tannoy blog — why bureaucracy is dangerous

I’m booked to give a poetry reading in the chill–out tent of a rave tonight. It should be interesting; the state so disapproves of such things that it made them effectively illegal in the 1989 Criminal Justice Act (or whatever it was called), but many people so love their art form that they’re willing to pursue it anyway, despite the risk of state oppression.

I believe this hatred was introduced into the law, ignoring the announced excuses, because the old fear the young, and the government of the day didn’t have the good sense to manage their own fears. But what’s this got to do with the title of this essay, that Bureaucracy is dangerous? Well, this reminds me of the reputation of the communist block as was, with the communist bureaucracy repressing disliked art. UK bureaucracy also exhibits mindlessness, although in a different way. I believe all bureaucracies are mindless. And anything mindless and powerful is dangerous.

And I’ll justify that statement that bureaucracy is mindless. When you have a small group of people who have to work together, they sort things out between them and get on with it. It works because each knows, roughly, what the others are up to. However, when that group gets big, beyond the size of a social group (around 200, if I recall correctly), it is not possible for each person to know what every other person is meant to do. In those circumstances, rules for what to do get written down, and everything gets documented. These rules make the bureaucracy. Rules do not have a mind. Therefore bureaucracy—per se—is mindless.

But it goes further. In order for those rules to work, they have to be followed. Because people in the bureaucracy do not know what everyone else does, they could break the rules in order to resolve a situation which the bureaucracy could have solved better had the rules been followed and the problem sent to a person who could better solve it. So the bureaucracy has to enforce the rules. Someone who works for the bureaucracy to follow the rules, no matter what. Not only is the bureaucracy mindless, as shown above, it forces people to not solve problems; thus it enforces and spreads mindlessness.

If these rules were perfect, this might not be a problem. But these rules are created by imperfect people, in a world which Gödel’s perfection is mathematically impossible. Thus a bureaucracy will always screw things up.

The compromise, which any sensible bureaucracy follows, is to allow people some latitude. This will reduce the mindlessness, assuming the person given latitude is intelligent; hasn’t had their mind worn down by the enforced mindlessness of the bureaucracy. But this can never resolve the problem of bureaucratic mindlessness, since there will always be circumstances where rules have to be followed (otherwise why have the bureaucracy?).

If bureaucracy is mindless and engenders mindlessness in the people working in it, as I believe, then, then bureaucracies are wrong. Trying to reduce the inherent mindlessness of bureaucracy doesn’t resolve the problem. The better solution is to get rid of them. But that requires small organisations, a—to put it mildly—major change to government and many other organisations. I believe this can be done, and will talk about this in further essays.