Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Bureaucratic Insanity: Free to be Slaves

Schools in America today are less concerned about the overall welfare of students than they are with making sure that they obey all the rules, no matter how pointless, and produce good test scores. The emphasis on mindless obedience and rote learning prepares them for dehumanizing office work, where employers don’t even try to pretend that they care about the welfare of their workers. Instead, they shame them for taking vacation time and force them to work overtime for free. Employers and school administrators only care about what they can produce: children are treated no differently from widgets, and employees are treated no differently from robots.

It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the hierarchical power structure embodied in our rigidly regulated and controlled schools and jobs closely resembles the relationship between a master and a slave. But there is a difference: slaves are under no obligation to pretend that they are free and can be as sullen and apathetic as they wish. They know that they are property, they do the bare minimum to avoid punishment, and they cannot be shamed for such behavior any more than a lawn mower or a toaster oven. We, on the other hand, require both students and employees to cheerfully and meekly deny their slave-like status, and to perpetuate the fiction that they are not compelled to conform but are acting of their own free will. They are gradually driven insane by the chronic cognitive dissonance caused by the mismatch between their pretend-freedom and their all-too-real slavery. In the following excerpt from his new book, Bureaucratic Insanity: The American Bureaucrat’s Descent into Madness, Sean Kerrigan delves into the nature of this effect.


When discussing bureaucracy generally, the term “crazy” is often thrown around, and I would argue that this characterization is accurate. We must consider that these widespread outbursts and acts of aggression are linked to a mass delusion, a culturally, socially and technologically induced psychosis. People are losing their grip on a part of their humanity. This causes them to act aggressively or to oppress others to a point where they act violently in return.

We often find ourselves at the mercy of overzealous rule-enforcers who act as if they are our masters. The relationship between a master and a slave creates silent hostility that cannot be penetrated until the slave is freed. There is no human interaction possible between a master and a slave because their relationship is always overshadowed by the inequality of their relative status. The same is often true of the relationships among the slaves, if they are in competition for status, or if they are trying to become masters themselves—by insisting on observing the rules.

Within the contemporary American workplace, this master-slave dynamic is dominant and nearly inescapable. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the school system, where dozens of students are subjected to a single teacher’s will. If that teacher has been bureaucratized and has surrendered her sense of sympathy and compassion, the results will likely be disastrous for the students. They become co-opted into the hierarchy as obedient servants, or, if they rebel or are unable to comply adequately, they are labeled defective and discarded.

In 1832, US Congressman James H. Gholson said: “Our slave population is not only a happy one, but it is a contented, peaceful, and harmless one.” At the time, this line of reasoning was widely accepted in large part because slave rebellions in the United States were rare. While this view may have seemed obvious to some in the ruling class, it was ultimately a shallow observation that failed to recognize the complexities of slave psychology. The submissive attitude of most slaves was achieved through repeated use of violence, and the promise of more violence against them if they resisted. In some cases, slaves felt responsible to their masters, identifying with their goals and believing that their position was inferior. The now well understood spiritual deprivation that accompanied slavery in America was only rarely interrupted by explicit slave revolts.

Kenneth Stampp, a professor of history at the UC Berkeley, described in his book The Peculiar Institution several methods of psychological manipulation necessary to guarantee the compliance of a slave:

1. The slave must be placed upon a footing of “unconditional submission... The slave must know that his master is to govern absolutely and he is to obey implicitly.”

2. The slave must feel a sense of personal inferiority.

3. Make the slaves “stand in fear” of the master’s power and in his propensity for violence.

4. Get the slave to “take an interest in the master’s enterprise and to accept his standards of good conduct.” In general, the slave should equate the goals of his master with his own.

5. Create in the slave “a habit of perfect dependence upon their masters.”

Of these methods of control, number four is particularly relevant for the bureaucratic mindset. In order for bureaucrats to unquestioningly follow a precise and often inhumane set of instructions, it is enormously helpful if they believe in the broader corporate or governmental goal. But all of these methods can be observed in a contemporary work environment. As economic pressures continue to rise, the worker-employer relationship continues to worsen.

If I could add one additional item to Stampp’s list, I would note that the modern slave-master often tries to limit the level of discourse, by making certain subjects taboo and by isolating his slaves from each other, ensuring corrosive ideas do not gain traction among them.

Every day in the US, millions of people get up, shower, get dressed and drive to work. They eat at particular times of the day, lest they miss the opportunity. They follow their boss’s instructions, which are sometimes in direct violation of their personal moral code. They pay taxes, even if the money goes toward causes they find morally objectionable. Rebellious people who attempt to escape these restrictions by starting their own business, or by joining the swelling ranks of the unemployed, face hardships and hurdles which make these paths less than desirable.

The requirement that they must conform to the rules is made clear to them early in life. Contrary to the abiding myth that childhood is a happy, free, idyllic time, young people are subject to constant supervision. Work is valued over play. What children want to do is immaterial. Their parents—who are normally the most important individuals in their lives—only see them for an hour or two a day and sometimes on weekends. They take on the role of bossy taskmasters. Over time, children quickly learn to take orders from anyone who acts like an authority figure. For those who naturally resist being bossed around by strangers, the cost of resisting is often harsh. It’s expected of them that they learn to accept the path of least resistance, believing in lies, both large and small, that enable them to do so without experiencing major psychological discomfort.

Naturally, when they grow up, they imagine that they really want to get up to go to work, to follow the instructions of authority figures, and to prove themselves within predefined social contexts over which they have no control. Those who adapt well are able conform, appear normal, and indeed be normal—or what passes for normal in a society that demands conformity. The most serious and committed conformists appear to enjoy and find comfort in their ability to fit in, happily avoiding the moral complexities that often come with the exercise of free will.

Early in Aldous Huxley’s seminal 1931 novel, Brave New World, he argues that in order for a future society to be functional, it would need to make people love their servitude:
Later on their minds would be made to endorse the judgment of their bodies. “We condition them to thrive on heat... Our colleagues upstairs will teach them to love it. And that... that is the secret of happiness and virtue—liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their inescapable social destiny.”
Of course, this is all quite arrogant; such rigid control may be possible when dealing with mechanical devices, but in the domain of human psychology unintended consequences are the norm, not the exception. In the end, the social engineers inevitably turn out to be sorcerer's apprentices, setting in motion processes they can neither understand nor control.


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 tweets as @SeanJKerrigan.


Robert Magill said...

I was born and raised in a vast mental asylum. I was a young man before I had any inkling I had somehow become partly sane. We had all learned in the asylum that to speak or even think in any mode other than the collective insane voice of the other asylum residents would mark one as different and dangerous. The onset of this burgeoning new awareness was disturbing to me and some cause for concern. There were consequences for this defection as the guards and the leaders, though insane themselves, were armed.(more)https://robertmagill.wordpress.com/2016/04/30/asylum-earth/

NowhereMan said...

Wow! A kindred spirit dares to tell it like it is! Morris Berman, in his excellent work Why America Failed, also contends that the American civil war was mostly about freeing locally owned slaves in the South to be exploited "freely" as capitalist wage slaves in the North as well. Adding women and other minorities to the workforce in the 70s and 80s further stoked the capitalist bonfire by saturating the labor market and driving wages and costs into the floor, eventually destroying the hallmark American single earner nuclear family altogether. And yes, pretending that none of this is actually happening and that all is peachy keen in corporate America land is literally driving those of us who notice such things crazy! At a bare minimum, until US tax laws are changed to reward labor and penalize investment income, this abomination will continue to accelerate. And we all know that that's NEVER going to happen under the current system.

Yuri Vega said...

Three years as a youth conditioner (public school teacher), in cadence with a bell schedule to jangle the nerves of already somnolent teenagers way off their natural sleep rhythms due to having to get up at dawn, was it for me. Need to use the bathroom? Better wait for the bell, bud. The usual amount of time for classic teacher burnout in america for the reasons listed in this piece. "Problem" kids, jacked up on sugar-caffeine beverages from the vending machines in the hallways and some on ritalin, would derail teaching for sometimes half the class, be sent to the office, and would come sauntering back 20 minutes later with a sly smirk to their fellow classmates, due to lack of backup from the spineless office suckups.

One capper was a preachers kid who often preached to his classmates while alternating with bullying behavior. I pulled him off to the side at one classes end and asked him "Hey _____, if Moses came back today do you think he'd hold a marshmallow between his buttcheeks to benefit world hunger?" to which he laughed but the next day the parents came in to demand a parent-teacher-principal conference to which I had to appease them by saying I often had a offbeat sense of humor and meant no harm. Like the piece above states: finally one starts acting a bit inappropriately with borderline "insane" behavior in such conditions.

Ryanaldo said...

I don't know if you are from an older generation, or merely vastly more intelligent and/or from better schools. The average kid today is scarcely regimented at all. They fail to develop basic skills in math, reading, counting, writing. This doesn't build a good foundation for succeeding at anything beyond a sixth or eighth grade reading level. Granted, some of them go on to be competent mechanics or carpenters. Developing basic skills in math, reading, counting, and writing requires a lot of drills in counting, reading, arithmetic, and writing. This usually requires writing utensils, occasional speaking/listening, and a lot of repetition and feedback. occasionally even rulers or other measuring devices. Today it is touching buttons on a computer, with much less repetition, feedback, and analysis.

jetstove said...

Interesting. At what level in the current social hierarchy does the slave become the freeman or is 99.999% of humanity a slave? There is no denying that the current system works for the betterment of all mankind. What we have to do is refine the system so that instead of paying for the same product over and over again, we buy it once. Stop programming people to desire only the new, make products that can be repaired, stop planned obsolescence.

DeVaul said...

@ jetstove

"There is no denying that the current system works for the betterment of all mankind."

Did you misspeak yourself? Is this a typo?

If people are being "programmed", how can this system be for anyone's benefit other than the programmers?

NJGuy73 said...

Ryanaldo, all children are regimented.

Children growing up in one of the few surviving traditional cultures of South America are regimented in identifying plants.

Children growing up in a Hasidic Jewish community are regimented in reciting the Broche Hamazon and the Shema Yisrael.

Children growing up in my youth were regimented in multiplication tables and the Palmer method of penmanship.

Children growing up today are regimented in how 1) history is little more than an epic of whites being brutal to non-whites, 2) evolution went on for billions of years but halted abruptly when modern humans migrated from Africa to Mesopotamia 50,000 years ago, and 3) literature is only valid to the extent that it portrays victims and oppressors.

And children today are super-mega-ultra-regimented in the relationship dynamics of people they've never met, people with names like Kardashian, Duggar, and Frankel, to name three.

jetstove said...


I also benefit by having shelter, food, education, transportation and health care. My programming extends to the end of the work day where I can go to my home and am free to pursue any variety of activities that please me. Political discourse is one of my pleasures and I am pursuing it now. I cannot say for sure, but I think you probably enjoy the same level of benefits. I am not saying we have reached the pinnacle of civilization and that more cannot be achieved. I am saying that attitude defines whether or not we believe we are victims of programming.

"There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We can reduce the focus to a soft blur, or sharpen it to crystal clarity. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to... The Outer Limits."

Shut the thing off!

DeVaul said...

@ jetstove

When you refer to the current system, you are obviously referring to our system, the American Imperial System, which benefits us, but certainly not "all of mankind".

Our cluster bombs don't benefit anyone abroad, nor do our minefields, tanks, war planes, and a host of American run economic pillaging schemes which take away all the benefits that we enjoy from those abroad.

Mankind does not end at our borders, jetstove, unless you believe that what lies beyond America is totally subhuman or non-existent. Unfortunately, this has been a very popular belief in America from the time I was born. I saw it on display in West Germany while I lived there. American tourists acted as if they were doing the Germans a favor by just being there. It was disgusting and shameful. When I came back, I was a changed man, but those I had left acted as if I had gone nowhere and seen no one. For them, Mankind, and the "world", for that matter, ended at the American border. This was how they were programmed to think by our system.

How does this kind of programming make "all of mankind" better?

Yesterday, I received a letter from the school that my daughter had been placed in isolation for kicking mulch at some boys who were verbally abusing another girl on the playground. Only my daughter was punished. This cynical and bizarre system does not benefit her at all. She must now learn to look away or be punished. That is what she is being programmed to do, and it is exactly what most corporate and other office workers do as well. Our benefits come at a huge spiritual and moral price.

As for your arguments about TV's and new gadgets, I don't disagree with you there.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Jetstove amused me greatly by claiming that his programming ends as soon as he leaves work. Then what programming, pray tell, causes him to go back to work the next morning? Do imperial pixies reprogram his brain again while he is sleeping?

Dmitry Orlov said...

Posted on behalf of someone who wishes to remain anonymous.

If only to complete Dmitry's reflection above: “Man is conditioned to have a productive behavior by the work organization; and outside the factory, he preserves the same skin and the same head” - Christophe Dejours

And then, let us consider this:

More than 40 years ago, a thinker by the name of Jiddu Krishnamurti, nailed the state of Western society in a very concise, elegant, respectful and polite way by saying: “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

And even before that, more than 50 years ago, while visiting the UK, another human being worthy of this name - Gandhi, when asked to give his opinion on the Western democracy, he answered: "It would be a very good idea."

About a couple of centuries ago, Victor Hugo said: "It is a sad thing to consider nature talks and human kind does not listen."

Around the same period of time as Victor Hugo's, Henry David Thoreau warned us: "Under a government, which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison."

Traveling even further back down history lane, Shakespeare left us some messages as well:

“Tis the times' plague, when madmen lead the blind.“ (King Lear, act IV, scene 1)

“O gentlemen, the time of life is short! (…) An if we live, we live to tread on kings” (King Henry IV)

So, how much more hindsight do we need, as humans, to follow and connect the dots, to open our eyes and see the truth staring us in the face, rubbing our noses?... (How many more kings and queens, CEO’s and banksters, obamas, bushes, clintons or trumps?...).

Through obedience, one develops the reflex of submission and hence the truth will have become revolutionary.

NowhereMan said...

The major selling point of western society is that it offers most people a life of ease, at least initially. By turning over one's social responsibility to a handful of elected or appointed politicians and technocrats, most of the heavy mental, psychological, and in most cases at least, physical heavy lifting is done for them. In return, they are allowed to live a life of relative ease with basic material prosperity, although it's also rather insular for most, and increasingly, completely meaningless, if not actually degrading, spiritually.

Thanks to our good friend global financialism, these last points are now becoming glaringly apparent, as the "greed is good" mandate has morphed into rampant openly extortionist criminal activity (as it was always intended to), as western man's inherent avarice has been given free rein. Regardless of what anyone thinks about AGW, peak oil, population overshoot, and peak environmental degradation (which are all directly linked to each other and predatory global financialism), even (perhaps especially!) a non-educated "common man" can clearly see that this state of affairs can't go on for much longer; although, due to the massive pervasiveness of the con, it will likely be longer than most of us hope.

Those of us old enough to write about such things from personal experience will likely not live long enough to see its end. But the youngest among us will have some momentous decisions to make in their brief lifetimes. Given the depressing outcomes they're likely to face (in the short term at least) no matter what, let's hope that they make them well.

Al Low said...

I HEAR THE CALL — deliver us from the comforts of modernity. The moral and spiritual slavery attendant such advancements are simply too heavy a price to pay. Who can pull off such a paradigm shift? To reshape the will of the people requires the touch of someone, or two, saint-like personages.
Do we channel ABE LINCOLN and HARRIET TUBMAN? Can we reconcile this dilemma by putting their treasured likenesses on paper money? Yes we can! With more of what we love in our pockets our perilous position will be a thing of the past.
Alas, TPTB always seems to be one step ahead in the psyop game.

NowhereMan said...

@ Al Low: As Dimitry and many others have observed repeatedly, I think hierarchical government structures are simply too abstract and unresponsive for modern nation states the size of ours today, allowing them to be easily subverted by special interest groups of every stripe. Were we able to push a magical reset button and start from scratch again with the same paradigm I have no doubt whatsoever we'd end up with just another variation on our current condition. Not that any of that is even remotely likely of course.

I'm reading Family of Secrets, a historical account of the Bush familial dynasty by Russ Baker now, and I have to say I come away with a new found AWE of the power of DC connected, east coast inter-generational familial dynastic power. Their power is at once much more subtly executed and broadly pervasive than we little people can ever imagine. The term "shadow government" is certainly apt in describing their activities, and although "conspiracies" are definitely involved in their planning and execution, much of it can simply be described high level, informed planning behind closed doors, much as any modern corporation does daily. The likelihood that, absent a complete systemic collapse, a mere informed yet unorganized citizenry will ever be able to overcome such entrenched interests is exactly zero in my opinion.

DeVaul said...

I agree with Nowhereman, although I am surprised that Mr. Baker is still alive. The Bush dynasty does not hesitate to remove people who bother them or irritate them. George the First was, after all, the head of the CIA under Reagon.

These families remind me of ancient feudal dynasties in Europe. They were people who would murder other family members just to increase their own power or chance at absolute power. They were total psychopaths, and acted that way openly.

The Bush family, like others, is a family of sociopaths, which is why the "masses" cannot compete or deal with them. Also, when you consider that they are actually just muppets elected to hide the faces of the real rulers, it becomes almost impossible for ordinary people to deal with them effectively. That's why I advocate avoiding them at all costs. We cannot deal with them and also live our lives, which is what ordinary people are really interested in.

I sometimes wonder, though, what the purpose of sociopaths and psychopaths is among our species. Are they just genetically flawed persons? Or are they a kind of predator created by nature that keeps the human population in check? It's a scary thought, but what other kind of real predator do humans have?

Having survived (barely) an attack by a sociopath myself, I now pay more attention to these kinds of people, and by my own reckoning, it seems that nearly 20% of Americans are now sociopaths. I base this on my own observations and not on "birth chance" or whatever standard psychologists use. They write detailed books about them and give them clinical names such as "anti-social personality disorder" and document the misery they inflict on other people, but they do not tell us why they are here. They are silent on that matter.

I cannot help but wonder why.

NowhereMan said...

@DeVaul: Good questions all. Other than the common observation that absolute power is wildly intoxicating for those who realistically aspire to it, I'm at a loss to explain it all myself. And no, I definitely don't have the stones required to be a Russ Baker or an outspoken lead investigator on 9-11 (many of whom have been threatened and at least a few reportedly murdered for their efforts) or the like either. The conspirators are definitely playing for keeps, and single individuals, no matter how knowledgeable and/or political savvy, are little more than speed bumps in the way of their agenda. In the case of 9-11, the main factor that keeps the government sponsored myth alive (and this was fully appreciated by the conspirators before the fact) is simply cognitive dissonance. It is simply too painful for most people to even consider the fact that their government (or factions within it) could ever do such a thing to their own, in spite of video evidence hiding in plain sight that the Towers were brought down by controlled demolition (among MANY other factors). I see it on the faces of people I talk to all the time whenever the subject comes up. The Russ Baker book is fascinating, I highly recommend it!

Al Low said...

A reset to square one civilization would indeed lead us back to where we are, barring some genetic mutation that alters human consciousness. So, if an extraterrestrial enters your domain, try hard to form a relationship. If it results in spawning a new life form, send it to the outer limits. That’s hope for a change.

The Bush / neocon / corporate enterprise are ratcheting up their South American ambitions — Bush purchases 300,000 acres land in Paraguay, soft coup in Brazil, Venezuela meltdown, etc. What is the endgame there, besides securing oil fields? Walgreens, Walmart, and Waffle Houses?

As the author asserted, slave-like oppression from bureaucracy is real, but we are simultaneously witnessing unprecedented allowance of free will on other fronts: legal cannabis usage is widespread, and choosing your sexual identity is now given legal protection, etc. Finding a place that best suits your individual preferences is the key to well being. This blog is one such haven.

As for psychopaths and sociopaths, they’re best with some fava beans and a nice chianti.