we tend to think of bureaucracy as the opposite of nature, and ‘holistic’ as a word used by people named STARFLOWER instead of people like ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF STAFFING, MUNICIPAL RESOURCE ACQUISITION DEPARTMENT, but I’m here to tell you bureaucracy is holistic as fuck. And that this is probably the WORST thing about it, the holism.
here’s an example from nature; Australians had a problem with insects eating their sugarcane crops so they brought in an insect-eating toad from abroad, called the cane toad. as long as the equation was limited to ‘toad vs. cane bugs’, it seemed like a perfect solution. but in real life, there are more organisms than just toads and bugs, and all those organisms have some sort of relationship to each other. to disturb one relationship is to cause ripples throughout the whole system, which is my pedantic way of saying that the toads proceeded to eat everything on the continent, since they had no natural predators. there’s a great scene in the CANE TOAD documentary of an aussie redneck in a jeep demonstrating the local method of pest control – swerving the jeep all over the road and trying to burst as many toads as he can, since the toads are literally occurring every 10 feet or so over the entire countryside.
same thing with biology – biology is nothing but an internal ecosystem, a bunch of systems inside a creature that all rely on each other. like the giraffe optic nerve. this is a good one to annoy the fuck out of creationists, and I know that’s low-hanging fruit, but bear with me. the optic nerve loops under the collarbone. that might not be a big deal for a pitbull or a gerbil, both notoriously short-necked bastards, but as the giraffe evolved its long neck, the optic nerve wound up being seriously twice the length of the fucking neck – from the eye down to the collarbone and then back up to the neck – a journey in some cases longer than the whole giraffe body.
so if god designed that creature why the fuck would he do that. well the answer is clearly, INTELLIGENT DESIGN WHILE HIGH, which means there is a play or short story waiting to be written about a conservative Christian giraffe veterinarian who gets born-again as a militant Rastafarian because he followed his twisted ideology to its logical conclusion. but now we are getting a bit far afield. my point is, giraffes are seeing things that happened like five minutes ago because their optic nerve is a mile long, so don’t assume they’re just stupid. wait, no, my point is, why would evolution, which has produced such marvelous and well-designed things as the chameleon tongue and the majestic great white shark produce something so inefficient as the giraffe optic nerve/
the answer is, of course, the giraffe can’t tell the rest of its body, hey, guys, do you mind shutting down for a few thousand years while I re-evolve my nerve from scratch/ no/ ok, well how about just the bones, you’re in the way bones. I love you but can I get you to turn to gelatin for a few hundred years while I decouple this optic nerve/
both bureaucracies and biological systems – including BOTH ecosystems AND the internal biology of jerks like giraffes – tend to build on top of what’s already there, often in silly or terrible ways – instead of tearing down the old no-longer-adaptive thing and installing a new, logical, efficient thing from scratch. and why, question mark. because even if the thing you want to replace – whether it’s an optic nerve, a crop-eating pest, or the dmv, even if if everyone agrees that that thing is bullshit and no one would have designed it that way on purpose – that bad, old item is holistically connected to , say, a dozen other things that are still good, so it’s impossible to tear it out and start over without also interrupting the good systems.
Like for example, you can’t change the school bureaucracy to eliminate paperwork so that teachers can concentrate on teaching again. Because a lot of that paperwork is being requested by OTHER institutions – child welfare services or whatever social welfare department is in charge of the school lunch program, and of course a lot of the paperwork goes to the federal government to ensure that the federal money continues to pay for local schools. So if you stopped the paperwork, you’d run afoul of ALL of those OTHER institutions.
So your school reforms would be limited to what the child welfare department , the school lunch department, the federal department of education etc. will accept. In other words, reforms that are either non-existent or so confusing that the other bureaucracies couldn’t figure out what it meant in time to block it.
Which is why –whether in nature or society – the usual outcome is to simply build ANOTHER layer of bureaucracy ON TOP of the different, bickering institutions and departments, to help them cooperate better. And of course that NEW layer of bureaucracy is even more idiotic. Call this the CAMEL OPTIC NERVE theory.
And keep in mind that all those other bureacracies THEMSELVES are products of decades or centuries of just these kinds of compromises, layer after layer of new rules designed to fix old broken rules while still complying with the old broken rules enough to allow the existing system to keep functioning during the reform periods.
And THAT’s why so many rules and forms etc. seem meaningless contradictory or confusing.
So if you were to, say reform the DMV system, you’d face 3 obstacles;
1) “Hey everyone with a car, would you mind not driving for a few years while we re-jigger this whatchamacallit?”
2) Let’s say you somehow DID get everyone to stop driving until you built a new, efficient, common-sense DMV rulebook. Let’s say the new system is SO friendly you don’t even need drivers’ liscences anymore. The problem now is, drivers’ licences have become enmeshed with many OTHER interdependent bureaucratic systems. In other words, they don’t just function as “this kid can drive OK” stamps, they have come to function as a universal ID card. So now you’d have to persuade banks, cops, and all the other institutions to go along with your new, common-sense DMV regulations.
3) and that’s not counting the long-standing pattern of low-level beuraucrats deliberately subverting reforms made by leaders, because, honestly, who likes unaccountable people far away with minimal real-world experience, arbitarilly loading us down with new rules and deciding how we should live our lives? Oh, wait.