Friday, 14 August 2009

The Bureaucratic Monster (pt.1)

Compact Oxford English Dictionary definition:
noun (pl. bureaucracies) 1. A system of government in which most decisions are taken by state officials rather than by elected representatives. 2. Excessively complicated administrative procedure.

The above picture was taken a few months ago and I believed this aptly summed up the whole existence of bureaucracy in modern Britain. The fact that a parking camera can be removed for being illegally parked by its own department is, by its very definition, ridiculous. The cost of removal will be paid by the city of Westminster which has in turn paid the cost of operating the vehicle in the first place with the purpose of the vehicle to detect illegally parked cars... So the question is, who detected this illegally parked vehicle if it did not detect itself?

Modernity is plagued by such idiocy almost everywhere you look and this has entirely shaped the meaning and our understanding of 'bureaucracy', the actual meaning of bureaucracy is the implementation of laws and procedures, however a realistic view of bureaucracy is more than likely to conjure memories of endless and somewhat pointless paperwork and conflicting information from different but equally official sources.

Franz Kafka explored the madness and endlessness of bureaucracy in 'The Trial' the tale of a man standing accused of a crime of which he is unaware and trapped in an endless quest for justice for which he has no reason other than that he is a man accused. Every turn is fraught with questioning along no real subject and suggestion that his predicament is definite. Similar to the American legal system he is advised to attempt a plea bargain where his guilt will guarantee him safety at the cost of his innocence. It is suggested that over 90% of US convictions are based on this principle as the haste of admitted guilt can offset the potential of any prison sentence, even if the accused is, in fact, innocent. These numbers could suggest a distrust of the legal system or a massively high level of crime, it is more than likely that defendants can not afford legal aid ($300 per hour) and so opt for the safer option of admitting their guilt even if innocent. It is also worth noting that this percentage has not really changed since 1925.

2004 - 95.5% of the 51,666 convictions nationwide were reached through guilty pleas
2007 - 98% of convictions in New York are reached through guilty pleas
2007 - 94.4% of convictions in Pittsburgh are reached through guilty pleas
The numbers continue in a similar vain across the United states...

Q. What is the biggest example of bureaucracy in the modern world?
A. Nuclear weapons.

I don't know if this counts as being bureaucratic but in my mind this falls into the "excessively complicated administrative procedure" definition. Where to begin? Well, the notion of the use of nuclear arms today is preposterous, the launch of one nuclear weapon is akin to Dr Strangelove's 'Doomsday Device'. Use will be met with retaliation, retaliation will be met with retribution and retribution will be met with annihilation. That means that use is out of the question and their entire scientific purpose defunct.

What's the answer?
Well, YOU cant get rid of YOUR nuclear weapons because that leaves YOU in a position of political and military weakness, but by having nuclear weapons you immediately generate the need for others to have them too. Protection-provocation syndrome. Even if everyone were to theoretically get rid of them the knowledge of the technology would always exist so they could always be rebuilt. Total disarmament also assumes that everyone believed each other and didn't secretly keep some in the thought, "if I can secretly hold on to mine, that means that they can secretly hold on to theirs so I have to hold on to mine because they WILL be doing the same". And let's not forget what happened to poor old Saddam, he didn't even have any nukes yet still no-one believed him! So it's a massive catch-22 whereby we are now trapped in an endless self perpetuating cycle of distrust and paranoia. This is bureaucratic because it's the bureaucracy of international relations, and therefore the highest bureaucracy of all.

Part two will look at actual bureaucracy in modern Britain.



  1. Reading this, you must of done well in your english results haha. But on a serious note, i agree with you, and it's horrible.

  2. ha ha, i didnt do so well, did ok... its scary man, ive got an obsession with nuclear war at the moment. i dont know where it's come from...