‘Enemy of the State’ (Bureaucracy) –Part 04

- The process of the “Internal Disciplinary Inquiry” and “Development” Ideology

By Citizen-Ordinary

Two Development Ideologies

(1) The Systemic Approach: “the Guardians and the Enemies”

(July 25, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) No one would question the authenticity of the senior administrators’ commitment to ‘Development.’ What needs to be examined is the specific approach to Development which they manifest in their action with regard to the “internal inquiry.”

It is state centred approach to Development and is aimed at preserving, at any cost and trouble, the state which is symbolized by the authority of the senior administrators.

In perceiving themselves as guardians of the state to protect the integrity of which any individuals who are perceived to be “trouble makers” can be purged without giving any consideration that you are destroying the lives of humans, these senior administrators manifest their allegiance to an approach to development that considers protecting the system as the most important thing to do. They are passionately committed to protecting the system, the state administration as their homeland.

The systemic approach to development can easily overlook individuals – whether they are farmers whose valuable farmland and traditional homelands in the Dumbara valley inundated under the Mahweli waters (see, Nissanka Seneviratne’s articles to Lanka Guardian on this issue), or the residents whose traditional communities are torn asunder and livelihoods disturbed in building highways, or the trade union members, the professionals or the academics whose livelihood taken and savings confiscated due to challenging the perspective of the senior administrators.

The system is protected by maintaining the authority and the hierarchy of the administrators. All employees whether they are trade unionists, technicians, professionals, or academics will have to function under the strict authority of the administration. Development is a matter strictly under the control of the state bureaucracy. Anyone who questions the authority the senior administrators have to decide matters, are “trouble makers” and should be immediately, made to fall in line or if they refuse to do so, removed from the system.

Discipline and order at any cost are the foundation on which the edifice of state system is built. Hence, all the ground work and foot work, and energy and man/woman hours spent on the process of maintaining control, resembling the operation in the movie, Enemy of the State. In fact the pleasure of the administrators involved is in cornering the “trouble makers” after secretive, and long drawn foot work of constructing an iron clad case working together as a team consisting of the senior administrators, investigation officers, inquiring officers, other employees who are on the side of the administrators as informants, or those who implement various numerous related activities etc. described earlier.

A belief in the omnipotence of the administrator is very much evident in the attempt to maintain discipline and order through micro-management, that is, attempt to be personally in control of everything including the minute details in running an establishment. This model of development is based on the idea that knowledge comes from the experience of the senior administrator alone, rather than the experience of all who are participating in carrying out any given activity or even outsiders.

Those who, even unintentionally, go against the attempt to maintain this disciplinary order are perceived as the enemy rather than as human beings responding based on their own ethical principles. Here, only the administrator has access to ethical principles, not his perceived enemies.

What I would like to argue is that this dichotomy of “Guardians” and “Enemies/ Trouble Makers” does not hold ground under rigorous examination. The so-called “trouble makers” are generally those who resort to collective action, to resist what they perceive as undemocratic and authoritarian moves on the part of the administration in running a department or a statutory body, themselves have a development ideology of their own, except that they subscribe to a different ideology.

While both parties are equally committed to their ideologies, they both want development. Hence, this is a clash between ideas rather than between guardians and enemies of the state.

(2) Development: A Collective Affair where Individuals Matter

The so-called “trouble makers” who question the premises of the above state centred development model, with their demands for freedom from undue political interference, democracy in organizational matters, respect for their individual freedom and equal rights as women, employees and citizens themselves represent an alternative model of development. For them development is more a collective affair, a process where individuals matter.

They manifest a strong desire to actively participate in development as stake holders with equal status in terms of how activities within an organization are carried out and how resources are distributed. They believe that the employees have a right to question the irregularities of the administration and inform higher authorities of such irregularities.

The irony is that the so-called “trouble makers” themselves perceive their role in raising issues and questions on the manner in which the senior administrators seek to impose their hierarchical authority, as protecting the integrity of the organizations which they serve and therefore the state.

What they suggest through their action is that in their understanding, creating a hassle free and democratic environment to carry out their work is the way to preserve the state.

State administrators generally come into conflict with trade unions activists, professionals and academics that have their own independent views and value their freedom and therefore would stand for a safe and democratic working environment that would facilitate their work.

In fact the statutory bodies were established partly to free them from being bound to the government, whereas the unintended consequence of this freedom has enabled administrators to use it to further their authority and control over the staff.

The “trouble makers,” trade union activists, professionals academics with independent views would bring new energies to the state organizations. Hounding them out will make the state sector a poorer place and our society poorer in our humanity.

Globally, both in the public sector and the private sector, we have entered a phase of considering giving leadership within a democratic framework rather than imposing management under hierarchical authority as the organizational structure best suited to the present phase of modern history where democratic practices and individual initiatives for innovation and invention are valued.

We live in a democratic world where the state has increasingly given way to people’s initiative and participation in development issues. Genuine transparency is demanded from the state at every level. It is demanded that rights of every category of humans including women and workers are respected. All over the world the state sectors have been adapting themselves to these changes.

It is here that a third theoretical perspective on bureaucracy outside the notion of rationality, which takes into account the value of the sense of individuality that, prevails in modern thinking has its resonance.

A third theoretical perspective on bureaucracy: “iron cage” and the “polar night of icy darkness”
This third theoretical perspective takes the position that the modern bureaucracy as a phenomenon gives rise to negative group dynamics such as ‘ group think,’ 'group polarisation' and blind obedience. It produces excessive zeal and loyalty within the organization and leads to lack of critical thinking regarding the organisation. It renders the organisation unable to change and realise its own mistakes and limitations. It eliminates space for dissent or critical debate. Most commonly bureaucracy can lead to the treatment of individual human beings as impersonal objects.

According to some theorists working within this perspective such as Michel Crozier that the rigidity of bureaucracy as a form of organization has rendered it unable to adjust itself. He has observed that, in situations where almost every outcome has been brought under the strict bureaucratic control, people try to gain some control over their lives through any form of resistance available to them. Bureaucratic rationality which does not leave room for initiative on the part of the employees give them a sense of inferiority thus making the more independent among them to look for avenues to prove their initiative.

Another observation from this perspective is that bureaucracies cannot be run as machines because they consisted of human beings. In the final analysis, people will simply not imitate machines.

One of the key values upheld by the third theoretical perspective is the value of personal freedom, to which bureaucracy is inimical.

Arguably, this perspective draws sustenance from Max Weber‘s concern with the fate of individual under bureaucratic rationality.

Max Weber who himself observed the emergence of the protestant individual ethic as paving the way for capitalism to develop, has also noted that how bureaucratic rationality traps the individual. Weber saw bureaucracy as the agent in capitalism, of the depersonalising which Marx described so vividly in his theory of alienation. Weber argued that it is under capitalism that the bureaucracy assumed a “seemingly cancerous life of its own”

While recognizing the efficiency of the modern bureaucracy, Weber simultaneously identified it as “dehumanizing” in terms of its calculating rational character that refuses to entertain any human elements which escape calculation. Hence his use of the images of “iron cage” and the “polar night of icy darkness” to describe the eventual effects of rationalization in modern society dominated by the bureaucracy.

Theoretically, while the above third perspective has roots in liberalism, that the state bureaucratic model of development is Marxist in origin may surprise some of its unsuspecting followers.

Return to Marx

The origin of development ideology based on state taken as a system is Marxist. It takes off from the Marxist idea of politics that treats development as ‘making the world.’ What is underlying this notion, is a teleological understanding of history and progress and is guided by a ‘means-ends rationality’ and hence the belief in the dispensability of individual human beings who are considered immaterial for the grand scheme of state based development. It is inward looking and therefore unable to fit into the prevailing conditions of the larger world reality. In following this thinking then, ironically, the value rationality of the Lankan bureaucracy of considering themselves the ‘elite guiding the destiny of the nation’ itself becomes a goal or a means to development as ‘making the world.’

If the Sri Lankan state administration is to return to the state centred bureaucratically controlled model of development, it is bound to strengthen the political tendencies within society that aim at capturing the state as the means to overcome poverty or social inequality. Marxism and nationalism coming together, as we have seen, could be a recipe for disaster.

What the Sri Lankan society needs in the twenty first century is strengthening democracy with a sense of justice and fair play within all sectors of society whether it is private or public sector establishments, or collective social life in general.

If development efforts centred on the authority of the state administration tend to crush plurality in organizations it is bound to erode the sense of well being among all sections of people in society, undermining the long term stability of the country.

-Sri Lanka Guardian