In the United States today, a child can be charged with battery simply for throwing a piece of candy at a friend. Students can even be locked in solitary confinement for skipping school. Adults aren’t much better off. The Supreme Court decided in 2011 that anyone arrested, even for an offense as minor as an unpaid traffic ticket, can be strip searched at the discretion of police. These authoritarian and merciless acts of force are just the tip of the iceberg in our authoritarian society, still cruelly nicknamed “the land of the free.”
The number of rules and laws we are subjected to is comedically excessive. But what makes it so unbearable is that they are often enforced with a kind of insatiable, self-righteous venom. Increasingly, modern American bureaucrats – whether they be police, teachers, or government paper-pushers – are obsessed with conforming to rules and mercilessly punishing those who fail to comply.
Officials are so free from common sense, it is literally beyond parody! Consider this recent news story involving a Virginia sixth grader, the son of two school teachers and a member of the school’s gifted program. The boy was targeted by school officials after they found a leaf (probably a maple leaf) in his backpack that someone suspected was marijuana.
Despite the fact that the leaf in question was not marijuana (which was confirmed after repeated lab test), the 11 year old was still kicked out of school and charged with marijuana possession in juvenile court. Those charges were dropped, but he was still forced to enroll in an alternative school away from his friends, where he is subjected to twice-daily searches for drugs and evaluation for substance abuse problems.
As the Washington Post warned:
It doesn’t matter if your son or daughter brings a real pot leaf to school, or if he brings something that looks like a pot leaf—okra, tomato, maple, buckeye, etc. If your kid calls it marijuana as a joke, or if another kid thinks it might be marijuana, that’s grounds for expulsion.
Any reasonable school official would recognize the difference between a technical violation based on an unforeseen oversight and a legitimate attempt to smuggle drugs into the school. But, repeatedly, officials are intent on ignoring their own better sense, instead favoring harsh and litigious punishments.
When I first began studying this issue years ago, I asked myself, “Where is all this pent-up rage coming from? Why is it being directed toward the weakest and most innocent elements of our society?” It seemed to me that news stories like these have become far more common over the last few years. Eventually, I started compiling a list of the most egregious abuses, trying to find a pattern or some explanation as to why the average bureaucrat would take such sadistic pleasure in the suffering of innocent people.
I typically hear people argue that this kind of behavior is a result of political correctness gone amok or from the irrational fear of terrorism and mass shootings. Some people said it had to do with fear over losing one’s job for failing to comply with the rules as written. While there may be some truth to each of these explanations, they are shallow and inadequate. Many of these issues have nothing to do with guns or terrorism, and many of the rule-enforcing bureaucrats had the authority to minimize harm to the student, but choose not to.
Looking closer at each individual instance, it’s clear most of the offending bureaucrats weren’t thinking for themselves, but were mindlessly deferring to the written rules. Even the most nurturing and humanistic professions – like teachers and doctors – have been mechanized into a very narrow range of action. In addition, as a result of the computer revolution, our work is now more detached from a physical reality than ever before. Much of our work in the office centered, technological era is monotonous and endless. A large portion of our waking lives has an ethereal, pointless quality to it. Even teachers, who used to have a humanistic and diverse work life, are now forced to behave like machines, teaching to standardized tests and working a grueling average of 53 hours a week.
The psychological effect of this pressure has been profound. Without the ability to make our own decisions and see those positive effects on a regular basis, our work becomes personally meaningless.
American bureaucrats superficially look like mild-mannered professionals, but are prone to sudden bouts of aggressive, unsympathetic behavior. They are unable to act out repressed rage in any other socially acceptable way than by doling out punishments, fines, rejections, expulsions and other forms of objective, systemic violence.
The purpose of all of these rules and laws, from the perspective of our governing system, is to maximize control over everything that can be controlled and to micromanage every detail possible. From student testing all the way to global trade, the world’s leadership is trying to centralize as much authority as possible to maximize efficiency, profit, and power. On the chopping block however, is our dignity.
In Bureaucratic Insanity, I argue that the average American bureaucrat is literally insane, in that they have a warped perception of reality and a kind of intense self-hatred. They externalize this hate by punishing others. They demand absolute conformity as a way to make sense of their meaningless lives.
In the book, I document the growth of this trend from the early part of the industrial revolution to the modern day, pointing out its initial appearance in factory life and in the military, later metastasizing to the office, and now its sad appearance in America’s schools. Lastly, we conclude with an assessment of what can be done to insulate ourselves from this seemingly unstoppable trend toward centralization and how to reinvigorate life with real meaning.
(View the video below to hear more about this book and some recent news items that verify its content.)
Sean Kerrigan is the author of Bureaucratic Insanity: The American Bureaucrat’s Descent into Madness. He has been a writer and public social critic for the last 15 years, concentrating on issues of economic, political and social decay in the United States. Educated at Temple University in Philadelphia, he worked for several years as a journalist focusing on hard news coverage. Disillusioned by the economic crisis of 2008 and its aftermath, he refocused his attention on political and spiritual matters, with most of his subsequent writing challenging the accepted mythology of American society. His work has been featured on the BBC World Service Radio, popular blogs such as Zero Hedge, and several daily newspapers including the Bucks County Courier Times. He maintains a regularly updated website at www.SeanKerrigan.com and a Twitter account @SeanJKerrigan.