This past week in Slate (2019-08-19):
The Grim Worldview Behind Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Push, the Hong Kong Protests, and the Kashmir Crisis
The upheavals in all of these nations are all connected.
By JOSHUA KEATING
Also — according to Keating — so are the the revocation of birthright citizenship and ethnic cleansing of ethnic Haitians in the Dominican Republic, the assaults on Rohingya populations in Myanmar and Bengali Muslims in Assam, the One China policy, fears of renewed troubles on the Irish-Northern Irish border in case of a hard Brexit, and separatist conflicts in Kurdistan and Catalonia.
The grim idea that connects them all turns out to be. . . state projects of legibility:
These stories are all signs that national governments are waging a war against ambiguity—of citizenship, of territorial status—to enforce a rigid and uniform vision of statehood. Those who carry out and defend these policies believe they are enforcing order and protecting their societies from lawlessness, but they’re likely to result in a more chaotic and disordered world.
It’s been 100 years since U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, in the wake of World War I, called for the world’s empires to be broken up into states “along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.” But the world is not as orderly a place as the 193 different-colored blobs on a world map would suggest. There are patches of land or groups of people that don’t quite fit neatly into the country they’ve been assigned, creating ambiguity—a condition where political sovereignty and citizenship status are ill-defined or even contradictory. These pockets of ambiguity consist of cultural minorities who find themselves on the wrong side of colonial-era borders, or places like Hong Kong that, for historical reasons, have a significantly different political culture from the country they’re now a part of.
Governments don’t like ambiguity when it comes to their territory or citizenry. In his book Seeing Like a State, the anthropologist James Scott describes how modern states strive to make society “legible”: to “arrange the population in ways that simplified the classic state functions of taxation, conscription, and prevention of rebellion.” This desire for “legibility and simplification” is something all modern bureaucracies share. But in this era, governments have found they can use this desire to fuel an ethnic nationalist political project. By enforcing strict legibility and outlawing ambiguity, governments have a ready pretext to keep undesirable foreigners out, demote the status of minority groups, or end special protections for populations who enjoy a certain level of autonomy. This strategy may not be new. But it’s been widely embraced in our era by governments of very different political persuasions.
–Joshua Keating, The Grim Worldview Behind Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Push, the Hong Kong Protests, and the Kashmir Crisis