Purpose, Bureaucracy

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org & Knatz.com / Teaching / Society / Social Epistemology / Abstractions / Purpose /
(from Iona Arc, a pk blog)

The purpose of the schools, right on up to the universities, is to produce bureaucrats. And the purpose of bureaucrats is not to understand a single word said to them that doesn’t fit their state-authored form. The form asks “Are you white or black?” You say, “Uh, sort of pink”; and the bureaucrat enters “White” into the Library of Congress.

But of course bureaucrats are people. And the purpose of people is not to understand a goddam word said to them: said to them by anything sentient: intelligent, honest.

thanx rbth

At least we have churches to make a ritual of this very pattern. We always know that our forebears paid Caesar, worshipped ghosts, and kangarooed Jesus: simultaneously we always don’t know that we’re cookies from the same cutter. Every museum will kill for a Van Gogh: without a clue that here and there under their knife is another Van Gogh. We burn new manuscripts to warm old bullshit.

Meanwhile, god lives, the truth lives, art lives. There are new prophets, new Van Goghs: spilling their guts, despairing, then spilling some more.

If humans were only willing to become human, that is to stop paying Caesar, worshipping ghosts, and monkeying the law, humans might live too.

Purpose: Bureaucracy Scrapbook

Here’s what may have triggered it: the trigger on top of a lifetime of being the deschooler who founded FLEX, a follower of Ivan Illich, the guy fucked by states and schools and humans for most of his life. The phone woke me this morning soon after a telemarketer had used the same device to wake me. I’m ready to hang up again, but I recognize the voice to by Carolyn’s, the head librarian at the Sebring local. Yesterday I asked for Beyond Coincidence via the interlibrary loan system, Carolyn having already informed me that the book was not in the Highlands County system. Fine, get it from some other library, and I showed up in person with my library card.

This morning Carolyn is calling to ask if I want the book delivered to the Avon Park Library, a dozen or so miles north of here. No. I repeat to Carolyn what I’d said to the library assistant as I was standing in front of her: I wanted to pick the book up in Sebring. Sebring is where I’m asking for it, Sebring is where I’d like to receive it; unless they’d like to deliver it to my door.

Oh. Carolyn thought I might prefer that, but the submission form says that Avon Park is marked as my preference for pick up.

The Sebring Library didn’t know how to use their computer system fifteen years ago when I disastrously tried helping them out part time in exchange for minimum wage. Now they’ve got assistants who, prompted by vastly more sophisticated software than they had fifteen years ago, ask where you want it, and then enter the wrong answer. All of my interlibrary loans wind up in Avon Park: though, each time, with alacrity, they then transfer it to Sebring: running in circles: ultra-efficient, ultra-costly, masters of waste.

Carolyn explains to me that the software’s default setting is alphabetical. Therefore, Avon Park is preferred to Sebring, even though Sebring is the main system library, and the library in which I was making the request.

Fine. That’s how the software come, with alphabetical as the default setting. Fine. But then change it! Go to the software’s Preferences and change the default: or hire a programmer: or get better software (not on their budget). That same no-budget assures that no one in the system will think to tailor the vanilla software. No one competent, and not also desperate, would work for that library for more than five minutes.

Is it possible that yesterday’s assistant, having asked me the right question, and gotten the right answer, then entered the right answer rightly, but the software overwrote the input with it’s stupid default?

Even after Carolyn thought to call me (Carolyn was one of my bosses fifteen years ago, one of the reasons I got out fast), and Carolyn corrected, I don’t doubt, yesterday’s error, my book my still wind up in Avon Park.

Today’s Reuters reports that the fishing industry is the only major industry becoming vastly less fuel efficient: they have to go further to catch fewer fish. How much of other systems is fuel inefficient, as well as inefficient in a host of other ways, because they run in circles thanks to untuned software?

And anyone who could even think to tune the software is driven out: by the bureaucracy’s very nature.

The next thing to interrupt my sleep this morning (related, I promise you), I recount elsewhere: Jehovah’s Witlesses.

Related Recollections

Deli Form Follower

I love egg salad. I make a mean egg salad myself, hard boiling eggs as well as I soft boil them: much easier, but not automatic. I’ll order egg salad in a deli even though I doubt they’ll make theirs anywhere near as good as my own. I like egg salad plain. I like to dress an egg salad sandwich with bacon strips, fresh boiled ham … with lettuce, perhaps, though not too often, even a slice of tomato.

I’m recalling an occasion on which I ordered an egg salad sandwich in Take-Home, the deli on Broadway and 115th Street, c. 1970-something. Take-Home had been an extension of the Columbia dormitories when I was an undergraduate across the street. Many a student had paid for a meal ticket yet still paid extra for half his calories from Take-Home: especially when studying (or carousing, or playing bridge) late. I still, or rather again, lived in the same neighborhood. Even when I lived south a few blocks, my wife kidnapped our son back to the same neighborhood: seeing bk, I’d pass Take-Home.

I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten all day. I need something substantial, but something semi-breakfast-like would be fine. I start to yearn for an egg salad hero sandwich: and that’s what I order. The sandwich clerk cuts me a cuban loaf, starts to smear egg salad onto it. “Say,” I say, “make that an egg salad hero with boiled ham.”

The guy stops short. In atrocious English the guy, a Puerto Rican, a Mexican, or something, informs me, pointing to the sandwich menu billboard over his head, that he can make me an egg salad hero or a boiled ham hero, but that there’s no egg salad and ham sandwich on the menu.

I point out to him that if he has both, he can make me both: just put them on the one loaf of Cuban bread.

The guy has a fit: in Spanish.

I can imagine that the guy wasn’t sure what he should do. He certainly didn’t own Take-Home. He wasn’t a decision maker. And it was true, egg salad with ham was not specified on the menu. The menu did specify that whatever sandwiches they made, and it was a lavish choice, could be had with white bread, whole wheat, rye … or as a hero. The regular breads were in one price column, the heros in another.

I can imagine that the guy wasn’t sure what he should charge me. Was I trying to get the ham for free? Did he dare charge me the price for both? (Could he add?)

If confused, which he certainly was, he should have asked a supervisor what he should do. The supervisor should have said, “Charge him for two sandwiches: one egg salad and one ham”; or: We sell ham by weight: weigh him a couple of slices of ham, write both prices on the wrapper, and the cashier will total his bill.”

What the guy did was start to come over the counter after me brandishing the biggest gleaming chief’s knife he had back there.

I’ve been threatened, attacked, shot at … a number of times. If actually knocked down I just curl up and cover up: I’m a fighter; but with words: not fists, not physical weapons. If shot at, I walk straight into the whistling bullets, find out who ‘s shooting at me, and why. If threatened, I do nothing: just stand straight; or walk closer toward them. And that’s what I did here, I just stood straight, stood my ground. Other employees restrained the guy, took the knife away from him, sent him into the back to cool off. But no one apologized to me. I was the guy who’d caused their colleague to freak.

I saw that I wasn’t going to get what I wanted. I could also see that the Robber Baron, our undergraduate name for the owner, was not present. So I just took the egg salad hero.


But it would have been nicer with a little ham.

And the world would be nicer if it still had a few actual human beings in it.

Abstractions Menu

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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