe, to naturally select them as warriors, but rather the wisdom of Cyrus to be willing to self-modify, to notice that he is his self and his circumstances, but in fact primarily his circumstances and that a significant quantity (if not a majority) of the ways that he is able to influence his self come from changing his circumstances. This, of course, is a directly analogous to the system of depiction from Said. Without this cynical, literal expression of self-control through environmental selection, it is unlikely that anyone is competent to rule even a rag-heap, much less something as influential as a broadsheet newspaper. Of course, a just ruler would also lend the potential mastery of circumstance to the ruled once they were ready, and the denial of that gift during those few moments when it might have been possible has been one of the greatest tragedies of the ancient and modern worlds.