Bureaucracy as dehumanization (first draft)

This image shows an individual wearing a red bow tie and Chef's hat and coat who is whistling a tune and thinking about their love for a dog, children playing, and cooking

People have individual identities and stories. There’s a lot that goes into the decisions they make and the circumstances they are in, only some of which has to do with choices they’ve made.

this image shows the individual from the first image meeting a bureaucrat and the bureaucrat thinking oh here is a person who loves cooking - essentially the start of getting to know someone

It takes time and mental energy to get to know them. There’s a limit to how many people an individual can really know.

this is an image of a line of 10 people approaching the bureaucrat who is sitting at her desk. each person is dressed in a way that represents their individuality and is thinking about something they care about - this is meant to represent individuality and the differences we all bring to any interaction. the first person in line is wearing a suit, complete with a fancy hat, and is thinking about a wedge of cheese. the second person in line is wearing a shirt with an image from the game Mario on it and is thinking about a video game controller. the third person is wearing a plaid outfit that kind of makes them look like a disco and is thinking about cuddling up with a loved one on the couch. the fourth person is wearing a red and yellow shirt and is carrying crutches presumably related to the cast on their leg. this person is thinking about a skateboard. the fifth person is wearing a flowery outfit with a wide-brimmed cap and is thinking about a butterfly. the sixth person is wearing small bows on their head and is sitting in a wheel chair and thinking about using their telescope to look at the stars. the seventh person is wearing a shirt that has a mana symbol from the game magic the gathering on it and is thinking about magic cards. the eight person is dressed like an orchestra conducted, complete with coat tails, and is wearing sunglasses and carrying a cane as an assistive tool to get around without being able to see. the ninth person is wearing a festive yellow and green shirt and is thinking about a pretty yellow bird. the tenth is the individual from previous images who is wearing a chef's hat and thinking about cooking. the bureaucrat is sitting at her desk with forms in front of her and thinking about the different people before her and what she knows about them, but she is messing everything up because it's too much to keep track of.

When dealing with a high volume of people, such as the volume around which bureaucracies are built, efficiency is necessary. A bureaucrat does not have time to get to know each of the people with whom they are dealing because getting to know people slows the process down, whatever the process is.

this image shows the same line of people but instead of wearing colorful clothing and accessories, each person is wearing the same grey-colored shirt that has a number on it from 1 - 10. the fourth person is holding crutches and has a cast on their left foot. the sixth person is in a wheelchair. the eight person is wearing sunglasses and holding an assistive cane.

Rules introduce efficiency into a system by providing guides for how to arrive at an outcome (a decision, for instance) based on some inputs (maybe a form that someone fills out).

this image shows the bureaucrat thinking of a rule that says if the number on a person's shirt is greater than 5 then that person receives a present. the fourth person from before, who is holding crutches and wearing a cast is standing before her and has taped the number 1 next to the number 4 on his shirt. the next image in the sequence is of a news anchor reading the news about how this person "cheated the system"

Rules tend to be established around likely or common occurrences (and usually with particular populations in mind). However, memorable occurrences (such as instances of cheating) can easily be mistaken for likely occurrences, so rules tend to also be formed around bad actors, no matter how rare.

this images shows the bureaucrat falling asleep in front of a monitor. the monitor is showing the outcome of an algorithmic process which says that the person in question is to receive a present. rather than following an explicit rule, the rule has been automated and largely left to an algorithm, which advises the bureaucrat on what to do. the next image in the sequence shows the bureaucrat standing before two buttons: one has a picture of a present on it and the other has a picture of nothing. The monitor in front of the bureaucrat says "choose" a button, implying that the choice is really not up to the bureaucrat whose job has largely been replaced by an algorithm.

Humans are seen as a weakness within bureaucratic systems because we have a natural inclination towards compassion and care for fellow humans. A popular method for addressing those weaknesses is to introduce technologies into the system to facilitate the decision-making process. The human agent then becomes simply a verifier for decisions made by the algorithms (we have a known bias towards accepting decisions made by AI). All in the name of efficiency, which does not have very much room for compassion.

this image shows a robot who has replaced the bureaucrat and is standing before a computer screen that has a bunch of 1s and 0s on it. there are two buttons before the robot. one of them says 00 on it and the other says 01. the process has become entirely opaque to humans.

By putting people in positions where they function much like machines, bureaucracies push people into behaving like the machines they rely on to complete their work tasks. At that point, what function does the human in the system actually serve?

this image shows the character from before who taped a 1 to their shirt to cheat the system. all it takes is an understanding of the rules and a desire to subvert those rules to make sure that the outcome is in your favor. a system that caters predominantly to stopping cheaters will not stop the cheaters, but it will harm the people who aren't trying to cheat but who were not considered in the making of the rules.

This rules-based machination of processes (generally processes that have consequences for the humans who are being processed through the bureaucracy) might seem like a reasonable approach to dealing with volume, but looking at it that way ignores the very real consequences that these processes have for people. Hackers and those who study the rules in order to take advantage of them are always going to find a way to beat the system, so structuring rules around bad actors can only really serve to punish ordinary people.

Is this what we want for our future? For humans to become more and more like the technologies that we create?

I believe it is time to reassert our humanity and fight back against robotization by bureaucracy! It shouldn’t be just one or a handful of individuals in a company who consider the ‘users’ or people on the other end of the technology – ethics, inclusivity, and humanity should be at the core of everything we do.

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