December 3, 2011


Donald Worster, Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity and The Growth of The American West (New York: Pantheon, 1985) ("Interestingly, free-market liberals like Fuller and anticommunist ideologues like Wittfogel, along with some technocratically inclined radicals, have all refused to acknowledge how the fate of humans is inextricably linked to that of nature--in the present and in the past. However, like many of the most important facts of our lives, this cannot be easily proved or dismissed in the way we would handle a scientific proposition--one which says, for instance, that heating a candle will cause it to melt. Instead, we must strive to find and test a historical truth that has consistent, observable, and demonstrable expressions. When that very wise Englishman C. S. Lewis wrote, 'What we call Man's power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument,' he had that kind of truth in mind. And when the contemporary French social theorist Andre Gorz declares, 'The total domination of nature inevitably entails a domination of people by the the techniques of domination,' he too is talking truth about a general historical truth, not a chemical reaction. A historical truth cannot be nicely calibrated or made exactly predictive without being reduced to triviality. In the case of the human implications of intensified water control, it is not possible to argue that this particular dam or that aqueduct will have precisely and in every place the same social impact. Establishing historical truths involves a looser, though still demanding, kind of analysis. It is not a strict determinism of cause-and-effect but rather an imaginative grasp of subtly interacting relationships. Only by that higher approach to historical explanation can we determine, Wifffogel and Fuller to the contrary notwithstanding, where the fate of the hydraulic cycle in the ancient desert regimes has any modern echoes." Id. at 50. "Legitimation involves the transforming of what might be regarded with skeptics or hostility into something acceptable, even honorific. Max Weber defines it as a process of establishing that something is right and proper, or that it is rational to do, when there is no custom or tradition behind it. A bastard child becomes a rightful heir. An unsigned painting becomes the acknowledged work of a master artist. The bourgeoisie take their place in the highest echelons of power, viewed no longer as ignoble upstarts but as leaders and benefactor. A revolutionary government gains support by arguing that it is the genuine voice of the people. In all such cases of legitimation there is at once an appeal to reason--or it may be an effort to redefine what is reasonable--and an appeal to tradition, demonstrating that the new is in fact organically linked to the old and established. When the claimant is a class, government, culture, or mode of production, legitimation usually involves the creation of an ideology, a set of ideas that will justify the claim. To create that authenticating ideology requires the recruiting of a group of persuasive ideologues, whose skill with words and reasoning can overcome opposing ideas, make the outlandish familiar, and motivate people to act in desired ways. Irrigation, as a new technological and social system introduced into American agriculture, went through such a legitimation process, as its ideologues attempted to establish that it was the genuine article--at once the perfection of reason and the fulfillment of tradition." Id. at 114. "Society is like that sky full of sounds, where the unique and the common weave in and out of the ether. Much of social thought has to do with deciding how much attention to give to the individual sound and how much to give the general blur, or with whether there is any virtue in listening at all. In America, we proclaim that the people's voices must be heard. Our air is a continual buzzing, louder and more cacophonous as years go by, and it is anybody's guess what the voices have to say in concert. How tempting, if you are a politician, to heed only the voices that have the sound of money in them. Yet it is also an old American belief that the individual can speak more clearly here than anywhere else in the world--and not just one with a warning to make or an ego to express. Any individual in this society is allowed, the official theory goes, to have an important, self-contained voice. Indeed, some say we pay so much attention to those private sounds that we ignore larger collective cries of anguish and protest. That we are too much a nation of discrete transmitters. That we turn a deaf ear to the common good." Id, at 129. And now we have entered the sovereign, but pretty mindless, state of Twitter-dom.).