Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Bureucratic Tunnel Vision

As many of you know, one of the underlying themes of my leftism is to point out that the supposed dichotomy between efficacy and liberty that is implied by the classic debate about anarchism/socialism and libertarianism is an utterly false dichotomy, that in fact those institutions of domination (capitalism, bureaucracy, the nation-state) are inefficient at accomplishing human ends, among their many other debits. If that is the case, the statement "Anarchy [or parecon or so on] doesn't work" becomes even more problematic: aftter all, such a statement implies a comparative, i.e. not just "It fails" but (if the argument is to be relevant) "It fails worse than what we have".

In line with this, I extend an ironic line of reasoning: the critique of bureaucracy commonly argued by conservatives. And one of the many problems is what I call "tunnel vision", or more precisely an effectiveness-efficiency mismatch: The adoption of normalized standards and practices that end up being counterproductive to the broader goal of the institution. A perfect satirical example is the episode of South Park where the detectives do not arrest a man with severed human hands on his wall because the serial murderer they are looking for does not cut off that side of hand.

Today I experienced another such example, from my midterm:

"Answer the following questions in a clearly written essay of 5-6 pages in length (typed, single sided, double spaced, with normal font and margins). Your essay is due on February 14. Please e-mail the essay directly..."

Notice a problem? I'll let you all read a second.

For those you haven't figured it out:

If I'm e-mailing it to you, what does it matter if it is set to be single-sided or double-sided?

This is a prestigious university with a well-respected lecturer making this mistake.

It's funny. And on another level, completely disturbing.


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