“Legibility is a condition of manipulation. Any substantial state intervention in society — to vaccinate a population, produce goods, mobilize labour, tax people and their property, conduct literacy campaigns, conscript soldiers, enforce sanitation standards, catch criminals start universal schooling — requires the invention of units that are visible”

“The great advantage of such tunnel vision is that it brings into sharp focus certain limited aspects of an otherwise far more complex and unwieldy reality.”

(Seeing like a State)

But yet, most complexities of human life fail to be marshalled into a single regulatory code; any codification would be partly arbitrary and artificially static. To codify local practices was thus a profoundly political act.

This process of legibility becomes dangerous when it forcefully shapes users. In the process of being made legible, nuance is excluded. Legibility means that ‘only what matters’ and can be quantified is kept; all else is discarded. This is especially dangerous when that legibility happens without the choice of the users.

See also: To Live in their Utopia, Seeing like a State


Our obsession of applying labels to everything extends to even whether a hot dog is a sandwhich or not.

“Accuracy is more useful in entry-level jobs and for novices, because as skill increases, quantification of skill becomes harder.”

Why do we have labels in the first place?

  • they help us to communicate complex ideas between each other without having to explain our entire mental models
  • they are attached to societal connotations and perceptions of certain concepts
  • they give legitimacy in the form of social proof to concepts

See also: terminology, ontology


  • McNamara Fallacy: Also known as the quantitative fallacy: making a decision involving purely quantitative observations (ignoring all others) is often wrong. Source
  • Procrustean: an arbitrary standard is used to measure success, while completely disregarding obvious harm that results from the effort