PAGE IN PROGRESS What you see here is a page of my hypertext book POWER of meanings // MEANINGS of power. Initially empty, this page will slowly be filled with thoughts, notes, and quotes. One day, I will use them to write a coherent entry, similar to these completed pages. Thank you for your interest and patience!
Story about DHL (getting a refund). Conversation with a friend. I said that I want to get my refund but I do not think that it is helpful to be angry at the people I am interacting with. My friend's reaction: "But somebody has to take responsibility and make the decision that will help you get your refund". I have been thinking about this reaction for a while. I certainly want somebody to make this decision. I think it is important to press on and not give up to get the fair decision. I think we should expose flaws of bureaucratic systems (BS) and correct situation when people suffer when they want to get a certain outcome from such systems. I think this can be done with determination but also with patience and empathy as opposed to hatred and contempt to people who are part of bureaucratic systems. There are certainly people who benefit from such systems or use them to benefit from other people. But simply going after those people will not fix BS, because BS are not created by these people. BS are created and maintained by all sorts of people, and the intent of BS systems is actually positive: to organize things, to increase transparence and decrease abuses. Why are BS so flawed them? Probably because they are created by people and reflect human nature, which is what we can call flawed. And because peoople do not fully comprehend their own nature and not fully in control of it, limitations of human nature get manifested through systems that people create.
So the solution is to better understand our own nature and deal with its flaws. It does not mean eliminating them, like we cannot fully eliminate cognitive biases. It means learning to understand our own actions and reactions better and to diminish harm that our actions might create.
Bureaucracy is an example of macropower (collective power)
The dictionary definition of bureaucracy is "a system of government in which most of the important decisions are made by state officials rather than by elected representatives". See film Brazil by Terry Gilliam for a portrayal of dystopian bureaucratic state. Here is a short clip from the movie showing Ministry of Information.
(If you consider watching this movie, be warned that, despite the seeming cheerfulness of the clip below, the film gets quite dark.)
But bureaucracy has a different more common meaning, as in a sentence: "I had to fight with bureaucracy when I was trying to get a Social Security Number". In this sense, bureaucracy is an aspect of any institution or a system that is created to make things more efficient but becomes, ironically, too inefficient while striving for maximum efficiency.
This webpage lists such examples of bureaucracy as universities, the police force, DMV (in the USA), health insurance system, postal service, tax system, the military, and more.
Police force bureaucracy: see season 1 of TV show The Wire for a portrayal.
For the purpose of understanding macropower, we can define bureaucracy as a system that is created by people in order to make things easier but that gets too unwieldy for a single person to understand, navigate, or handle. If we understand bureaucracy as a form of macropower, this make it in some way easier to deal with it. For example, it is not uncommon for people to lose patience while dealing with bureaucracy. A person who needs to get something from a bureaucratic system can get frustrated about specific people within this system that she is interacting with. When we understand that these people do not have the power over the system they are a part of, we might become kinder and more thoughtful in our interactions with them.
Because I am working on this project on power, I see my interactions with various bureaucratic systems as enlightening rather than aggravating (I do get frustrated sometimes, but not as much as before). Some examples of my interactions with bureaucratic systems (BS) include: - trying to get a refund from DHL (I spent an hour on the phone explaining the situation to different people and they were connecting me to different departments but nobody knew what to do; features or BS include: people within it do not fully understand how the system works; people within it do not care about the result because they feel disconnected from each other and from the result of their actions) - applying for British visa in 2022 - applying for French citizenship
BS: when people outside of a BS get frustrating with how BS is working and release this frustration on people who work in it, this becomes a vicious circle. People inside BS are not going to be more effective if customers shout at them and demand things BS workers cannot do. Example of BS: DMV in Zootopia
Bureaucracy: which scholars wrote about standardization, repetition, reproduction? Bureaucracy meant to make things more efficient But prior to the era of standardization: Jarndycs and Jarndyce case from Bleak House https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jarndyce_and_Jarndyce
Power in "One Flew over a Coocoo Nest" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Flew_Over_the_Cuckoo%27s_Nest_(novel)
Power and order/disorder, sticking to the order brings power (bureaucracy), but disrupting the order is another kind of power.
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