By GEORGE A. KENDALL
Almost everyone complains about bureaucracy (though a few deluded souls actually defend it, spouting oxymorons like “bureaucratic rationality”), but at the same time almost everyone seems to see it as something relatively trivial, as an inconvenience, a nuisance attendant on life in the modern world, one to which we need to resign ourselves. That is one of the great lies of our age.
In truth, bureaucracy is an abomination, an atrocity, a horror (ask anyone who has tangled with the IRS). It is a form of organization that wages war against the spirit, because it is grounded in a positivist-utilitarian picture of man, one which denies the dignity and goodness of the human person as the image and likeness of God, and treats us as mere organisms, to be manipulated and controlled by our elites in order to achieve the latter’s utopian fantasies. Because it rejects and attacks the image of God, it also rejects and attacks God.
Bureaucracy is not an inconvenience, anymore than cancer is. If cancer has invaded your body, it is a not a nuisance but a terrible reality that will destroy that body unless it is destroyed first.
Bureaucracy, embodied in the administrative state that rules everywhere today, is not something we can live with, but only die with. It is killing us. I don’t know whether it is possible to destroy it, or at least shrink it considerably, but if that is not possible, then it is not possible for any kind of tolerable society to survive. Ultimately, it will destroy the societies it infests, and then die itself, because it draws its own life from those societies.
The daily humiliations of life in bureaucratic societies do more probably to arouse people’s wrath than anything (I suspect that it is a major part of what brought down the Soviet Union). The constant intimidation and harassment which so characterize bureaucratic rule today have got to be a major factor in the explosion of mass murders perpetrated by unstable individuals.
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Recently, the state of Michigan passed three laws intended to prevent, or at least discourage, the production of methamphetamine, an extremely dangerous drug whose production frequently results in explosions.
According to the Marquette Mining Journal, “one law prohibits buying or possessing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine — ingredients in cold medicine — knowing it will be used to cook meth….A second law makes it a crime to ask another person to buy ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. A third classifies [?] that soliciting someone to buy meth components is a felony carrying a penalty of up to ten years in prison.”
Granted that meth is really bad stuff, something few would dispute, we still have to ask whether laws like this, even if they achieve their goal, are justifiable in light of their cost. The heaviest cost of bad laws is usually the undermining of the rule of law, a central part of the common good. Laws like this take acts which are, in themselves, perfectly legal and criminalize them on the basis of the actor’s intent to do something illegal — in this case, buying cold medicine, not to treat a cold, but to make meth.
But this involves some rather subjective judgments on the part of law enforcement regarding what the guy who buys the cold medicine was thinking about when he bought it, given that we cannot read minds. The only real evidence of someone’s intention is the carrying out of the intention. We only know for sure that someone bought the medicine to make meth when he actually does so. As far as procuring it for someone else goes, the person doing that may honestly believe that the person he is procuring it for wants it for treating a cold. But here, too, the law calls for the authorities to read minds.
All of which means that such laws open up a substantial probability of innocent people being prosecuted and convicted, a real concern in a corrupt legal system where prosecutors who lack any qualms of conscience about convicting innocent people to advance their careers are hardly a rarity (anyone who doubts this should read Harvey A. Silverglate’s book, Three Felonies A Day).
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Lately I seem to find myself talking a lot with people who have serious problems with forgiveness, people who have nursed grudges for years and years against people who have wronged them (ex-spouses, ungrateful children, parents who abused or neglected them, and so on). Now these people often have at least partly valid grievances, though I doubt that the fault is usually as exclusively on one side as they tell themselves it was. I try to tell these people that they have to forgive those who injured them if they hope to be forgiven for their own sins, not to mention that forgiving would do much for their own happiness and peace of mind even in this world — I like to mention the old adage that hating someone is like drinking poison and hoping the other guy dies.
They seem to understand this but fall back on saying that they just cannot let go. Some injuries are just too great to be forgiven. Indeed, there seems to me to be, underlying this whole attitude, a notion that when Christ told us to forgive those who wronged us, He had in mind only minor offenses, not the big ones. Even people who consider themselves devout Christians are likely to opine that if, for instance, someone murders your child, surely you could not be expected to forgive the murderer.
And yet — Jesus made no such exception. When I mentioned this to a friend, he added the obvious — that if you only forgive minor offenses, then presumably God will forgive your minor offenses, but when it comes to the major ones, the mortal sins, you’re on your own.
And really, couldn’t Hell be defined as being on your own for eternity?
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We tend, in the modern world, to compartmentalize ourselves, segregating different aspects of our personalities from one another in such a way as to deny any connection between them. This can take the form of familiar statements like, “My private life, including my moral, or immoral, behavior, shouldn’t matter, as long as I get my job done.” This is partly true, of course — an engineer who cheats on his wife may still be capable of building an excellent bridge. And yet, adultery detracts from the integrity of the person who commits it, making that person less honest, less trustworthy, and who can deny that such a loss of integrity might affect the quality of the engineer’s work, perhaps making him more prone, say, to saving money by using low-quality materials, with possible repercussions on the safety of the bridge?
My experiences as an elderly individual experiencing various medical problems incidental to aging have led me recently to focus some attention on this question as it affects the medical profession. It has become customary to say that it really doesn’t matter if a doctor is an arrogant, self-absorbed egotist, provided he “knows his stuff,” that is, has a high level of medical expertise. There is a sense that you might be better off being treated by such a doctor than by one who is humble but not so skilled.
In particular instances, this may be true, yet it is becoming more and more obvious to me that, in work that involves the human person to the extent that medicine does, the virtue of humility, or its lack, can have huge effects on medical judgment.
An egotistical doctor can’t really take his patients seriously as human persons. He tends to think of them as complicated mechanisms to be kept tuned and functioning by his expert ministrations. He doesn’t really think he can learn anything from his patients. After all, they’re not doctors — what would they know? As a result, he does not take the time to get a complete history from the patient. He breezes into the examination room radiating the attitude that he is extremely busy, has many other patients waiting, and hopes you won’t take up much of his valuable time talking about your symptoms.
If you happen to be the kind of person who rambles, who takes an age to get to the point, the doctor will quickly lose patience, will interrupt you, and try to hurry you along. That is understandable, but it could have the result that the doctor will never learn things about this patient that are crucial to his diagnosis and treatment. Besides this, the egotistical doctor will often just refuse to believe what the patient tells him, if it conflicts with what the doctor has read in a textbook or a medical journal.
So the doctor’s egotism prevents him from respecting the dignity and value of the human person, and that prevents him from getting information he needs to treat his patients. And that could lead to serious harm to the health of the patient, maybe even to his death.
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(© 2014 George A. Kendall)