Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Don't be perplexed. I know you may be wondering how on earth can someone love bureaucracy, which stands for all the bad things - slowness, indifference, complexity, lethargy - but I argue back: If we don't love bureaucracy, how does it persist?If we hate it, why the first thing when we start a business is to draw an org chart? Why, when things go wrong, we want to see a manager? Or, better still, why most of us want to be managers? Why we want a job description? Why we fill so many forms and want to fill some more? Why we love emails and calendars, show off our smartphones and smart watches, want to prove how busy we are?
I love bureaucracy because it's everywhere. Call it any name, but our lives are bureaucratic. Every morning, when I plan the day and write down my to-do list, I am bowing to bureaucracy. As I run for meetings, cut short conversations, skip lunch or feel guilty about not responding to a message, I am celebrating it. There is no escape. The only way I can avoid being bureaucratic is by using an euphemism: Managing my life, I say.
I also love Bureaucracy because, with this, you can rise to your highest level of incompetence. Yes, this is the Peter Principle, which I discovered in my youth, showed it to my boss for a laugh and got censured. The idea is simple: If you are promoted to the next level for doing a job well, you will only stop when you have reached a job level which you don't do well. Common sense, but indeed problematic for all bosses.
Also, as I watched bureaucracies, I discovered a law. Okay, I did not discover it entirely - I only derived it from another, better known law. I am referring to Parkinson's Law - that of Work expanding to fill the available time! Here is my Second Law of Bureaucracy (after Peter's): Bureaucracy expands to spend every available dollar, and then some more. Imagine a world where this is not true - we can't create the need for that extra consultant - and you will know how bereft a place the world will be without all these bureaucratic hangovers.
But I love bureaucracy not just because it's everywhere, but because of its wonderful capacity of keeping busy with useless work. We live in a world of activities without outcome: That's the point of Capitalism, in fact. Imagine asking the Reality TV stars, including the one in White House, what they actually do. The point of work, particularly those with lots of money, is not to work. Earning without a sweat is the pinnacle of success: After all, that is a bureaucratic idea.
And, if you are against bureaucracy, think what that would really mean.
That will mean that we would have to live without a job description - not just the one in the workplace, but also in the society and at home - where we have to constantly figure out what is the right thing to do without a set of instructions and stereotypes.
This will mean that we have to think about the consequences of our actions, particularly about those sticky issues about how those will affect people we don't know. It would mean that we would not be able to hide behind our titles - whether that is President, Accountant or Husband - and would have to be answerable for what we do.
There will be no experts and lots of questions; less rules and more compassion; less would be reducible to technology and more would be open to understanding.
Life would be worse off as we will have less things and more time, and yet have to care more for others and less about our own statuses.
If you thought bureaucracy is a bad word, what do you think of being whimsical? If slow is bad, how about unpredictable? If complex repels you, how about a world without many rules? If you want to rid of lethargy, would you want to live without Facebook? Even being oneself - that of status updates, photos of touristy places you have been to, along with kitschy food photos and cliché quotes - is the expression of our bureaucratic selves, the one that lives by the rules of success and wants to be a little bit like that incredibly powerful, incredibly powerful person we all secretly wish to be.
I love bureaucracy because life would be so meaningless without it.
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How To Live
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Theodore Roosevelt
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T S Eliot
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