From a review by Gillian Tett of the ‘Utopia of Rules’ by David Graeber.
Americans do not like to think of themselves as a nation of bureaucrats — quite the opposite actually,” Graeber observes. “[But] the final victory over the Soviet Union did not really lead to the domination of the ‘market’ [but] simply cemented the dominance of fundamentally conservative managerial elites . . . no population in the history of the world has spent nearly so much time engaged in paperwork.”
And I have (literally) just had to spend almost 30 minutes filling in a terminally tedious Health and Safety online form about how to position my chair. This has less to do with staff health (let alone sanity) but rather more with protecting the institution from perceived legal challenge. Of course, what is most annoying is how badly designed the elearning module is. It is not meant to inform, but to punish.
But even if you disagree with his politics, Graeber’s book should offer a challenge to us all. Should we just accept this bureaucracy as inevitable? Or is there a way to get rid of all those hours spent listening to bad call-centre music? Do policemen, academics, teachers and doctors really need to spend half their time filling in forms? Or can we imagine another world?
There are no easy answers. But the next time you see a bureaucratic form — and I have several sitting in my inbox right now — it is worth asking who really benefits from it? And, more importantly, who would suffer if we were to all suddenly rip them up? It is, perhaps, one of the more subtly revolutionary ideas of our age.
And do not get me started on revalidation or the GMC…