HANS SHERRER ~ The Inhumanity of Government Bureaucracies

The media attention focused on elected officials leads many people to think of them as “the government.” Such thinking diverts us from the recognition of a critical truth: politically articulated agendas are transformed into reality only by bureaucratic systems. Bureaucracies are the dominant means by which governments control and influence the daily lives of people throughout the world. If only because of the prominent position that government bureaucracies occupy in society, we need to understand the forces bearing upon the execution of their functions.

Although the central role of government bureaucracies in ensuring the success of political policies is often overlooked, interrelated aspects contributing to the inhumanity of these bureaucracies have been exposed in numerous books, journals, and magazines.

In The Trial ([1925] 1988), Franz Kafka immortalized the essence of bureaucratic inhumanity from the standpoint of those who experience it. Relating the plight of Josef K.,The Trial symbolizes a person’s immersion in a bureaucratic process he can neither understand nor influence. Treated as a pawn on a chessboard, Josef K. is in a state of confusion and despair after being arrested, questioned, tried, and found guilty without ever seeing his judge, without being told who his accusers are or knowing what crime he has allegedly committed. Although first published in 1925,The Trial eerily presaged the atmosphere of unreality that pervaded the Moscow show trials of 1936–38 (Koestler 1941).

The intense negative feelings government bureaucracies evoke in the people caught in their web not only spring from their imposing structures, impersonality, and the murky rules that guide them, but are reinforced by the sheer magnitude of the apparatus:

Moreover, each of those organizations is a part of a greater functioning entity. Directly or indirectly, each bureaucrat relies on the awesome power of government enforcement agencies, which undertake to ensure that the bureaucrats are funded by taxpayers, that their regulations are obeyed, that their activities go forward unimpeded. In a sense, the bureaucrats resemble the members of a shrouded society; they constitute what one might call a “bureaucratic brotherhood.

Link to the piece.

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American Chronicles, The New Yorker, May 14, 2018 issue

The patio was crowded and lively, with people cramming in at the ends of long tables. I looked for little white plumes and counted three Juuls. Two people were smoking cigarettes in the corner, and I felt a twinge of longing. I liked cigarettes because they were gross and terrible for me—a way of confronting everyday stresses in a manner that seemed suitably destructive and illogical. The Juul, despite all the teenage Instagram feeds I’ve seen, feels clinical, sensible, virtuous. I didn’t like it—or, at least, I didn’t need it. I took an ostentatious farewell pull, coughed like a twelve-year-old, and, wreathed with cucumber-scented vapor, gave it away.’

The Promise of Vaping and the Rise of Juul By Jia Tolentino.