Monday, April 09, 2012

The fundamental fallacy of the "Failed State"

Many questions arise with regards to this very questionable state of affairs. If a state "Fails", then what's the opposite, that it succeeds? If you look at the "Successful" states out there, there are many "Successful" states that are pretty mediocre, yet they work and function properly. That being the case, what does "Failure" really mean? Is it a contrast between being "Excellent", meaning that it does really well at various things, and "Failing" as a state? In either case what's being implied isn't something that can only be explained by the concept of "Failure", which is a human-created concept, but that can also be described by dysfunction, or inefficiency. A State can be dysfunctional in its governmental system, in its economy, and in the health of its civil society, and this can lead to its internal functioning being very unpleasant. An aspect of a state, such as its government, can not function effectively in various capacities, but none of these things imply 'failure' in the sense of the term 'failed state'. If failure implies a crisis on the part of the government, perhaps a better term would be a crisis of legitimation, meaning that the government and its functioning have become so corrupt that they no longer are seen as being legitimate by the populace, but that state of affairs implies a mass of human judgments being made by the people in the country, in that the state has become illegitimate to them, not illegitimate in a kind of abstract or absolute sense. The government itself could, in a situation like that, improve, continue to function badly, or deteriorate, but it can't, by definition "fail"... not only because there's no criteria with which to measure success in a non-trivial way, but also because the notion of "failure" implies an end state that can't be changed, and governmental and social institutions are dynamic entities that never reach a decisive conclusion that you can look at and say "That state failed, for all time". What happens if a "Failed state" remains in a state of failure for years? Does that mean that it's being successful at having failed? You can't just say that that state over there failed on friday, and that tomorrow it'll start again, with a clean slate, like nothing happened in the mean time. In any case, what's the distinction between a state that's very ineffective, one that's failed, one that's slightly less ineffective, and one that's only sort of ineffective.

In truth, what's happening when people use the term "failed state" is that they are attributing a characteristic of Being, of substance, to a concept, the State, the Nation, or the Government, things that are not solid entities with single characteristics that can either have the value of success or failure. These things are human terms, and by using them we're anthropomorphizing features of other societies and attributing motives, goals, successes, and failures to them.

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