Control is just an illusion

October 13, 2011

Fred Inglis is bloody angry about the state of truth in the academy ("Economical with the actualité", 6 October). Good for him, it's about time somebody was.

However, he is wrong when he depicts the coalition government as actively choosing not to protect the weak "in the national interest". As the sociologist Manuel Castells pointed out some time ago, in a globalised economic order, national governments increasingly come to resemble the inhabitant of Asteroid 325 in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince.

On Asteroid 325, the Little Prince found a king who ruled over everything in the Universe. This king had such power that he could order the Sun to set - but only at 20 minutes to eight in the evening. Thus it is with the forces of globalised capitalism. National states need to give the impression of being in control of what they do, but in fact they are not.

Like the Little Prince, we can become bored with groundless claims for obedience from empty figures of authority, but the Sun will still set and the weak will still be disadvantaged. I'm just not sure what we can do about it - except tell the truth, of course.

Alan White, Director of the Graduate School, University of East London

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