The Genius of Bureaucracy

October 19th, 2012 by Michael Tabor

The most effective and most powerful tool the government or big corporations of any kind can possess to control vast numbers of people is bureaucracy. The secret and key to bureaucracy is to make it as large (full of red tape) messy , complicated, and Labyrinthine enough so that one (actually part of the bureaucracy but doesn’t know it) is so involved with his or her own little task, not unlike a cog in a big machine, that it becomes impossible to see the big picture. The Nazis were simply the best at bureaucratizing, propagandizing (bureaucracy’s twin) everything so that 98% of its citizenry were in the dark on everything and as for the other intellectual 2%, Hitler’s henchmen just used brute force to shut them up.
One of the preeminent authors of the twentieth Century, Franz Kafka, spent his entire writing career spilling ink on bureaucracy, and for which his legacy is forever embedded in the annals of literary thought and social consciousness. Yes, the eponymous adjective, Kafkaesque, describes the senseless (for us) multi- layered, prodigiously frustrating menacing complexity the super – rich minority use to control the poor and middle – class majority with laser beam precision.
Now Hitler and Nazism is certainly the most extreme example of bureaucracy gone twistedly awry, however every single person on the face of the earth must deal with it every single day of our lives. The spectrum is monumentally wide from having to fill out endless forms and other paper work and waiting on long snaking lines at Motor Vehicle to life and death circumstances when an innocent person is sitting on death row because all of the powers that be have not signed the pertinent paperwork. What’s so awe-inspiringly Machiavellian and efficacious about bureaucracy is that 1. It seems to have a life of its own, no human intervention is necessary once it’s successfully emplaced i.e. Microsoft doesn’t exist, it’s a corporate entity – it’s not tangible. 2. No one person gets blamed – the more convoluted and intricately involved the bureaucracy is, the more effective and numbers of blameless people you have. We all have heard the statement, “I was only following orders”, “My boss told me to do it”, “It’s company’s policy…” ad infinitum.
Regular readers of this blog know that there is Rhyme and reason to WhadaweThink: A.We raise a compelling issue that may be topical, trending, in the news, the talk of the town (to borrow from The New Yorker), or actually we often have an enduring and eternal principle that perhaps Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle would be discussing. B. provide a few examples and illustrations C. Give a personal opinion or actual experience D. Then finally ask what you think, the readers, and welcome debate and discussion.
So to conclude this essay, I want to say that I am personally being forced to jump through hoops to land a low paying part – time job, i.e. “I would hire you on the spot, but you must apply online and wait, etc. What is that all about? Because of today’s bureaucracy, it’s harder to get a blue collar job with a big company than it’s to work for a smaller company – even if it’s an executive position. So WhaDaYaThink ? What do you think? I talked about what can happen to an entire country when bureaucracy is in full swing but what about on a smaller more personal level when one is just looking for a job or even registering to vote (Photo Id’s, and well that’s another blog) What is your story? Are you frustrated with bureaucracy ?

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4 Responses to “The Genius of Bureaucracy”

  1. Sal Paradise Says:

    Provocative piece on a phenomena so ingrained in modern society that it’s seemingly become integral to the human condition.
    I must take issue with several of your statements, however:

    Your characterization of 98% of German citizenry during the Third Reich as ignorant as to the nature and machinations of Nazism is, unfortunately, an egregious overstatement. Such an effective war (and hate) machine was only possible through the overt assistance and active compliance of an infrastructure consisting of millions of so-called citizens, and the, at best, willful ignorance of millions of others. As accomplished at genocide and mass murder as the Nazis were, they couldn’t do it alone. They didn’t.

    As for bureaucracy at it’s most stultifying and soulless, I see the post-Stalinist era Soviet Union and Eastern Block countries as better examples of the Kafka-esque hell you describe. They were corrupt, dispassionate states running on the automatic pilot of discredited ideologies that no one believed in anymore, but didn’t have the courage to contest given that self-preservation had become everyone’s, including the various regime’s, sole concern. That an apparatus so formidable for so many decades could so easily, and largely bloodlessly, collapse in so short a time speaks to how hollow and one-dimensional it actually was. Perhaps that’s bureaucracy’s greatest and most insidious characteristic; the passive compliance of its subjects.

  2. Michael Tabor Says:

    Hi Sal – Thanks for correcting my statement on the Nazi ignorance assumption. The ugly fact is that MOST ordinary German citizens did know about concentration camps and the Jewish solution, according to Professor Robert Gelllatelly, Holocaust historian at Clark University; sure, they didn’t know all the precise details, because they didn’t ask which leads to the 2nd point you raised – the shameful passive behavior of its citizens (Germany and the post-Stalin eastern block countries) … non-resistant sheep who didn’t want to know the truth.
    Once a bureaucracy is in place, “not wanting to get involved, etc.”, it’s almost impossible to dismantle.

  3. Sal Paradise Says:

    Please allow me to amend my last point: “… bureaucracy’s greatest and most insisdious characteristic; the passive, resigned compliance of its subjects.”

  4. Michael Tabor Says:

    uumm – maybe the German citizenry knew even more about the precise details than I initially thought – check out this interesting article

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