Bureaucracy, Promises and Predictions in Relationships

What is an organization? A common answer is that it is the people of which it is composed, but I propose that it is everything but the people. The defining characteristic of an organization is the glue which exists between people, the principles that unite its members, an interpersonal relationship, not the persons themselves. In this text I will try to demonstrate how bureaucracy is the totality of promises in a relationship or principles in an organization, that capital is only one type of such promises and that capital is based on a predicted future value. I consider this to be my second text under the umbrella of post-anarchism after this one.

To the extent that an individual acts in accordance with the commands of the organization, the words of the organization manifest outside our minds. To the extent an individual acts in discord with the bureaucracy of an organization, the organization does not manifest outside our minds and its words do perhaps not even exist in the mind of that particular individual. If none of the members manifests the organization either in thought, word or deed, the organization de facto does not exist. The principles, ideals, laws, the bureaucracy, the words, are just that, words. Words are of course real in the sense that they are composed of electrochemical brain activity and can be physically encoded in sound waves, binary code, visual symbols or dots that can be deciphered with a wise person’s finger tips. But this code is typically meaningless to, and has almost no influence on, someone who can’t interpret it. If it has no influence at all, then the meaning of the principles of the organization is not manifested at all. The distinction between explicit and implicit words or thoughts is fuzzy; there are lots of semi-completed words bubbling in our minds, i.e. subconsciously an ideal can manifest itself without being recognized.

Let’s take the state as an example of an organization, while not forgetting that any formal or informal relationship involving at least one sentient being and something else, is an organization by this description. To the extent that a word of an organization is only manifested as a word, which is an entirely theoretical situation, it is a claim. The state claims certain things. It claims that its words (or it claims that its claims) are valid for a certain two-dimensional territory on the surface of this planet, including the space above and below this plane, forming a three-dimensional volume. We recognize this claim as the same type of claim as that of private property. Property, in the broad sense, is the claim of a being that something outside of it actually belongs to (inside) it, as part of the person proper. The state and property consist of claims of the same kind, but it can’t be said that one of the claims must already exist in a culture prior to the other in order for either to be proclaimed. Claims of the state and private claims of property can exist independently of each other. The common foundation of both types of claims is that they are both claims.

The state further claims that every human within the volume corresponding to its property (and presumably every bacteria, although they’re perhaps less easily shepherded) is bound by its claims. Among its numerous claims is typically that people will be punished for “breaking the law” by other people. These other people are known as lawyers, guards, cops and so on. As noted in general before, cops are a part of the state (i.e. cops are cops and not individuals) only to the extent that they manifest the bureaucracy of the state. If all the parts of the state cease to listen to orders, the state ceases to exist. It would not collapse in a huge explosion, there would be no sudden revolution, the organization would simply cease to manifest itself. To the extent that cops ignore orders, they are not cops, but beings independent of the law enforcement system.

The cops, the lawyers, the bureaucrats, the tax collectors, the prison guards et cetera are all integral cogs in the great machine that is the modern state. As long as they act their part as cogs, they do not act as people, as individual beings, although they presumably still think about and have feelings about what they’re doing. Roles like those in the state exist in all organizations and function in the same way in all of them. In all organizations there are people with formal power which is upheld by the organization or the larger society it exists in. These are called bosses. There are also people with informal power, who make people do things despite lacking formal backing. These are called leaders. There are also people who come up with new ideas. These are called inventors. There are also people who offer emotional support. They don’t have a formal label because their work is not considered valuable in an economy where workers are disposable, despite it having a real impact on the efficiency of the organization.

There are also a million other types of people doing various things which in total constitute the activity of the organization. What’s important to realize is that most people have different roles depending on the situation. In fact, using the word role also suggests a static quality rather than a liquified, flexible behaviour. In spite of the idea of bosses, people can lead from any position and in any context. Not only does everyone have the ability to lead, but they do so in small doses all the time. The same is true for the inventor, the emotional supporter and all the other roles. One day you might come up with a great idea, I will convince others to implement it and the next day someone else will come up with an idea and you will convince me to implement it. There are also static roles in networks that connect organizations, although essentially the inter-organizational network is an organization as well so that doesn’t really change anything. In a small network or organization roles may be less static as the smallest relationship, one-on-one interaction, doesn’t benefit from static roles, although in many relationships static, implicit assumptions may be foundational to people getting along.

One can’t be an entirely independent individual, we are part of our context, and although I’m not sure what to make of it, we can contrast the independent individual with the organisatory role while viewing both the individual as a resultant and the organisation as a resultant, in the way Kropotkin describes species as resultants rather than as essentially fixed. A Reddit-thread on post-anarchism made me aware of Timothy Morton. I’ve only glanced at the Wikipedia page on him, but he seems to describe the universe as itself being materially anarchistic. There is no hierarchy among the particles, they just exist in a topologically flat universe. Indeed, there is no epicentre in the Big Bang. All animals are also materially equals, forming what he calls a mesh, a web of interconnected objects. Iron and oxygen are the products of bacteria, mountains are composed of shells, natural selection means species die and are replaced by new ones, it’s all just a mesh. I’m guessing there are many points of agreement between us. I think social construction is epistemologically real but that objects are ontologically real. I also think objects are materially interconnected, but in any case, Timothy Morton seems to be a good source for this discussion. He also speaks of the physical presence of a word in a poem and the rhetoric of ecology, again, I assume, trying to reframe the dichotomy between ontology and epistemology.

But to return from the ubiquitousness of space and nature to a more tangible aspect of organisation theory, I don’t know if small-scale efficiency decreases exponentially as organizations grow and it isn’t obvious how demanding it would be for a local group to relate to the planet’s ecosystem as a whole. However, if most organizations are organized from below, from e.g. a specific or small network of people, their efficiency would be defined by how many global networks they interact with, which can be determined from below, by the local network. So, rather than there being a million global networks, each with rules to relate to, trying to relate to everyone from above, we have each smaller network trying to relate upwards and only towards the specific few global networks their organization necessarily must interact with. E.g. a large oil company has to adopt a strategy that relates to carbondioxide emissions on a global, multifaceted scale, but two people dancing need only inform themselves of the basic facts on the matter, i.e they just need access to education, to the extent they even care about the dance as such.

It should be obvious that we are always in relationships with the surrounding world and so we are never fully independent. We can never completely destroy organizations. In essence we must accept organizations like the state, because in the end it is merely a type of relationship, but we don’t have to accept the state as we know and love it today. We must accept relationships, but these can take any of countless other forms that do not suffer from the same problems as the state.

In the utopian organization, the ideals of the individual correspond perfectly to the ideals of the organization. We can call such a situation unanimous direct democracy. This is a theoretical situation, but it gives us something to measure our actual organizations against. To achieve a unanimous decision it is only necessary that everyone has access to the same facts, it is a matter of education. If there is an actual best way to achieve the goal of an organization, a debate based on all the available facts will ultimately always end in consensus, given enough time. If the goal of the organization corresponds to the goal of each individual, then we have reached this theoretical utopia. However, even in this impossibly perfect world, there is still one problem, that of time. Assuming that everyone has access to technology that enables flawless direct democracy, it is obvious that it would take time and effort to wade through each issue together with a million other people while the content is being flooded by trolls. This slowness is a big issue.

The problem of time is that principles remain while people change. By becoming part of the establishment, ideals might even assume power simply by hitherto having been in power. Anarchists emphasize this, suggesting e.g. that everyone must be able to opt out at any point. Capital is a principle, one that is proclaimed globally through the existence of money, markets, property and so on, but even more often it is unspoken, implied, resting in people’s minds alone. Derrida notes that Marx discovered the origin of the manifestation of this principle in people’s minds and the economic laws that are established by its concrete appearance coming out of pure imagination, but criticizes him for ignoring the source of origin for this imaginative idea itself. The origin is simply that of recognizing others as sentient beings who evaluate things like oneself does. I value things, different things differently, this is the source of value. So do you, and I can imagine that you do. It’s all subjective but there is no objective value in the universe anyway.

By assuming that others value things as well, we can imagine a value that is not true for ourselves, but which might be true for someone else. This is actually the same as planning ahead for yourself. I don’t know what the apple will taste like, or what that sensation will be worth to me in the future when I eat the apple, but I can already now estimate what it will be worth to my future self. Similarly, I don’t know what something is worth to you, but I can make an estimation. This estimation is necessarily speculative and thus can’t be reduced to fundamental laws, but we can certainly map out statistics of probable trends that are more less likely to come true, with the important caveat that people can suddenly change their minds and falsify every single prophecy ever made by economists.

Marx tried to find a scientific proof for the transition from capitalism to communism, but it seems like he failed. Maybe subjective evaluation is too difficult to foresee. Since we know how quickly people can change their minds, can we really expect to be able to boil the evaluation of billions of people down to certainty? Marx tried to formulate a law of the relationship between the acts of agents capable of willed acts and universal value. I don’t think he succeeded and I think the reason is that value is not necessarily conscious or willed, but a passive phenomenon. It doesn’t matter if we are aware of what we do or that we wanted it to happen, the subjective experience can have value anyway. We are forced to reduce capital to being defined as conscious, but unwanted, value to argue that in theory we should reduce capital to 0. Since this is not the case, since we will always have capital, full communism is an illusion. We can certainly strive towards Marx’s goal, and indeed we should, but we must do so knowing that it is an ideal and that we must reduce the problems of capital rather than attempt to eradicate it. In the end, capital is just another way of envisioning the glue, or principle, or agreement which exists between people in a relationship and as long as there are relationships, by definition, there must be a glue. Marx wanted to get rid of the evils of this mental apparition. If instead of searching for definitive proof that this evil ghost would inevitably be destroyed, he had acknowledged the origin of this spook and admitted that it was ineradicable, he would’ve agreed with me that the only thing we can do is lessen the effects of its haunting presence.

To estimate the outcome of an action is part of our lives; in theory we could live without imagining consequences, but if you don’t even think about the possibility that you might die if you stab yourself in the throat with a knife, then how long will you realistically live? When we formulate the principles of a relationship or an organization, we predict a number of consequences. There are different ways to predict the future and we need to find out something about the world to do it, and in addition a method of making sense of what we find. In other words, we need to gather data and deduce information from it. This is called the scientific method. Sometimes we don’t have the time to gather empirical data or to reason about the different alternative actions to take, but the method remains the same.

Such predictions are central to both marxism and game theory, but it seems that the predicted values in marxism are objectively defined by the available labour and that predictions in game theory are defined by all-knowing subjects, neither of which seems adequate to me. Certainly capitalism tries to transform all labour into capital, but this is not fundamental, this is merely an imperialistic conquest of labour by capital, halted by anyone who refuses to surrender to it. And certainly we can only make economic models of secured data; if the subjects lack information, then the model can’t include that information either. Or would they need access to the model? Also, in game theory, as in all games, there is an optimal strategy and you can win, a win condition is predefined for a given situation and the game is confined to a limited number of premises. Reality is however not contained within such a box, time is infinite and space is, at least practically, infinite, and there is no way to win at life. Likewise, we don’t get an objective value for labour in an open-ended economy contrary to the labour theory of value of Marx’s predecessors.

I’d like to define capital as value in general, which I view as subjective unless there is a God defining moral value or for some other reason e.g. labour power specifically can be given an objective value. This could help explain gamification, which is at least partly connected to game theory. Gamification means that things that are not games are presented to people as if they were in part games. Instead of real, experienced value, we can here find values otherwise found in games. This includes gaining experience points, gold coins, special weapons, special powers, leveling up, upgrading equipment and abilities, unlocking new challenges and environments to play in. All of this represents artificial capital, or perhaps we can say that capital is artificial value. Just as a side-note, we’d need to solve the problem of value to program a robot in a way that guarantees that it will obey Asimov’s three laws.

As an example of gamification I’ll mention Youtube Heroes, which is a campaign to get users to moderate their platform for free. The unpaid moderators, called Heroes, get rewarded for trying to delete unwanted videos and comments, they level up and get expanded powers. The technical situation means Youtube has a monopoly on all these values and can delete a video collection and all its likes, or a Hero and all their rewards, as easy as snapping their fingers. Maybe life is just a game, or as Bill Hicks put it, just a ride on a roller coaster. Youtube recently demonetized a large quantity of videos, meaning views on those videos don’t generate any money to be paid to the uploaders, and targeted videos that contained controversial topics. It didn’t matter how those topics were treated, the demonetization is meant to discourage controversy in general as Youtube sees debates as lowering their profits, possibly by deterring new users. They would probably prefer rainbow-colored, fluffy kittens playing with cotton candy since nobody can be scared off by that. And Youtube wants viewers, because they want companies to pay them to advertise to those viewers. I’d like to bring Bill Hicks back for this, telling everyone who works in advertisement to “just kill yourselves.” The structure of Youtube thus punishes complex discussions and rewards zombifying, mind-numbing, enslaving escapism, self-denigration before absurd ideals and artificial game values to keep the masses under control until they go back to work to make more money to give the advertising companies more profit. But perhaps this is exactly how all types of capital work. Let’s look at a few less digital social values.

If someone is treated with an unusual amount of respect, this might be because of a promise. The title of king comes with certain expectations just as a muscular person may be seen as being valuable as a sexual partner and just as the status of being married implies a promise, although what exactly is being promised differs with cultures and individuals. What is true for all these situations is that the valued reward is at most some form of promise in the present and won’t be realized until sometime in the future. This may be an unspoken promise between friends or the constitution of a country enforced by millions of soldiers. Our decisions in the present take these promises into account, how we treat the king or the husband in the present may have consequences in the future. It’s possible that the fear of the unknown gives a promise value in itself, although I’m not sure it can be justified.

What is evident is that capital investments in the present, which rely completely on the promise that money can be turned into real value in the future, change their value over time, to make a profit for the investor. Since these promises are situational, temporal, local or personal, they don’t need to be objectively rationalized and can create temporary, absurd situations. One example of this value inconsistency is shooting a Hollywood movie. The stars of the movie arrive on set and do their lines for a few hours. They need to be rested, prepared and efficient because they get paid astronomical figures. The rest of the crew, numbering in the hundreds, taking care of lighting, audio, catering, bureaucracy, holding umbrellas et cetera, can be wasted in terms of efficiency because their salaries are insignificant by comparison. This also explains how wasting manufactured products to buy new ones can be cheaper than repairing the old, broken ones. And it also explains how wearing down a person gradually, just short of breaking them, and spitting them out like hollow husks at the national retirement age provides the biggest profit for a given time-span. In the capitalist society all this depends on how far the imperial frontier has reached in its race to turn everything into capital.

One of the problems of this colonial capitalization is that it leaves some things with value and some things without. E.g. the environment is typically unvalued. It might not solve the problem to put a price tag on every atom, every emotion and every rainbow, but whatever we do, putting a price tag on only some things and not others will lead to conflict. Though, this can also be seen as a problem of who is allowed to set a price. Normally only the people who can afford a price get to decide what it costs, which excludes e.g. almost all other sentient beings. Similarly, among the problems of laws are who gets to make the laws and the divorce between laws and non-laws, where right and wrong is determined by how far the law-makers have advanced their subjective frontier of moral imperialism, with one side of the border being a shiny, white utopia and the other side a black hell of barbarism. This mindset of illusory advancement is part of the failure of social-democracy, which keeps trying to improve the conditions of the working class step by tiny step, while still letting capitalism decide on in which universe they’re trekking.

Perhaps it’s a matter of how far into the future we look when deciding on a price, or how many actors on the market are considered, like do we include all the potential actors as well? Those who are not yet born would’ve put a higher price on pollution if it causes environmental changes that many years later lead to accelerating problems for them. And again, if capitalists didn’t invest for the sake of a short-term profit and then escape before the bubble burst, then we wouldn’t have capitalism as we know it. Should we blame the sellers for not looking far enough into the future? Well, no doubt a lot of underpricing is their fault, their lack of knowledge about that one buyer who is prepared to pay more, but at the same time they need the investment money right now and, as the saying goes, beggars can’t be choosers. From the perspective of the investor, they must invest today, because people might stop believing in those numbers in the bank account tomorrow. Maybe the solution is to punish people retroactively for the long-term consequences of short-term investments, not just monetary ones. Maybe not, I believe in preparation rather than cleaning up after the laissez-faire.

The temporal aspect of value prediction can’t be neglected. While real value only exists in the present, the promise contained in the bureaucracy of a relationship is inherently temporary. Since impermanence is important to my own philosophy and arguably to anarchism in general as well, I think we need to develop the anarchist organization theory to emphasize the inherently temporal aspect of an organization. The solution likely revolves around adaptability, preparing for the unknown or worst-case scenario and having roles and rules that leaves behavioural room for people to bend like trees in the storm rather than break. As perhaps an example of the opposite, I’ll quote from one of the Icelandic stories from the 13th century called Njal’s saga. Gunnar and Otkel, for a number of bad reasons, have become enemies. Otkel, Otkel’s brother Hallbjorn and six others face off against Gunnar.

“Gunnar called out to them: ‘Defend yourselves! Now you can find out whether you can make me shed any tears!’

They all leaped from their horses and attacked Gunnar, Hallbjorn foremost.

‘Don’t you attack!’ said Gunnar. ‘You least of all would I want to work an injury; but I’ll not spare anyone, if it comes to saving my life!’

‘There is no help for that now,’ said Hallbjorn, ‘for you are out to kill my brother, and it would be an {everlasting} shame to me if I merely sat by and looked on.’

Thereupon he thrust at Gunnar with a large spear…”

The problem of bureaucracy is closely related to the problem of time since all words are aimed at the future. Perhaps the solution is to try to stay as close to the present as possible to be as detailed as possible, perhaps being as detailed as possible, as scientific as possible, is the solution in general? Imagine a monarch issuing a decree, saying everyone should pay 10% of their belongings as tax. This decree is concise and mathematically precise, but how does it translate into the real activities further down the hierarchy? A nobleman would order some accountant to work it out and have carriers do the legwork. The farmers would contemplate whether a cow is still worth the same if you cut off 10% of its body and whether to calculate that based on height, length, volume or some measure of quality. The poor would worry about being cut into pieces themselves as people with weapons approach them demanding that they obey their king’s orders. If we instead begin from the bottom, asking each individual what they can contribute with, we might get a different society. The bureaucracy would not look as neat and which some would view as inefficient, but it might still be more efficient in practice.

The fact that other people value things is inescapable, therefore capital is inescapable. However, just as for every other decision, we want as much information as possible about other people’s values and once we’ve gotten it, there are different ways of dealing with. It is not necessary to establish the principles that currently exist on the planet and reduplicate the current systems. Instead we have the option to form unions or relationships founded on other principles. Regarding capital, we could e.g. choose not to create money representing a purportedly static value since we know that people’s evaluation can change rapidly. Money can of course change value in a matter of seconds in relation to other money, but currencies that change value in the hands of an entire country’s population at once can’t possible reflect the nuances of the values of each individual.

Efficiency is primarily an economic aspect of time. The balance between efficiency, size and staticness remains a problem for changing jobs, but this is again, at least in part, mitigated by not treating jobs as a limited number of tasks which the worker can carry out. We are not masters at one specific move of the leg and then dead to all other types of performance, instead we are good at many things and often make mistakes as well. But really, which is better? Don’t we need variety to stay sharp? What doesn’t boredom do to performance? Even if there is a reduction in efficiency, it probably will remain quite high and if each individual with less friction can relate to local and simple emission guidelines, allowing more time and resources spent elsewise. Even between organizations exists the opportunity to change roles both within the context of a discussion lasting a few minutes and within the context of a longer spell of education, which mustn’t lead to a specific job role. Education itself is of course fluid, as we are influenced by a myriad of sources throughout our development and just as we must recycle the matter and energy of the universe humans are recycled through birth and death and so must be educated over and over. Even within one’s life-span it may be necessary to gain new knowledge, adapt to new technology and new roles in society.

So how the hell are we supposed to get anything done if people change their minds so often that we can never agree to anything lasting more than a few seconds?

Well, it may not be possible to create the perfect system. The ever-adapting unanimous direct democracy organization is an ideal, a utopia, a myth. But, what we can do is use the various methods that get us as close as possible to the ideal. It is not necessary that we invent a perfect system to replace the current systems, it is only necessary that we try to create as good a system as we can using the tools at hand. Now, that sentence can be corrupted by politicians claiming to represent the lesser of two evils, but apart from being wary of empty or misleading rhetoric, there is little we can do because, by definition, there is never a better alternative at present than the best alternative currently available. Accepting this we also accept that revolution and reform are essentially the same thing. There is no threshold between capitalism and communism, there is no gate into paradise, we’re just trudging along the same old road as always. It’s not even a road, not even a field, it’s the universe and we’re walking in all its directions simultaneously, including that of the temporal dimension. By finding the subsidiary solution in every situation, we also avoid what’s called common mode failure and things like the total devastation of crops in monocultural agriculture.

I’ve based this text mainly on three texts, which I recommend for further reading:

https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/robert-paul-wolff-in-defense-of-anarchism

http://web.archive.org/web/20080619211639/http://www.hydra.umn.edu/derrida/spectres.html

https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/colin-ward-anarchism-as-a-theory-of-organization

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