When individual identity and self-esteem are undermined, people become quick to anger. Society’s rules provide a kind of safe haven for approved behavior. Lashing out at innocent people, even children, becomes acceptable if it’s done in the name of “following the rules.”
Throughout Bureaucratic Insanity, I documented numerous examples where rule enforcers chose to act without mercy, to put people – often children – in their place. Nowhere is this more visible than in our rule-ridden school system, where students are cruelly punished for even the most minor offenses.
The American Bureaucrat’s Descent into Madness
is now available as an e-book
and at a reduced price for the paper edition.
Let’s consider a few new examples that have come to light since the book was published just a few months ago:
- The State of New Mexico criminally charged a 13-year-old for pretending to burp in class. According court documents, the student “had generated several fake burps, which made the other students laugh and hampered class proceedings.” The police were called. The student was handcuffed and held in a juvenile detention center. School officials decided to suspend the student for the remainder of the school year and charged him criminally with interfering with the educational process. As of this writing, the case is still making its way through the courts.
- A teacher in a New York area Charter School was suspended for a week after a video emerged of her ripping up a student’s paper and shouting. “There’s nothing that infuriates me more than when you don’t do what’s on your paper,” the teacher yelled on the video. The school said it was an anomaly, insisting she was a “model teacher,” but a report by the New York Times cites a number of other teachers who abused students at the school. In one case, the principal mocked a student’s low test score in front of her and another adult. The Times also described how a kindergarten teacher made a girl cry so hard she vomited after she stumbled reciting a math problem.
- Police in Tennessee arrested and charged a six-year-old with a misdemeanor for merely watching a fist fight. The child and at least nine others, none of which were older than 11, were arrested nearly a month after the incident. According to one parent interviewed by the local ABC affiliate, the fight was “no more than a scuffle of children pushing each other back and forth.” Those children now have arrest records which will follow them for life.
- Two honor roll students were threatened with 30 days in an alternative school after one of them lent the other an inhaler during a severe asthma attack. She may have saved her friend’s life, but the school says the two possessed, used, and shared a controlled substance.
Of course, all of this insanity isn’t limited to the United States, but is prevalent in most highly complex societies where rules governing behavior are numerous.
- In July 2016, nursery workers in the UK referred a four-year-old to police after he mispronounced the word “cucumber.” They thought it sounded like “cooker bomb” even though the child was pointing to a picture of a man with a cucumber. UK teachers are required to report any suspicious behavior to authorities after the recent passage of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act. Thankfully, child social services decided not to take action.
When a government worker considers referring a four-year-old to a counter-terrorism program, I think it’s safe to say the situation is beyond parody.
It may be tempting to ascribe all this paranoia and vindictiveness to the criminalization of our society. Clearly, our governing institutions benefit more from criminals than they do from law abiding citizens, and so they are incentivized to make more criminals. But this does not explain the apparent gleefulness exhibited by the state’s front line bureaucrats who seem to jump at the opportunity to punish good people for failing to observe arcane rules.
Throughout the book, I argue that this venomous spite is used as a coping mechanism by bureaucrats who feel powerless. Because of the deteriorating economy and uncaring bosses, mid-level bureaucrats cannot successfully challenge the forces that rule their lives. Instead, many of them choose to live with the rules as faithfully as possible and rule obedience itself becomes a part of their self-esteem. Their suppressed rage comes to the surface, usually at the expense of people they perceive as weaker than thy are. The more controlled and stressful our society becomes, the more we will see bureaucrats lash out.
This craziness didn’t form in a vacuum: it’s the end result of a society that doesn’t provide people with a meaningful identity. So much of modern life seems directionless. The nuclear family has broken down and it’s difficult to get ahead economically. Some people try to find belonging and purpose by segregating themselves into ideological or social groups. But many bureaucrats resort to violence as a way to vent their frustrations at a system that is unable to provide them with a reason to live.
Where does that leave us now? The economy is teetering on a precipice. The wailing and worrying about a looming political catastrophe has reached a delirious pitch. The sound of war drums echoes in the distance (which is not so distant anymore). If 2016 has shown us anything, it’s that there’s good reason to think the social climate is going to get worse before it gets better.
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.