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Friday, May 4, A.D. 2012
Bureaucratic Psychotomy

Christus ist auferstanden!

Last week, Auster posted a disturbing story from the Daily Mail. The headline reads:

Charity shop worker drowned in lake just 3ft deep after firemen refused to wade in due to health and safety rules

* Drowning Simon Burgess, 41, was just 20ft away from firefighters but inquest hears they refused to save him
* Police officer who went in to water was ordered back
* Witness claims firemen told her they couldn’t go in if water was more than ‘ankle deep’

Our bureaucratic, technocratic regime fosters what Lewis calls “men without chests”—emasculated, automaton functionaries of a soulless monster. Instead of free men who pursue the good in a commonwealth, we have endless layers of subordinate cogs in a vast, self perpetuating machine. It is horrifying, and I hate to think that the masters of our society actually want to cultivate such weak shades, but “yes men” are, after all, easier to control. What has the West become?

Jim Kalb writes on View from the Right:

What robots. The whole point of training and what’s called education today is to eradicate what’s normal and substitute an artificial way of functioning. The good news is that it’s not going to last. The bad news is that what replaces it will probably be something pretty crude.

In fairness to Britain, I think something just like this happened in California a year or so ago. Some bystander went and saved the guy though.

Auster replies:

Let us also remember that the firemen and policemen who let the man drown, far from experiencing any remorse for what they did or even any second thoughts, will doubtless congratulate themselves on their “integrity,” by which they mean following to the letter the prescribed bureaucratic procedures. (I pointed to the real, bureaucratic meaning of “integrity” in the recent post about NASA’s pursuit of diversity.)

So, to continue Mr. Kalb’s argument, “education” now means learning how to be an inhuman robot, and “integrity” means consistently putting into practice what one has learned during one’s “education.”

Commentator Josh W. responds to another comment’s arguing that we cannot blame policemen and firemen for these actions because they have to follow their organizations’ policies in order to keep their jobs:

Not so. This is the test of one’s moral fortitude: being forced to choose the “hard right” over the “easy wrong.” For most of us, only a few of these types of situations present themselves in a lifetime, and how we decide to deal with them can be said to define who, and how good, we are. The “kids to feed” argument is not compelling either—would this be an acceptable defense for, say, Mike McQueary (not sure if he had/has kids) when he saw Jerry Sandusky raping a young boy in the shower but chose to do essentially nothing about it? Would you argue that the fear of being unable to provide for one’s children justifies allowing a child rapist to continue his crimes? What if it was murder? Because that is what we are talking about here: allowing a person to die, for absolutely no reason at all other than concern for one’s financial well-being.

We must actively condemn not only the bureaucracy that produces this utterly inhuman, robotic behavior but also anyone who is complicit in its operation. We are only kidding ourselves if we imagine the two entities to be distinct. The system cannot function without well-intentioned but apathetic drones who shrug their shoulders in the face of evil and injustice and say, “But I’ve got bills to pay, dude!”

Even though I disagree with the radical liberalism behind the main interpretations of Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments, I find the dehumanizing tendency of bureaucracy troubling. Perhaps, the mere complexity of a large, industrial society, which requires the proliferation of bureaucracy in government and commercial affairs, destroys its people and wrecks its civilization. Success has a tendency to undo itself, both in families and in societies.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, May 4, Anno Domini 2012
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