Bureaucracy and Forgivness

12Илья

I am a sick man… I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man…  I used to be in the government service, but am no longer. I was a spiteful official. I was rude and took pleasure in being so…When petitioners used to come for information to the table at which I sat, I used to grind my teeth at them, and felt intense enjoyment when I succeeded in making anybody unhappy. [Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground]

You know, I can remember when I first was learning how to downhill ski.  I clearly recall my more experienced friends going with me to buy my first pair of skis.  “Get ones that are more forgiving,” they would say. “Forgiving?” I would ask. “Yes, forgiving! If you make a small mistake executing a turn or something, the skis won’t take it out on your body, they are flexible, they are forgiving. They don’t make you pay for that minor infraction of the rule.”

This is the message that I began to understand clearly today about Russia and the trailing effect of its bureaucratic choke-hold from the Soviet period, its lingering impact on human relations.  I have been living for most of the time over the past eight years here in the western part of Siberia. I have been trying to formulate in my mind what distinguishes daily life in America from life here.  Obviously, I am not speaking of the climatic and economic differences (the material conditions), if you will. Rather, I have been consumed with the more evanescent but more challenging issues of personality, of character, of attitude.  What is the distinguishing trait that seems to separate the Russian from that of American character?  Forgiveness; individual forgiveness!

In raising this question, it is important for us to understand the ever so slight difference in the systems that command and control these two former superpowers. That’s right, the USA is also a former superpower; its appearance of superiority, only a spectacle. Granted, it’s a spectacle backed up by a real life killing-machine – but a spectacle nevertheless.  There is really no substance behind the appearance of our claim to supremacy… after all we can’t even win a war against a handful of tribal Islamists.

Back to our problem! The Soviet system that reigned here for over 70 years created a bureaucratic choke-hold, an atmosphere that required even demanded inflexibility.  It was a system that did not encourage nor even allow the idea of forgiveness. Even the religious illusion of divine forgiveness was banished from the kingdom as a keystone principle from Marx’s own hand. (Yet, I am not here to debate religion again; it is after all only a handmaiden to politics). Yet, this inflexibility seems to have crept into the Russian psyche and now reigns unchecked over behavior in all civic, i.e., public, social, or economic situations.  Even commercial enterprises still find it hard to inculcate flexibility.  “You bought it… so it’s your problem,” seems to be a common refrain from businesses when a customer returns with a faulty purchase.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not claiming that American bureaucratic stylings are any friendlier than their Russian counterparts; they are not.  After all: rules are rules!  But the individuals inhabiting those spaces are, relatively speaking, more forgiving… on the whole.  Perhaps we in the States have been protected from the cynicism that inhabits the systematic control as it was exercised within the Soviet State. And perhaps the insidiousness of that control has destroyed the very foundation of for-give-ness, i.e., GIVING!  And the inability to “give” or “share” in the public square is itself the result of a loss of trust in one another, a loss that was burned into the hard-tested hearts of Russians over the bulk of the 20th Century.  Trust, as we find it among small groups, clans and tribes, is the missing ingredient by and large in the systems that today pretend to hold things together in our urban environments and lifestyles of increasing interiority, anonymity and anomie.  (Texting, anyone?) When you destroy the bonds of kinship – not just consanguinity, but bonds of affinity as well – you tear trust asunder… because trust cannot inhabit a world filled with anonymous citizen soldiers, officials, bureaucrats and petitioners.  Again I refer you to Dostoyevsky’s thoughts in Notes From Underground: 

I was lying when I said just now that I was a spiteful official. I was lying from spite. I was simply amusing myself with the petitioners… and in reality I never could become spiteful. I was conscious every moment in myself of many, very many elements absolutely opposite to that. I felt them positively swarming in me, these opposite elements. I knew that they had been swarming in me all my life and craving some outlet from me, but I would not let them, would not let them, purposely would not let them come out. They tormented me till I was ashamed: they drove me to convulsions and—sickened me, at last, how they sickened me!

Yet, the pretense of trust that seemed to under-gird the American system is itself now coming unraveled. With each new revelation (of a Manning or a Snowden), the unraveling just continues.  Many have already come to distrust the system (and those bureaucrats who fill its posts); and I am afraid it will not be very long before trust in the (anonymous) Other also is lost here as well.  We already have begun to see that loss of trust, of flexibility, of giving and forgiving, in the litany of shootings we are uninvited witnesses to day in and day out.

Systems are never trustworthy; they cannot judge the individual. You are merely a particular instance to which some general rule applies in a strictly syllogistic relationship.  But, that is not relationship; it is only a logical function carried out by a purely rational and analytical mind. There is no emotional component… just find it in the rulebook and follow the rule.  There are no exceptions… “Now, get on line and wait your turn!”

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15 Responses to Bureaucracy and Forgivness

  1. the Heretick says:

    you are correct, everyone finds some fault with the status quo, and rightly so. left, right, in the middle, nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong, the center cannot hold, that sort of thing.
    i see a great loss of individuality, all while individuality is celebrated, how can that be?
    it’s because it’s all in relation to an amorphous whole; while we may be anyone we want to be, we don’t know who to be, and it doesn’t matter anyway, because try as we might, we will still just be cogs in a giant hybrid species. as said before, we are no longer exactly human, not as a species, we now have an exoskeleton of technology, we are in a symbiotic relationship, we can’t survive w/o our machines.

    some celebrate this dependency, seek to integrate even more fully, there is now a teevee show about a guy with a chip in his head “Intelligence”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligence_%28U.S._TV_series%29
    lovely. Superman.

    too much information, as bad as too little, loss of telemetry, disorientation and loss of humanity.

    • Disaffected says:

      we are no longer exactly human, not as a species, we now have an exoskeleton of technology, we are in a symbiotic relationship, we can’t survive w/o our machines.

      Good observation! Not sure it applies to the whole species just yet, but it certainly applies to us in the west. Technology has irrevocably changed us, and not necessarily for the better. Vaccination, antibacterial, and immunology technologies alone have made us extremely vulnerable to their inevitable coming absence.

  2. 99 cent nation says:

    “Systems are never trustworthy; they cannot judge the individual. You are merely a particular instance to which some general rule applies in a strictly syllogistic relationship.” You have got that right!

  3. Disaffected says:

    What is the distinguishing trait that seems to separate the Russian from that of American character? Forgiveness; individual forgiveness!

    Yep! Capitalist instincts seem to have permeated to our very cores. I’m a prime offender when driving (in particular) too. I’m a type A on steroids when it comes to attentive driving or the lack thereof. That said, Americans fully live up to the old saw about asleep at the wheel, what with their texting, cell phones, and in car entertainment systems. Almost no time left over for the actual task of attentive driving it seems.

    But you’re right. The kids seem to have really taken to the notion of settling things with a gun. Only gonna get worse too evidently. Sigh…

  4. Disaffected says:

    In raising this question, it is important for us to understand the ever so slight difference in the systems that command and control these two former superpowers. That’s right, the USA is also a former superpower; its appearance of superiority, only a spectacle. Granted, it’s a spectacle backed up by a real life killing-machine – but a spectacle nevertheless. There is really no substance behind the appearance of our claim to supremacy… after all we can’t even win a war against a handful of tribal Islamists.

    Excellent point!

    Dovetails nicely with the Archdruid’s latest:

    Plenty of explanations have been proposed for the current era of economic unraveling, but I’d like to suggest that the most important factor is the overall decline in the “energy profit” that makes modern economies possible at all. EROEI is to a civilization what gross profit is to a business, the source of the surplus that supports the entire enterprise. As the overall EROEI of industrial civilization contracts, habits that were affordable in an era of abundance profit stop being viable, and decline sets in. Long before that figure drops to the point that an industrial system can no longer be supported at all, most of us will have long since lost access to the products of that system, because every drop of liquid fuel and every scrap of most other industrial resources will long since have been commandeered for critical needs or reserved for the wealthiest and most powerful among us.

    The twilight of the industrial age, in other words, isn’t somewhere conveniently far off in the future; it’s happening now, in the slow, ragged, uneven, but inexorable manner that’s normal for great historical transformations. Trying to insist that this can’t be happening, that there has to be some way to keep up our extravagant lifestyles when the energetic and material basis of that extravagance is rapidly depleting away from beneath us, may be emotionally comforting but it doesn’t change, or even address, the hard facts of our predicament. Like the fashionable apocalypticism discussed last week, it simply provides an excuse for inaction at a time when action is necessary but difficult.

    It’s important to remember in this time of corporate over-hyped almost instantaneous “transformational” change that the real change is going on in the background – hiding in plain sight if you will – almost completely unnoticed to the general public, and it almost certainly ain’t change that any of us are gonna be exactly happy about, in the short term at least.

    Lots of good stuff out there this week. Kunstler seems to have found his voice again too. 2014 is thus far ‘spring in January’ here in this part of the southwest (sunny, dry, and low to mid 50’s as far as the forecast can see for nearly all of northern NM). Much as I love it – almost a giddy feeling in the air up here on the eve of yet another long holiday weekend (for government workers at least) – I can’t help but have a sense of foreboding about what all this ‘good fortune’ might bring us a few months hence. Nature’s been dealing us some really wild, wild cards of late, and it feels like this might be yet another in the series.

  5. FIDO says:

    Rules are rules, especially those that kill… Yes, I am refering to the dumb rules that Kill people. Like medicare, Obamacare and Medicaid rules that take apart the individual and kill them slowly,
    I guess mother nature and the end of the oil age has left us with a real turkey on our hands.

    • Malthus says:

      We are living in the dark ages of medicine where profit is put before the health and well being of the patients. When doctors come out of school the knowledge they learned is already obsolete. There is a shortage of doctors and will get worse. Private corporations run hospitals and the profit is put above all else and can get away with charging anything and as much as they can with out any explanations whatsoever. All doctors do is run tests with the most expensive equipment they can get and then run software given to them by big pharmaceutical companies and what to prescribe that has the most profit for the doctors and big pharma. Just one example of how pathetic this country has become.

    • Disaffected says:

      I guess from the rich’s point of view, they would say “It was our money that developed all this damn medical technology in he first place. What right do you poor SOBs have to lay claim to any of it anyway?” To which I would respond that all their money, aka “wealth”, was systematically stolen from the labor of the poor over generations, and so the rich’s money is not really theirs at all. If we actually allocated wealth according to true productive value to society, most of the hyper-rich would be trading places with their counterparts among the ultra-poor. And “productive” has come mostly to mean one’s contribution to the global capitalist strip mining operation, which in the end, is not really ‘productive’ at all. But sadly, in the final analysis, there’s still just too damn many of us – several billion too many of us. Not that any of us are willing to step up and ‘take one for the team’ by volunteering to be eliminated first.

      And thus our current dilemma. We have advanced medical technologies that actually exacerbate the population problem needlessly by prolonging the natural death process (and mostly for profit at that!), while much of that system’s potential is wasted treating midlife lifestyle diseases that the larger industrial system itself caused. A vicious circle indeed. All why we wring our hands over the affordability of it for any particular group of individuals. An advanced observer looking in on it all would call us what we are: drug addicts, both literally and figuratively. Literally for obvious reasons, figuratively because we live purposely self-destructive lives in almost every respect (all the while in full denial), and then rely on the ‘miracle’ of our medical technologies to undo the ravages that our lifestyles themselves have imposed on us, none of which we can apparently ‘afford’. We are indeed living in a very sick and self-deluded society!

      • the Heretick says:

        exactly the subject i am dealing with. i have been pondering how to approach it.

        • Disaffected says:

          I am as well. Given our current state of affairs, I think we all might be, to one degree or another.

        • Disaffected says:

          Head on with mucho gusto has always been my best approach (in writing at least), but that’s just me! In person/actuality, those things are always more difficult, of course.

      • Disaffected says:

        To which I can’t help but post this once again. I think I’m in love with young Jagger:

        • Disaffected says:

          Likewise, I thought this was a stupid little toss off effort the first time I heard it at all of 19. Now I know better. Freddie Mercury – Forrokh Bulsara – was one of the amazing talents of our time.

      • Disaffected says:

        I would just add and re-emphasize that I think our emphasis (especially in the west) on life extension in particular at the expense of end of life quality is just perverse. Without going into the whole Judeo-Christian aspect of it once again, I think we all need to rethink it, especially in light of the approaching baby-boomer generation demographic realities.

  6. Disaffected says:

    Systems are never trustworthy; they cannot judge the individual. You are merely a particular instance to which some general rule applies in a strictly syllogistic relationship. But, that is not relationship; it is only a logical function carried out by a purely rational and analytical mind. There is no emotional component… just find it in the rulebook and follow the rule.

    Spent a fair amount of time ruminating over that one for the last few days for various reasons. I think mostly because of a couple posts; the first the Archdruid’s latest (last few, really) and the other over at NakCap, where it was really the comments that followed that astounded me (so many in complete denial!). My final conclusion of which was to simplify again.

    Most of this ‘systems’ bullshit we (legitimately) worry about it is simply the product of cheap energy and will all too quickly be taken care of once again once that energy falls into short supply. Which it is, as we speak. I think from a historical perspective of a few decades time hence we will view the 2010s as the absolute peak of our denial phase, and view our current society as a sort of ‘adolescent’ phase, before the maturity of whatever phase comes next emerges.

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