Monday, April 2, 2012

Dinosaurs are dying.

Anarchy A to Z:
a guide to understanding our history unfolding for the anesthetized and apathetic

B is for Bureaucracy

   I spent a summer in New Orleans, living in a commune after Hurricane Katrina, attempting to put together the pieces of knowledge with a practical application guide. I spent more time rolling Bugler cigarettes and drinking Michelob at the local pub then doing manual labor. In the end, though, I accomplished my fact-finding mission. 

   If the Second Intifada was my birth, New Orleans was my baptism. I read an interesting zine while in New Orleans--it is available online, for free, of course. I didn’t think too much of it before, but it seems to be ever clearer as I have rendered a more colorful picture of the state of the world. The tract, Anarchy in the Age of Dinosaurs, explains the correlation between largeness and proneness to death. In a world of hypersized companies with globe spanning supply chains, media companies with access to tens of millions of malleable minds, and one in which the state itself is the biggest contributor its national economy, dinosaurs are relevant to today’s topic.

   In the biological sciences, the principle of allometry dictates that some animals will evolve to be larger and larger to exploit resources above natural competitors. However, these species become precariously dependent on consistency in the forage production of their environment. When chaos strikes, in the form of an ice age, a great earthquake isolating a herd from a range previously accessible, and so on, the animal is too large to subsist on a limited food supply. So it is with our modern dinosaurs.

   Bureaucracy, as delineated in Weberian-Foucauldian terms, is a method of social control. Inasmuch, understanding bureacracy is also useful because this specialized instrument of social control allows us to trace the roots of structural injustice far beyond the modernity of the Westphalian nation-state.

   From the first farming societies, bureaucratic structures emerged to manage tribute and set production quotas according to the divine dictates of the new religious and political classes. These replaced egalitarian structures wherein leaders were chosen according to the amount of respect they commanded. Bureaucracy is hierarchy. Abandoning libertarian equality necessitated this uniquely human instrument of control.
   Bureaucracy is pervasive, so much so that we hardly notice it. Bureaucracy dictates what kind of cheese we buy, the character of the streetscape, what books fill our library stacks, and so on. Bureaucracy evades the dictates of the people in supposedly republican states. This is no more evident than in the institutions’ freedom from executive administration, for example in the persistence of the intelligence-security apparatus the whispers its demands to each new face as they assume office. Bureaucracy has one primary purpose: survival.

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."        - Upton Sinclair

   Bureaucracy cannot solve problems, and often needs to create them. Not only does the inherent hierarchy of bureaucracy exacerbate our crises, but as Mr. Sinclair reveals, there is no agency in putting one’s self out of a job. Do you ever wonder why our food system is poisonous? Why a handful of companies control a majority stake and why farmers are under constant squeeze financially? The Department of Agriculture created a system biased toward the “newest and best” without any foresight and reckless ignorance of the consequences. The system and the department itself are biased toward large producers and efficiency, and it is less indicative of corporate rule than the imperative of survival. 

   And our “justice” departments? Beyond the detestable goal of being the new Jim Crow and being the conspicuous muscled arm of social control, our law enforcement system continues to develop new techniques to do its job. Take a parking citation, for example. The department may justify the efficiency gains of digitization or some other reason to forgive the expense, but for the people behind the scenes, these seemingly benign gestures create another day’s survival.  

   Bureaucracy leads to a bankrupt culture through specialization and concentration of power in its modern form. Task specificity has existed in earlier cultures, but specialization has taken a new meaning. The aboriginal shaman provided spiritual guidance, but hunted or gathered with the others. He was nothing like the engineer who understands components on metallic ink injector printers used in packaging manufacture. One who understands the relationship between corrosive chemical properties of ink and what metals are necessary in design, but does not offer any thought on the higher instances of cancer among the workers using that ink.

   Specialization divorces us from holistic thinking. It prevents us from needing to understand simple things. Do you know where your water comes from? How is it treated? Where do the mains run? Water is life. Yet we need not concern ourselves because we have specialists. When we isolate ourselves from simple knowledge in favor of specific and technical knowledge, the state controls us through dependency and the apparatus achieves allometry. 

   Always looking to the bureaucrats and specialists for answers requires us to turn away from our network of family and friends, our community, or the deeper answers within the soul. It is a bastardization of the true meaning of culture and it continues to grow larger and larger, increasing its size and scope, invading previously private realms, sucking the humanness from our souls, and it overwhelms our senses. But I am not angry. Actually, I think I have a little reason to smile. 

The dinosaurs are dying.

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