Bureaucracy and Accountability
Who am I to blame?
A couple of days ago, a tweet popped up on my timeline and I decided I wanted to write about it and revisit the topic of obfuscation:
The slide in question says this:
No one likes being responsible for something going wrong. It feels bad when people get upset at you, whether or not there was anything you could've done to prevent the negative outcome. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that individuals look to offload their responsibility onto other things. "It wasn't me, X made me do it!" "Don't blame the player, blame the game." These sentiments are common throughout society.
With the computer example, we see another aspect of this emerge: the offloading of responsibility to an Other that cannot be responsible. The computer (or "algorithm" today) does not have intention. And so when something goes wrong, no one is to blame. It goes from being a moral error to simply a bad thing that happened.
It pays to offload responsibility. Our politicians do it. Bureaucracy is a remarkably effective means to obfuscate the actions of power:
I want you all to understand that the appeal of apathy and irony today is normal. One of the most pernicious and difficult things to deal with in this world is the obscurity of power.
The greatest tragedy of our world is that, lost in the endless array of kafkaesque bureaucracies and narrative-forming entities, it isn’t even clear who to blame! Who should I be mad at? “The Man”? That’s meaningless.
It is this widespread offloading of responsibility to symbols or phantoms that is so destructive. YOU don't have to be responsible, no, it was something outside of you that did it! The expert told you to! The algorithm said so! It's "the game" man! All of this to avoid taking responsibility for your own actions as something that you have chosen.
Bureaucracy transforms Power from being the clear imposition of a rule by a single Ruler and instead turns it into this amorphous blob, too complicated and treacherous to even properly investigate, that releases the decrees. Of course, someone is making the decisions, but we don't ever engage with them. Entire debates, literatures even, have been focused on trying to figure out who the real shot-callers are. Is it Capital? The State? The Corporations? The Illuminati? Of course all of these are nonsense. Somewhere in these systems there are individuals making intentional decisions.
Think about it this way: when it is clear where sovereignty lies, when it is clear who is making decisions and why they should be deferred to, there is a very obvious ability to respond when things go wrong. If the tribal elder or King makes poor choices, perhaps they need to be pushed out (or given a second chance, depending on how forgiving you are). You understand who is in charge. But when it isn't clear where sovereignty lines, you can't be sure who is making decisions nor why they are making those decisions. You don't know how to effectively respond. In fact, your response may end up strengthening the very system you are trying to oppose. Any effective rebellion against such an obfuscated system can only be successful by accident.
Furthermore, bureaucracy hiding responsibility allows elites to engage in greater anti-social behavior without receiving the proportionate blame. If a King stole $1 trillion over the course of a decade, there would be a revolution. But if the Pentagon does it? Nothing. No response whatsoever, beyond some angry news articles. So not only does bureaucracy make rebellion impossible, it tends to incentivize the very actions that lead to the people desiring to rebel!
Which brings us to the third point, as I mentioned earlier: being faced with bureaucracy, abstract faceless blobs that seem to dictate your lives, apathy sets in. How can I possibly undermine the entire SYSTEM? It seems wholly outside of my reach. And so, bureaucracy neutralizes the rebellious impulses that it causes due to incentivizing anti-social activity by Elites. Let alone the fact that the bureaucracies tend to wield power over huge swaths of people by making those people depend on the bureaucracies for their welfare and survival.
There are a variety of inefficiencies and perverse incentives that bureaucracies cause across society, and I intend to investigate a number of them (like the education and Healthcare systems) in more depth in the future. Bureaucracy is the enemy, and it must be struck down.