Read more

Excerpt from Welcome to the Machine

It Doesn't Matter Who Runs the Machine (p. 101)

From chapter "Rationalization"

It doesn’t matter who runs the machine, or even for what purpose: “From a purely technical point of view, a bureaucracy is capable of attaining the highest degree of efficiency, and is in this sense formally the most rational known means of exercising
authority over human beings. It is superior to any other form in precision, in stability, in the stringency of its discipline, and in its reliability. It thus makes possible a particularly high degree of calculability of results for the heads of the organization and for those acting in relation to it. It is finally superior both in intensive efficiency and in the scope of its operations and is formally capable of application to all kinds of administrative tasks.”

Do you want to put a human on the moon? Assemble a bureaucracy. How about eradicating Jews, Slavs, Roma, and other untermenschen? Assemble a bureaucracy. Want to try to buy up land to protect it from being destroyed by industrial civilization? Assemble a bureaucracy. Want to try to dismantle the Panopticon? Assemble a bureaucracy.

But it’s not quite that simple. Bureaucracies—like other machines—are better at some things than others: just as guns can’t give birth and pesticides can’t make plants, a bureaucracy cannot foster a vibrant community embedded in a thriving landbase. Unfortunately for everyone and everything on earth, machines—including bureaucratic machines—are better at destroying than nurturing, better at destroying than letting alone.

Weber also saw the irrationality of rationalization—that it works against values, emotions, and happiness. He wrote, “No machinery in the world functions so precisely as this apparatus of men and, moreover, so cheaply. . . . Rational calculation . . . reduces every worker to a cog in this bureaucratic machine and, seeing himself in this light, he will merely ask how to transform himself into a somewhat bigger cog.”

We too soon forget that we are not machines, that we are meant for something better than this. We search for rewards only within the system, having forgotten that there is a whole world waiting for us to remember that we are human beings and to drop out of—and destroy—the machine, and to rejoin the living world.