Not All Those Who Wander are Lost

The drive that Lewis Mumford called “the will-to-order” is at the core of technological progress. To exemplify the damage that can be generated by monolithic forms of analytic intelligence attempting to rule biodiversity and neurodiversity, we can take the recent example of French management of national forests. In the early 2000s, the French government introduced the analytical accounting methods of New Public Management into the management of the Office National des Forêts. Two decades later, a report from the Commission des Affaires Économiques of the French Parliament mentions a crisis in which no less than forty-eight forester employees committed suicide as a result of the rationalization of their practice, while tree diversity became seriously endangered because of the financial decision to focus on coniferous monoculture.

What are the principles of New Public Management? The notion that a national institution is part of a market or quasi-market and needs to make significant profit according to a factual short-term cost-based control system, a focus on citizens as customers, and, last but not least, the introduction of analytical accounting. This form of arithmetic management now enhanced with the use of predictive analytics tends to read the complex realities of a biopsychosocial system in terms of credit and debit. If a forest caregiver is wandering among the trees, apparently doing nothing but in fact in intuitive and careful dialogue with the forest, this will be analyzed by the grid as an unproductive slice of time – a cost that should be cut. The result in this case was suicide or depression, loss of meaning and joy at work, and an endangered life diversity.

In the long term, the national economy also suffers from its arithmomania. The coronavirus pandemic itself felt like a long computational list of new cases of illness or death, and many measures were taken based on these numbers only, as per the scheme of reductionist measurement concepts that govern biopolitics. Oversimplifying our decisional grids with a predictive analytics lens leads to a loss in neurodiversity and biodiversity.

In the Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Hegel discusses the different ways that people confronted the absolute through nature, symbolised by the god Pan. For Hegel, Pan represents not just an alien totality that has no relation to humans, but something “friendly to the human spirit.” Nature or Pan is represented, not as the objective whole, “but that indefinite neutral ground which involves the element of the subjective; he embodies that thrill which pervades us in the silence of the forests.” We need a pan-democracy. We need to be able to meander while working:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Riddle of Strider, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

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