The Utopia of Rules : On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy

By David Graeber

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(1961 - 2020)

Anarchist, Anthropologist, Occupy Movement Organizer, and Anti-Bullshit Jobs Activist

David Rolfe Graeber was an American anthropologist and anarchist activist. His influential work in economic anthropology, particularly his books Debt: The First 5,000 Years and Bullshit Jobs , and his leading role in the Occupy movement, earned him recognition as one of the foremost anthropologists and left-wing thinkers of his time. Born in New York to a working-class Jewish family, Graeber studied at Purchase College and the University of Chicago, where he conducted ethnographic research in Madagascar under Marshall Sahlins and obtained his doctorate in 1996. He was an assistant professor at Yale University from 1998 to 2005, when the university controversially decided not to renew his contract before he was eligible for tenure. Unable to secure another position in the United States, he entered an "academic exile" in England, where he was a lecturer and reader at Goldsmiths' College from 2008 to 2013, and a professor at the London School of Economic... (From: Wikipedia.org / TheGuardian.com.)

Chapters

6 Chapters | 83,442 Words | 519,217 Characters

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Introduction: The Iron Law of Liberalism and the Era of Total Bureaucratization Nowadays, nobody talks much about bureaucracy. But in the middle of the last century, particularly in the late sixties and early seventies, the word was everywhere. There were sociological tomes with grandiose titles like A General Theory of Bureaucracy , The Politics of Bureaucracy , or even The Bureaucratization of the World , and popular paperback screeds with titles like Parkinson’s Law , The Peter Principle, or Bureaucrats: How to Annoy Them. There were Kafkaesque novels, and satirical films. Everyone seemed to feel that the foibles and absurdities of bureaucratic life and bureaucratic procedures were one of the defining features of modern existence, and as such, eminently worth discussing. But since the seventies, there has been a peculiar f... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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1. Dead Zones of the Imagination: An Essay on Structural Stupidity Let me begin with a story about bureaucracy. In 2006, my mother had a series of strokes. It soon became obvious that she would eventually be incapable of living at home without assistance. Since her insurance would not cover home care, a series of social workers advised us to put in for Medicaid. To qualify for Medicaid, however, one’s total worth can only amount to six thousand dollars. We arranged to transfer her savings—this was, I suppose, technically a scam, though it’s a peculiar sort of scam since the government employs thousands of social workers whose main work seems to involve telling citizens exactly how to perpetuate said scam—but shortly thereafter, she had another, very serious stroke, and found herself in a nursing home undergoing long-term rehabilitation. When she emerged from that, she was definitely going to need home care, but there was... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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2. Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit “Contemporary reality is the beta-version of a science fiction dream.” —Richard Barbrook There is a secret shame hovering over all us in the twenty-first century. No one seems to want to acknowledge it. For those in what should be the high point of their lives, in their forties and fifties, it is particularly acute, but in a broader sense it affects everyone. The feeling is rooted in a profound sense of disappointment about the nature of the world we live in, a sense of a broken promise—of a solemn promise we felt we were given as children about what our adult world was supposed to be like. I am referring here not to the standard false promises that children are always given (about how the world is fair, authorities are well-meaning, or those who work hard shall be rewarded), but about a very specific generational promise —given above... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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3. The Utopia of Rules, or Why We Really Love Bureaucracy After All Everyone complains about bureaucracy. The essays in this book have themselves largely consisted of such complaints. Nobody seems to likes bureaucracy very much—yet somehow, we always seem to end up with more of it. In this essay I’d like to ask why that is, and particularly, to consider the possibility that many of the blanket condemnations of bureaucracy we hear are in fact somewhat disingenuous. That the experience of operating within a system of formalized rules and regulations, under hierarchies of impersonal officials, actually does hold—for many of us much of the time, for all of us at least some of the time—a kind of covert appeal. Now, I am aware this is not the only possible explanation. There is a whole school of thought that holds that bureaucracy tends to expand according to a kind of perverse but inescapable inner logic. The argument runs as follows:... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Appendix: On Batman and the Problem of Constituent Power I am appending this piece, ostensibly about the Christopher Nolan film The Dark Knight Rises— the long version of a piece published under the title “Super Position” in The New Inquiry in 2012 —as it expands on themes of sovereignty and popular culture broached in the third essay in this book. In that essay, I noted that there were three historically independent elements that I believed came together in our notion of “the state,” which I described as sovereignty, bureaucracy, and (heroic) politics. My thoughts on sovereignty, however, were only minimally developed, so I thought it might interest the reader to see some further reflections on the subject, written in the same broad, discursive vein. On Saturday, October 1, 2011, the NYPD arrested seven hundred Occupy Wall Street activists as they were attempting to march across the Brooklyn Bridge. Mayor Bloomberg justified... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Elliot Jacques (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1976). Gordon Tullock (Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1965). Henry Jacoby (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973). C. Northcote Parkinson (Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press, 1957). “Work in an organization expands to fill the time allotted to do it.” Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hill (London: Souvenir Press, 1969). The famous work on how those operating in an organization “rise to the level of their incompetence” also became a popular British TV show. R. T. Fishall (London: Arrow Books, 1982). A now-classic text on how to flummox and discomfit bureaucrats, widely rumored to be by British astronomer and BBC host Sir Patrick Moore. One could go further. The “acceptable” Left has, as I say, embraced bureaucracy and the market simultaneously. The libertar... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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