Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bureaucratic Insanity is Yours to Enjoy

Bureaucratic Insanity

I am happy to announce the release of a new title from Club Orlov Press:

Sean J. Kerrigan

In contemporary United States a child can be charged with battery for throwing a piece of candy at a schoolfriend. Students can be placed in solitary confinement for cutting class. Adults aren’t much better off: in 2011 the Supreme Court decided in 2011 that anyone the police arrest, even for an offense as minor as an unpaid traffic ticket, can be strip-searched. These acts of official violence are just the tip of the iceberg in our society.

The number of rules and laws to which Americans, mostly unbeknownst to them, are subject, is hilariously excessive. But what makes this comedy unbearable is that these rules and laws are often enforced with an overabundance of self-righteous venom. Increasingly, contemporary American bureaucrats—be they police, teachers or government officials—are obsessed with following strict rules and mercilessly punishing all those who fail to comply (unless they are very rich or politically connected).

In so doing, these bureaucrats have become so liberated from the constraints of common sense that the situation has gone far beyond parody and is now a full-blown farce. Consider this recent news story involving a Virginia sixth-grader, the son of two schoolteachers and a member of the school’s program for gifted students. The boy was targeted by school officials after they found a leaf, probably a maple leaf, in his backpack. Someone suspected it to be marijuana. The leaf in question was not marijuana (as confirmed by repeated lab tests). End of story, wouldn't you think?

Not at all! The 11-year-old was expelled and charged with marijuana possession in juvenile court. These charges were eventually dropped. He was then forced to enroll in an alternative school away from his friends, where he is subjected to twice-daily searches for drugs and periodic evaluation for substance abuse problems—all of this for possession of a maple leaf.

“It doesn’t matter if your son or daughter brings a real pot leaf to school, or if he brings something that looks like a pot leaf—okra, tomato, maple, buckeye, etc. If your kid calls it marijuana as a joke, or if another kid thinks it might be marijuana, that's grounds for expulsion,” the Washington Post cheerfully reassures us.

A reasonable school official would recognize the difference between a technical violation caused by an oversight and a conscious attempt to smuggle drugs into the school. But school officials were intent on ignoring their own better sense, instead favoring harsh punishments.

In his new book, Bureaucratic Insanity: The American Bureaucrat’s Descent into Madness, Sean Kerrigan documents dozens of eyebrow-raising examples in which America’s rule-enforcers perversely revel in handing out absurd and unfair punishments for minor infractions. They demand total and complete submission, driven by a perverse compulsion to “put us in our place” and to “teach us a lesson.” They mercilessly punish even the most inconsequential transgressions in order to maximize our terror and humiliation.

When Sean first began following this story several years ago, he became mesmerized by this bizarre carnival of unreason. “Where is all this pent-up rage coming from?” he wondered, “and why is it being directed toward the weakest and most vulnerable members of society?” And then news stories like those mentioned above grew more and more common. Eventually, he started compiling a list of the most egregious abuses, trying to detect patterns, searching for some explanation for why your average garden-variety bureaucrat has morphed into a monster and has started to take sadistic pleasure in the suffering of innocent people.

Some people might argue that this kind of behavior is the result of political correctness gone amok. Others point to the irrational fear of terrorism and mass shootings. Yet others might think that it has to do with the bureaucrats' fear of losing their jobs—merely for failing to comply with the exact letter of some rule. While there may be some truth to each of these explanations, they are far from adequate. Many of these bureaucratic abuses have nothing to do with political constraints on free speech, or with guns or terrorism, and in most cases the bureaucrats have the power to minimize harm, but instead they choose to maximize it.

In looking closer at each individual instance, it became clear that most of the offending bureaucrats weren’t even attempting to use their judgment but were mindlessly following written rules. Even in the most nurturing and humanistic professions—teachers and physicians—their practitioners have been robotized to such an extent that they now perform a very narrow range of actions. Thanks to all the progress in IT, their work is now quite detached from physical reality. Much of their work now consists of monotonously, mindlessly pounding at the computer keyboard. Consequently, a large portion of their waking lives has taken on an ethereal, pointless quality. Even teachers, who once had a relatively free reign in forming the minds of the next generation, are now forced to behave like machines, teaching to standardized tests and working a grueling average of 53 hours a week.

The psychological effects of this pressure have been profound. Minus the opportunities to make their own decisions and to see those positive effects of their efforts, their work has become personally meaningless, alienating, depersonalizing and psychologically damaging. As a result of this damage, American bureaucrats, although they may look like mild-mannered professionals, have become prone to sudden bouts of aggressive, sadistic behavior. They are unable to act out their repressed rage in any socially acceptable way other than by doling out punishments, fines, rejections, expulsions and other forms of objective, systemic violence.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and rest assured that this is all being done for our own good. The purpose of all of these rules and laws, from the perspective of the American system of governance, is to maximize control over everything that can be controlled and to micromanage every possible detail of our lives—in order to make them better! From student testing all the way to global trade, those in leadership positions are trying to centralize as much authority as possible in order to maximize efficiency, profit, American power... while minimizing our dignity, well-being and happiness. Oops!

In his book Bureaucratic Insanity, Sean traces the development of this trend from the early years of the industrial revolution to the modern day, from its initial appearance in factory life and in the military, to it later metastasizing to the office, and now taking over America’s schools. He argues persuasively, based on a careful and thorough review of literature in history, philosophy, psychology, anthropology and social criticism, that the average American bureaucrat is literally, clinically insane. The average American bureaucrat has a warped perception of reality and an intense, repressed self-hatred. Their only way to vent their rage is by punishing others using bureaucratic methods. They demand absolute conformity because it is their only way to give their meaningless lives some semblance of meaning. They suppress all thoughts that might lead them to discover the true nature of their condition, because that would cause them to spiral down into outright schizophrenia.

The book concludes with an assessment of what we can do to insulate ourselves from this seemingly unstoppable trend, and of how we can reinvigorate our lives by giving it real meaning.


Sean Kerrigan is the author of Bureaucratic Insanity: The American Bureaucrat’s Descent into Madness. He has been a writer and public social critic for the last 15 years, concentrating on issues of economic, political and social decay in the United States. Educated at Temple University in Philadelphia, he worked for several years as a journalist focusing on hard news coverage. Disillusioned by the economic crisis of 2008 and its aftermath, he refocused his attention on political and spiritual matters, with most of his subsequent writing challenging the accepted mythology of American society. His work has been featured on the BBC World Service Radio, popular blogs such as Zero Hedge, and several daily newspapers including the Bucks County Courier Times. He maintains a regularly updated website at www.SeanKerrigan.com and a Twitter account @SeanJKerrigan.


Ray Ogoraeck said...

Franz Kafka eat your heart out !!

NJGuy73 said...

I'll start with the quote that could pretty much sum this up:

"I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of "Admin." The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid "dens of crime" that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern." -

C.S. Lewis, Preface, The Screwtape Letters

Mike in Cincy said...

After thirty years in various parts of the bureaucracy in Ohio, I can say that yep, Sean nailed it. Not everybody is this nuts by any means, but a whole lot of people behave just the way he describes for just the reasons he identified.

Karl K said...

It's also important to note that these excesses are also meant to be an important message to others to keep them in line.

Actually, I think this is actually the real message.

As Barney Fife once noted on the old Andy Griffith show, "You have to nip it in the bud."

(Similar to the "broken window" theory of policing, I think)

My donkey said...

This explains how a 4-year-old boy could be sentenced to life in prison for killing 4 people before he was 2 years old.

mike said...

As a society/belief system enters collapse and moves towards chaos life is experienced in increasing forms of extremity. Attempts are made by its members particularly it enforcers to more strictly adhere to the belief system and it becomes fanatical in the imposition of its beliefs to stave off the collapse of the ground under their feet, the collapse of their beloved systems of power. Love disappears into the abyss of fascism and correctness. Political correctness and fascism are two sides of the same coin. Further as collapse speeds up attempts are made to return to the old values,the old stories, the old memories of how it used to be. Crises cults emerge in many parts of society heralding the second coming of the same old destructive system. Old stories do not lead to renewal only further collapse but this is not believed.
John Ralston Saul's book Voltaire's Bastards details the whys and wherefores of development and rise to power of the insane bureaucrat. We should add to the list, insane politician, business leaders, church leaders professors, and AI developers who believe in the Singularity. Put them all in a pot stir and voila a magic elixir for death.

Robo said...

In the grim quest for neo-liberal efficiency and productivity we have increasingly been seeking to emulate and embody our machines and devices, to the point now where the greater part of our daily tasks and human interactions are done through an electro-mechanical interface. Our spirit, language and culture have suffered greatly because we are not machines.

The humanists who founded this country could never have contemplated how the proud and active citizens and civil servants of their United States of America might someday be succeeded by the beleaguered and benighted consumers and bureaucrats of our present day 'Murrica. If the US is to continue on into the future in one piece, some balance between the humanistic and the mechanistic must be achieved.

jetstove said...

Rules are always created in the best interests of the people. All the good rules were created thousands of years ago and today we are just adding to the pile. Rules now take the place of thinking and feeling. They force the person in control to bypass cerebral function. There are rules governing the person in control. That person is subject to a whole other level of control; they must follow the rules or themselves be judged.

Here are the rules we are expected to follow in today's society.

World rules (UN/treaties), Country rules, Provincial/state rules, County rules, Municipal rules, Neighborhood rules, Work rules, Condo/apartment rules, Church rules, Family rules, Moral rules, and most importantly...whatever the wife says!

Our bodies are tied to the ground like Gulliver was by the Lilliputians...by all these rules. We are stifled. Where is the most important rule of all? The one the states that "if a rule is stupid, inhumane, or unenforceable, it should be deleted from the rule book". Alas, this rule of rules is non-existent.

beetleswamp said...

Our local university system is starting to panic because enrolment rates are down. It's because everyone hates them and their well-deserved reputation for mini-dictatorships and bureaucratic crushing of subordinates. Of course they are completely blind to these facts, as the only ones who could raise these issues are either afraid for their jobs, moved away, or have been marginalized by the system.

Alex said...

NJguy73- You think we're out of Dickensian times, how cute.


NJGuy73 said...

Alex, neither Lewis nor I would say the human race is "out of Dickensian times." Of course there were in Lewis' time, as in our own, dens of crime committed by Fagin-type individuals. What Lewis was saying is that the evils of those people pales to that which is administered in offices and carried out by men with weapons.

As for the way the cops acted in the article you cite, I would guess that Lewis would not be surprised. Indeed, he would say the cops' behavior is the end result of the policies conceived by quiet men in clean, well-lit offices.

DeVaul said...

What a fascinating book! I have also noticed this craziness at my daughter's local elementary school, but I would like to point out that the school system here is divided between the actual school itself, which consists of the teachers, the principal, the janitor, and a gaggle of social workers whose presence is somewhat ambiguous. (Do they really help? How do we even know?)

However, the most egregious nonsense comes from the county school headquarters on main street. Everyone hates them. They are way over paid and do nothing but engage in obstruction and churning out endless paperwork for parents to fill out and sign. Most parents try to go around them and deal directly with the school principals, and the principals seem quite cooperative in this respect.

That said, I have tired of the endless paperwork that descends on our home every day from the school. I just but recently filled out a four page form in which I had to list all of my daughter's vaccinations just for her to attend a field trip to a 4H camp (it was supposed to be overnight, but got downgraded to a day trip). One would think the school or the camp would be satisfied with the 40 dollar check, but they were not. They wanted to know my daughter's entire medical history -- for what is essentially a glorified picnic.

This and so many other headaches have caused me to decide that after the 5th grade, I will homeschool my daughter. All her close friends have already left the school anyway for "programs for talented children", leaving behind nothing but bullies and "problem children". Curiously, the children who got into these special programs all have wealthy parents or parents who pushed and shoved to get their average children, and their siblings, into these programs for no other reason than that they believe their children will come out as geniuses or something. Several have already turned into outright snobs -- at age 10!!!

Meanwhile, my daughter asks why the boys pick on her and the girl with autism, who she helps at school by teaching her how to read. I am very proud of my daughter. She shows a deep sense of empathy towards others and I fear leaving her in this nightmarish school system will destroy that, so I plan to take her out before she is "educated", like my two helpless sons were by the Mussolini School of America. They both now show no empathy, no sympathy, nor even any real feelings towards others except when they want something from them. The local school is not as extreme as the Montessori system of brainwashing, but it is not geared towards letting children be who they were meant to be. It tries to squash them all together into some kind of homogenous group that can pass idiotic multiple choice tests and stupidly worded mathematical "word problems".

This system destroyed my wonderful sons, but I will not let it destroy my daughter without a fight to the bitter end. I have seen the face of evil and, unfortunately, it is my own family and my own neighbors who support this evil system by refusing to consider any alternative to something they actually hate. Now that my mother (a life-long burocrat) will soon die, I will not fail to grasp this chance to save my daughter from a similar fate. I hope I succeed, for her sake.

Deborah Lynn said...

Can we order it from someplace else besides Amazon?

Rory McMullan said...

This obsession with rules makes me think of Zaleucus in Ancient Greece, who is credited for a form of government whereby anyone who proposed a new law, or the alteration of one already existing, had to appear before the Citizen's Council with a rope round his neck. If the Council voted against the proposal the proposer was immediately strangled.

If we started with the US Consititution as the basis for government then applied Zaleucus's principle, it would likely reduce the number of new rules proposed and/or amendments to rules.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Deborah, the book is published by Amazon.

Jmu Murch said...

In the Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein proposed a bi-cameral legislature where one house could pass laws with 2/3rd majority, and the other house's only job was to remove bad laws - requiring only 1/3 vote. I don't support all his libertarian views, but in a better democracy, this seems like it would help prevent legal 'bloat'.

USuncutMN said...

In the same vein is David Graeber's "anthropology" book on bureaucratisation:


If I were to write my memoirs it would be named "Out of the Box" - how I escaped the stifling rules and regulations imposed on me. So many of them aimed at woman are covert and tough to identify.

Rickey Holtsclaw said...

What you refer to as Bureaucratic Insanity i.e. an obsessive-compulsive mandate by those in authority to require adherence to every jot and tittle of the law, rule or policy is the resultant of an absence of any semblance of moral authority in 21st Century America. What?

There was a time in America when "most" men and women did, "most" of the time, what was expected of them, both morally and occupationally. Why? Because men and women perceived their employment as an extension of their obedience to the Lord - to be faithful, to work as unto the Lord and these men and women believed that they were answerable to the Lord who had provided them sustenance and blessing.

America has incrementally become consumed (over the past fifty to sixty years) with the ideology of Moral Relativism - every man and woman is free to do that which is "right" in accordance with their personal perspective and tolerance (the illegitimate offspring of Moral Relativism) has become the sociological/ideological icon.

Sociologically speaking, Moral Relativism will inevitably lead to chaos and the natural resultant of societal chaos, for those responsible for maintain order, is an equal and opposite reaction to this sociological truism that naturally manifests in obsessive authoritative requirements to adherence to the letter of the law void any tactful leniency - leniency/understanding is "naturally" viewed by the "autocrat" as compromise with the current destructive, evasive, sociological obsession with selfish-hedonistic pursuits that war against/undermine the intent and purpose of a strong work ethic - this "work ethic" is ultimately what achieves the intent of the corporate model for success.

Factor-in the current sociological obsession with civil liability relevant to speech, sexual orientation, political ideology, religious ideology - EVERY facet of the work environment and I find it surprising that there is even a question regarding the reasoning behind Bureaucratic Insanity. It truly is nothing more than an attempt to combine incompatible sociological ideologies where one has no moral basis and the other derives its very existence from a moral authority.

Jesus-Messiah confronted similar problems during His pilgrimage on Earth. His revolutionary New Covenant of peace and internal/external/eternal guidance via the Holy Spirit was met with Bureaucratic Insanity through the religious sect of the Pharisees and Sadducee's who required strict adherence to the Law of Moses. As a result of their intolerance, tactlessness, hypocritical authority over God's people, Messiah referred to them as a brood of vipers, hypocrites who gag at a gnat but swallow a camel. They were guilty of putting burdens on God's people that they themselves were unwilling to carry.

Jesus' solution to Bureaucratic Insanity? To Love the Lord your God with all of your being and then, to love you neighbor as yourself. Jesus said that by obeying these two "laws" or Commandments - all of the other laws were fulfilled - basically, through loving God and allowing that all encompassing love to direct your life - the natural flow of this love is honor, respect, generosity, kindness, goodness, self-restraint, obedience - against such - there is no law and Bureaucratic Insanity and its genesis cannot exist.

Rick Holtsclaw

?Dir_ScornByGd said...

CS Lewis Got Closest. TPTB are transitioning to an open Technocracy, a two class system of controllers and slaves. Their ideal is 1/3 of the people control the other 2/3. Their punishments must be immediate and severe, even a bit arbitrary, to condition us into thinking we're powerless against their system.
When we hear of police beatings and roadside forced body cavity searches each month, we'll all think twice before mouthing off to a cop.

NowhereMan said...

Rickey Holtsclaw,

You had me right up until you veered off into Jesus-Messiah land. I appreciate your sentiments and even agree with most of your derived conclusions, but you need to check the idea that this is all some "universal truth" based on the pilgrimages of a "special human," at the door. There's simply no support for that kind of crap in the historical record AT ALL, and continuing to perpetuate the delusion that there is, is TREMENDOUSLY destructive to any actual meaningful conversation actual sentient humans beings might conceivably have. SERIOUSLY!

TheTeddyboy46 said...

I will tell you where all this started and how it will end. 1980 Ronald Reagan gets in bed with the religious right [pun intended] for votes. So we have a Hybrid Party of Religious Fanatics and the Greediest people in America. Since the Religious Fanatics can not impose Gods Law on America they use Civil Law and enforce it with a Fanatics zeal. The next step is using administrative procedure to enforce Gods Law in the schools all in the name of Zero Tolerance. Political Correctness is what happens when people who are not Religious start enforcing their beliefs of what is Correct. With a Fanatics relentless zeal. This will end because the P.C. crowd will eventually marginalize themselves. Oh and the Greedy People? They could careless as long as they can have all the money.

michigan native said...

It has always been my belief that the reason mild psychoactive substances like marijuana have been demonized and the people that use it are treated like criminals is that it has this tendency to allow people to see behind the veil of deception, to question authority, and to demand peace, equality, and a green planet. A whole generation of people that rallied against the war in Vietnam, demand equal rights and freedom for all, and a clean, green environment used substances like this. A corrupt empire run by violent, hateful, spiteful, greedy war profiteers, a military industrial complex, and other monsters that want everyone to shut up, consume, obey, be afraid, and get boxed into a prison where they are forced to act in ways that are detrimental to their health and well being.

It is only now that the US is bankrupt and collapsing that they are lightening up in some areas of the country and scaling back on this for profit mass incarceration system that has persecuted and ruined the lives of so many millions because their political ideology may not conform to those who have hijacked our freedom and our futures for their short term greed

I know there is no political solution to this collapse which really seems to be reaching a critical mass, but the one man who offered some reprieve from all the abuses, the hate and the violence is being systematically shafted. My only hope was for peace and someone with compassion who would at least try to make sure we had some access to the basic necessities of life after the collapse runs its course.

So it looks like Hubbert's third prediction, the social upheaval and some futile military solution to peak oil will become a reality, as the witch of warfare, the Wall Street sell out, "view Iraq as a business opportunity" with her threats against Iran and wanting to establish a "no fly zone" to protect the CIA's ISIS mercenary army will come true just as he predicted domestic peak oil production as well as world wide oil production. More warfare, more poverty, more misery, under this vile, evil bitch who is devoid of any conscience. How sad that so many will suffer and die all in some vain and futile effort to prop up the house of cards and try to impose world hegemony. The desperate acts of a dying empire that still thinks it is "too big to fail". To think that much of this could have been averted. Very sad.

StickySweater said...

It seems to me that the tendency to worship rules, observe excessive political correctness, obsession with symbolism and zero tolerance are all linked to what Nietzsche called the death of meaning. Meaning is largely absent from our lives, which is intolerable. We pour our attention into whatever gives life a kind of substance. That can include many different things, some healthy -- traditional religion, our jobs, our families -- but it can also include some very sick behaviors, like the ones documented in Bureaucratic Insanity.

I would source the beginning of this problem to the early industrial revolution. But it has worsened dramatically with the isolating power of television, white collar work, and now high-tech and high-interactivity devices like hand-held computing. We need to fully understand this now, because it will become much worse as the last remnants of meaning are purged from our increasingly hyper-controlled society.

I agree with Mr. Holtsclaw on this point: Bureaucratic Insanity cannot take root without unconditional love for others (which begins with self-love). Looking honestly at one's inner-life is essential.

- S.J. Kerrigan

Alex said...

Teddy Boy - the roots of that go back further, to the evangelical "born again" Christian movement in the US, I believe in the 1950s they decided they were going to start their takeover, and this is where we ended up with things like the Crystal Cathedral and religious TV shows and all that. Reagan decided to jump onto that movement and rode it all the way to the White House.

Michael Rynn said...

Bureaucratic Insanity - that strikes a chime with my current reading of "Sane Polity" by William Ophuls. Its a rather slim book, perhaps hinting that sane governance is inherently unstable. Like a pencil standing on a point, too many more ways to be unstable, and balance needs real political foxiness and civic understanding. A good spread of human virtues are necessary all round, for 'civil' society, including tolerance, because it is more emergent thing than set from above.

I am sure that Battery Hens go chicken-insane. Regimented societies need outlets for emotional expression, lots of free-range movement. Ophuls quoted Balinese cock-fighting to release the anger of men where expression of anger is normally forbidden.

Too many rules and regulations make up the walls of our battery cages and we start to peck more at each other.