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Similarity, Community, Values and Human Nature - Part IV


Those Bureaucrats Have a Duty . . . .

When the author of the enclosed article states:

Modern man's driving force and top priority seems to be the pursuit of happiness and the avoidance of pain.

It would seem that Bentham is alive and well today. The Utility, self interest, moves men to action and directs their behavior. If this then, is the prime motivation, how can we explain, the individual 'self interest', in all the wars and suffering throughout history? For the purposes of this series, I will put forth that it is self evident that cruelty and suffering, is replete throughout all ages and cultures. But why is this the record, if our view of 'self interest' dictates that we desire to treat others, in the same manner that we judge is correct, and wish them to treat us? Might the clue lie within the individual and collective notion of what is correct behavior, and how that takes shape? Ideology, belief in social systems and codes of values, seem to direct our inquiry. Since each person has different capacities and talents, their singular understanding differ. So systems of standards are created to guide, correct and sometimes punish. The gatekeepers of these sacred keys for order and Civilization, have varied throughout time and cultures from the cleric, the legal judges, the educators, the thinkers, the artists, the inventors and the administrators. Today the all inclusive role of the 'bureaucrat' touches more people in a practice way, and has the most intense 'real' affect on a person's daily behavior. The following poem illustrates this sentiment:

This Bureaucrat's Version of the Desiderata is written by, and for, a bureaucrat. Source: "Zen and the Art of Bureaucratic Maintenance," in Laurence J. Peter, The Peter Pyramid: Or, Will We Ever Get the Point? (NY: William Morrow and Company, 1986), pp. 88-89. --

Bureaucrat's Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste and remember what peace there may be in nonresponsiveness. As far as possible, be on good terms with all other bureaucrats. Speak quietly and clearly and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have information for your files.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the bureaucratic spirit. If you concern yourself with others you may become upset and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons and those of superior and inferior status in the hierarchy.

Enjoy your power as well as that of your department. Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is your real possession and security in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business or department affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is in tenure, so beware of persons who strive for high ideals, and those full of heroism.

Be yourself, but stay within established guidelines. Neither be cynical about rules; for in the face of all stupidity and disenchantment, it is regulation that provides perennial protection. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the ideas of youth. Conformity, not strength of spirit, will shield you in sudden misfortune.

But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of boredom, so involve yourself in the intricate patterns of dysfunctional complexity. Beyond ritualistic discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are an inhabitant of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars: You have a right to be here. And whether or not it is obvious to you, the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore, be at peace with the Bureaucracy, whatever you conceive IT to be; and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the confusion of life, keep peace with your department.

With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful system. Be content. Strive to be happy.



Amazing that Bentham pops up again in the last line! But we are discussing those Similarities of this common Human Nature. Why is it that this prescient conflict between the individual and the collective, continues to rear its ugly head? Could there be a connection with all the suffering and wars, throughout history? Could it be that we need to hold these gatekeepers 'meaningfully' accountable, or does it have something more to do about the make up of each individual? Maybe both? This edited email may help us:

In the spirit of poetic verse, the enclosed sentiments might become an anthem that will shed light on the topic. I trust that there is nothing in its message that will offend you, or you will disagree with? It may, also, explain the hostility towards people like me, from those 'Byzantine' devotee's . . . 'so beware of persons who strive for high ideals, and those full of heroism'.

Another famous lament by Dr Robert Oppenheimer sums up, much better, the reality and true consequences of this 'class' on mankind. You may be familiar with it?

I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita: Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him; he takes on his multi-armed form and says, Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.

History certainly supports the view that more evil has been committed at the hands of of the 'Bureaucrat's Desiderata', than the 'half life' of the isotope. So why is it so wrong to correct this inequity ? I would really like to know! What am I missing?

The point of the above mail, was an attempt to persuade a member of the 'commissar' class, that his actions are often absurd, arrogant, inept, counter productive and, often; destructive. But these behaviors are all responses and stem from an ethos; the culture of the ruler, over his subject. Where is the 'self interest' in this equation? Has it been transformed into the notion of the 'collective', at the expense, if not the elimination of the 'self interest' of the individual? Certainly no altruism here.

So where does this ethos, culture or ideology come from? To answer this question I will rely upon one example, just over a hundred years ago. It is one that comes from some of your alumni, and written by another; and former President, Teddy Roosevelt. It reads:

Harvard being my own college, I had such a swarm of applications from it that I could not take one in ten. What particularly pleased me, not only in the Harvard but the Yale and Princeton men, and, indeed, in these recruits from the older States generally, was that they did not ask for commissions. With hardly an exception they entered upon their duties as troopers in the spirit which they held to the end, merely endeavoring to show that no work could be too hard, too disagreeable, or too dangerous for them to perform, and neither asking nor receiving any reward in the way of promotion or consideration. The Harvard contingent was practically raised by Guy Murchie, of Maine. He saw all the fighting and did his duty with the utmost gallantry, and then left the service as he had entered it, a trooper, entirely satisfied to have done his duty and no man did it better. So it was with Dudley Dean, perhaps the best quarterback who ever played on a Harvard Eleven; and so with Bob Wrenn, a quarterback whose feats rivalled those of Dean's, and who, in addition, was the champion tennis player of America, and had, on two different years, saved this championship from going to an Englishman.

Not a man of them backed out; not one of them failed to do his whole duty.

The made for TV Turner movie on the 'Rough Riders' and the Spanish-American War, was even more to the point. The manifest destiny of an Internationalist American Foreign Policy was glorified and equated as the 'whole duty'. This total propaganda project had the good Harvard men, spraying machine gun bullets and killing Cubans and Spaniards, supplied to the US Government, with the compliments of the son of the Colt destiny; as his fellow Crimson Patriots, sang along to the words of Tennyson. It would have made the Englishman, John Ruskin, very proud; even though Dean was part of the group. Where is the 'altruist collectivism'? Or are they just misguided by an ideology that violates the meaning of the principles of Utilitarianism? If self interest fails, just what kind of a system are we left with?

Therefore, the relationship of the 'self interest' needs to be examined as it relates to our Similarity, as it embraces the wisdom from our understanding of 'Civilization'; and how this social objective of 'altruist-collectivism', can be attained. The saga continues . . .


The only good bureaucrat is one with a pistol at his head. Put it in his hand and it's good-by to the Bill of Rights.

H.L. Mencken

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