What is the currency of bureaucracy? Knowledge? Veto power? Sycophancy?

I write not enough about bureaucracy, despite it being a category on this ad-strewn site. There’s Parkinson’s Law, the Peter Principle, the Pournelle’s law, Galbraith meetings and all that. Max Weber wrote about it occasionally.

I am gestating some thoughts on this (that’s not why I failed to post yesterday – I was off for a bike ride with Mrs Towers, whom I won’t be seeing for three months).  Thoughts around how the complacent (even “smug”) attitude, risk aversion and sheer bloody-mindedness (“Why do we do it that way? Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it around here”) will probably be the death of the species.  We just aren’t smart or brave or nimble enough to “solve” our problems at even half the speed we are causing them. And how you don’t have to have a bureaucracy to have an achingly bureaucratic mindset,  a mindset that is the foe of so much effective action.

And what is the currency of bureaucracy? Maybe knowledge. Maybe prestige. Or are those outcomes? What is the tradeable commodity?   I am coming to believe it is sychophancy. Not laid on with a butter knife. Not laid on with a trowel.  Laid on with a shovel or three.  Think on it; To progress up the ice-cream cone, (see below) you have dished out so much of the stuff that your sensors are dulled, even deadened. So when you get to a position of power, you are expecting your underlings to serve up what you think is a mere soupçon of the stuff.  But really, it’s a twelve-course banquet.  And anyone who fails to deliver, can get lost, can’t they?

The House medical hierarchy was a pyramid – a lot at the bottom and one at the top. Given the mentality required to climb it, it was more like an icecream cone – you had to lick your way up> From constant application of tongue to next uppermost ass, those few toward the top were all tongue. A mapping of each sensory cortex would show a homunculus with a mammoth tongue overlapping an enormous portion of brain. The nice thing about the ice-cream cone was that from the bottom you got a clear view of the slurping going on. There they were, the Slurpers, greedy optimistic kids in an ice-cream parlor in July, tonguing and tonguing and tonguing away. It was quite a sight.

Page 8 The House of God by Samuel Shem

What are people’s suggestions for good books about bureaucracy?

So far I can think of …

The Tin Men by Michael Frayn

1984 by George Orwell

The Trial (naturally) by Franz Kafka

Brazil (dir Terry Gilliam)


About dwighttowers

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3 Responses to What is the currency of bureaucracy? Knowledge? Veto power? Sycophancy?

  1. leavergirl says:

    Hm… good question. Maybe “undislodgement”?

  2. Kevin says:

    I’m two months late (hurray moving) but I figured I’d comment. The currency I think depends on whether you’re interacting with someone above, below or at the same level as you. Would have to think it through. For books, this is a slightly skewed perspective. For bureaucracy I enjoy Catch-22 by Heller and Boyd by Coram.

    • dwighttowers says:

      sorry for delay in approving! This topic – of bureaucracy and how to “move” it, and move within it, is one I hope to return to. Great novel on this – Dossier 51 by Gilles Perrault… Also “The Tin Men” by Michael Frayn

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