A key factor in explaining the sad state of American education can be found in overbureaucratization, which is seen in the compulsion to consolidate our public schools into massive factories and to increase to mammoth size our universities even in underpopulated states. The problem with bureaucracies is that they have to work hard and long to keep from substituting self-serving survival and growth for their original primary objective. Few succeed. Bureaucracies have no soul, no memory, and no conscience. If there is a single stumbling block on the road to the future, it is the bureaucracy as we know it.
Bureaucratic and institutional irrationality occur because, of all man’s institutions, bureaucracy in all cultures has a tremendous potential to be counterproductive. This drive toward inefficiency may be a direct consequence of blind adherence to procedure, but it also stems from bureaucratic needs for self-preservation and a vulnerability to pressure groups. The combination is unbeatable.
By their very nature bureaucracies have no conscience, no memory and no mind. They are self-serving, amoral and live forever. What could be more irrational? Changing them is almost impossible, because they function according to their own rules and bow to no man, not even the President of the United States. Custom, human frailties, and the will to power keep our bureaucracies going. … Paradoxically, most bureaucracies are staffed largely with conscientious, committed people who are trying to do the right thing, but they are powerless (or feel powerless) to change things. None of which would be so serious if it weren’t that these are the very institutions on which we depend to solve all our major problems. Some answer must be found to bureaucracy. It is not social injustice capitalized upon by political leaders that causes revolutions. It is when bureaucracies become so top heavy and inefficient that they are incapable of serving the needs of the people, that governments fall.
Edward T. Hall’s Beyond Culture was cited by Jonathan Fletcher in his excellent essay Culture-mapping: A framework for understanding international B2b decision-making, which I discussed in this post.
Bureaucracy on the life-destroying scale described by Edward T. Hall is an industrial era phenomenon. Only a bureaucracy can turn ordinary, decent people into participants in gigantic atrocities that go on and on, and absolve the people who operate the government machine from personal responsibility for the consequences.
In America 3.0 Jim Bennett and I refer to Industrial Era America as “America 2.0” — an era which is ending, and a new post-bureaucratic, post-industrial era, America 3.0, is struggling to born. Edward T. Hall helps us see that there is a lot about the old world that will not be missed.