On Meetings and Bureaucracy

I don’t approve of most of what Stalin did. But he did one thing well when he purged the bureaucrats. Yes, violence is not good. However, when it comes to bureaucracies…

Lacan said that the true idiot is not the random person on the street who believes that he is the king, but the king who believes that he is the king. Why so? There is always a distance between the content of my self, and my position in symbolic space. The “King” is a purely symbolic position. It has nothing to do with the person who is actually occupying the position. In fact, it becomes terrifying when the King really believes that he himself is the King, when he takes himself too seriously, when he thinks that he really deserves the symbolic authority that is given to him. It is at that moment that the king becomes a self-righteous tyrant. That is when real terror reigns.

It is this seriously, or so I have observed—since I am now, how do you say, an amateur bureaucrat in my school as the Deputy Head Boy and the Head of House—that fails meetings. Everyone simply takes it too seriously. They really believe that what they are doing matters, so they argue all the time about even the smallest things (I have to admit that this happens to me too). In the end, 20 people meet. Everyone has their own opinions. Everyone speaks. No consensus can be reached. No consensus, actually, can possibly be reached, because here are 20 people, who, although all independently wealthy consistently spoiled bourgeois kids, have different understandings of goodness, have different telos that they wish to assume.

This is thus where Habermas goes wrong. Participatory democracy, in the sense of engaging in rational discourse in good faith (satisfying all the validity claims) to reach a consensus, is untenable. It is more enervating than invigorating. Arbitrariness, perhaps, is better than such an approach. For at least we know that what we are deciding is arbitrary in an arbitrary decision, whereas when we have reached a consensus, we have the illusion of agreement. (When the structure of consensus, of universality, always precludes a certain position—as Ambedkar maintains, against Gandhi, a Caste system, no matter how well organized, always excludes some person. This exclusion only has to be structural to function. It need not even be actual.) How can 20 people agree, when I cannot even reach a consensus with myself? It is an impossibility.

Conclusion? Let Bureaucrats be efficient or perish; burn every meeting with more than one person involved; don’t take ourselves too seriously.

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