On the anthropology lists where I hang out there has been a lot of complaining about universities run along corporate lines by overweening and growing administrative bureaucracies. We have just endured a campaign season in which small-government conservatives, a.k.a., Tea Party folk, have been raging about big government and overweening and growing government bureaucracy. When I step back and due the ethnographer’s trick of looking for shared assumptions, I note that both academics and Tea Party folk feel oppressed by bureaucracy. Then, I find myself wondering, if the ground for both sets of arguments doesn’t lie on the fault line that divides measurement and judgment.
Measurement, as a tool of science, has as one of its functions the elimination of arbitrary judgments. Extended to the moral and political realm, arguments for measurement usually turn on fairness and the need to avert the injustice of arbitrary judgments based on prejudice of one kind or another. But isn’t there a point at which trying to measure everything becomes an intolerable burden? In a complex and muddled world, is denigrating judgment by assuming that judgment implies prejudice the way we want to go? Where is the proper balance here?
What say, ye, Voles?