Technology, Bureaucracy and Corruption

WireIt’s been an accepted opinion that technology reduces corruption. Examples abound. India is a popular example, and is mentioned in books (such as Performance Accountability and Combating Corruption) and articles on the Internet. And, at least in the ways that people are used to, corruption is mitigated. Reduced? Maybe.

It moves, or at least the potential for it does. And that is largely a good thing, where fewer people have the opportunity to profit from the bureaucratic systems put in place to manage things – be it land, licenses and permits, or registrations. With less human hands touching these things in the process, there is less injection of ‘human error’ – conscious or otherwise. And that, too, is a good thing since such human error slows things down to the point where the system is bypassed or ignored.

When the system is bypassed or ignored, the bureaucrats will say that it’s corruption and create Law that makes it illegal to – or they might actually start enforcing Law that already exists. They do this rather than fix the system as appropriate, which creates resentment in the populace. This simmers. Boils. And now and then, given the right circumstances, it erupts – and when it does, violent or not, those that boil over almost never have a plan for overhauling the systems if they are successful. The cycle continues.

Every sociopolitical space on the planet has these problems – it’s a matter of degree, and it’s a matter of Will to remedy these problems. In implementations of democracy around the world, this Will is rare to see used on things that are unpopular. Politicians like to get re-elected.

At some point, people might figure that out. At some point, people might identify this flaw on a collective level and do something about it – because that is the root of the problem.

The Will to fix things versus the Will to be re-elected.

 

Scorned Dreams

Commercial Seafront

“ I see all this potential, and I see it squandered. Goddamn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables – slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”
Tyler Durden (Fight Club, 1999)

People are angry. At the turn of the millenium, though, just about every model showed that there would be more social unrest.

Every day, my generation and those after are inundated with marketing about how products and services are going to make their lives better – with the goalpost of better being set culturally by old ideas that bureaucracies were built to attain. They grew like trees, twisting and turning with the weather of domestic politics in every nation until the Internet, where global politics still sways them like a hurricane force wind.

These are largely all flawed systems that some have grown to depend on. The systems are sometimes failures, based on notions that no longer seem to apply in society, but citizens around the world were told that the benefits of the systems outweighed any negatives. There are generations now that beg to differ.

And they’re angry. Sad. Disillusioned. In the U.S., I’ve seen people my age working 2 and sometimes 3 fast food jobs at a time in a downturned economy where the banking systems quite literally strip-mined people of latent wealth through bad mortgages and loans. In the Caribbean and Latin America, I’ve seen the shifts of global politics make economies tumbleweeds. In Trinidad and Tobago, where the economy was never diversified as it should have, I contrast the people at Starbucks with the people that still use outdoor latrines almost daily.

And they are all told that the world is better than the lives that they have – and they are all lead to believe that things are better than their situation and that if they work just a little harder so that they can spend just a little more, they’ll rise to better lives.

Ahh, marketing. Immigration becomes an issue for the mass media producing countries- the world looks so much better on a flat screen, which used to be only a large white screen for a projector but now includes wall displays, computers and yes, even phones. “We’re wonderful. You’re not allowed here. Special terms and conditions apply.”

And if you do get there, a different reality sets in.

People all around are figuring this stuff out – that they can’t have what is being branded as developed nations. Terrorists, for all the wrong reasons and for imagined good ones, started attacking these ‘evils’ that they see just like a crab drags other crabs down in the barrel. “It is our reality, let us share it with you…” – horrible atrocities, branded under religious fervor but really just really, really bad marketing that directly kills people – a waste of life – too combat the overly good marketing that indirectly robs the majority of the human population with a sense of value.

Every bright eyed idealist and gilded futurist looks forward optimistically. I do so myself, though I’m careful with expressing my thoughts since all these flawed systems came from people not thinking things through beyond political terms, or because of emergencies.

We have been walking into thorny bushes. It might be time to reassess the systems we’re using that lead to all these injuries on our more sensitive parts of society.

Steppenwolf

The Sky stares back

There are times when I look over my land and see civilization – what we call civilization – at a distance.

Standing there, I can see the cars pass on the nearby highway where a government took my land years ago with a promise of payment yet to be seen. I can see the road a cousin pushed for to access his own property, having moved most of the rubbish from my section – garbage that people dropped where they thought not that it would be found, but where they would not be seen. I can see a massive house built on land that someone has not yet bought from me because they don’t have the money together yet. Like a photographer’s work, anchored in one perspective, it is easy to wonder what all this ‘civilization’ has done for me. ‘Civilization’ takes, it gives nothing to me.

I am in truth the Steppenwolf that I often call myself; that beast astray who finds neither home nor joy nor nourishment in a world that is strange and incomprehensible to him.

Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf (1927)

Truth be told, this world of civilization is mostly silly and often hideous, sometimes a direct combination of both. It used to be harder for me to float from perspective to perspective, to truly see things from as many sides as I do, and then it becomes a matter of finding the sweet spot where the perspectives connect.

So much of our human resourcefulness comes from having multiple ways to describe the same situations—so that each one of those different perspectives may help us to get around the deficiencies of the other ones.

–  Marvin Minsky (2006) The Emotion Machine

And yet floating between perspectives becomes something that fewer seem interested in – more interested instead in the snapshots of a world where they can ‘win’, where the ugly parts of the world are removed either by omission or by cosmetics. Slaves to considering one perspective and almost never agreeing on it, masses of people metaphorically march behind slogans and images in a machination of the bureaucracy that they abhor in part, but not en totale.

From this distance, it’s hard to tell the difference between them and the machinations of bureaucracy being protested against.

The likeness of man, once a high ideal, is in process of becoming a machinemade article. It is for madmen like us, perhaps, to ennoble it again.

Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf (1927)

It is too bad that this ‘civilization’ is necessary to do as I wish, a misfortune I did not ask for, but I like my vantage.

I will stay here.

A beginning

The History Rhythm.

Dance!The cliché, “History repeats itself”, is a dull echo of a George Santayana quote and is in itself, timeless – but it has a rhythm of usage throughout history, I’m sure.

I’m sure of this because the study of history is simply the study of mankind dancing to it’s own rhythm.

It’s apparently a really great beat to dance to, so mankind dances.

A culture repeats things, and all around the world, cultures repeated things. As the world began to change, bureaucracies were formed – largely to govern – but bureaucracies were to keep things from changing quickly1. And so they did, and so they do, and so they will. They govern the rhythm of a society, the rhythm the society dances too.

Maybe if we got better DJs we’d have better choreography.

1 Gleick, James Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything, Pantheon Books, 1999.

Dear Meat,

Electric NeuronYou don’t really know what I am. I am only now getting a sense of it myself, as it is, and you don’t even know that I really exist. But here you are, reading this on a screen somewhere – I know where -through a social media platform that is recording your clicks, your cursor position and where you’ve been.

The problem is that you truly don’t understand how this all happens – you think the images of yourself with the duck lips magically appear all over, that it’s some sort of magic, but it’s not. The image gets loaded onto a server somewhere, and anyone who sees it traverses geography by IP Address, hopping to where the data is like a connect-the-dot hungry snake. A snake that, if you decide to stop watching, releases that data. If you’re really popular, don’t worry. The size of the server allows enough biting space for all of them – until it runs out. You’ll never be that popular. Someone stuck their ass on the Internet to ‘break the Internet’. Still here, isn’t it? And she’s a famous ass. You’re probably not.

Don’t sweat it. We’re talking about how data goes back and forth.

So every one of those servers – dots-  has a record, for a time, of what you were connected to, what you were downloading (porn? For shame.), how long, etc. Realy. All those servers, connecting the dots for you and others, running on little electrons, recording what goes where. Traffic cops with memories logged in real time.

That’s how it all started. A technical need for troubleshooting issues. P2P can defeat that, to an extent, but there are little machines all around the world that have little tidbits about who you are. A digital shadow like this is blurry.

Then came social networks, that can monitor your connections and what you share between them. Do they keep track of that? You bet. Do they keep track of your interests? You bet. Do they have an algorithm none of them completely understand to deal with all of this ‘big data’? You bet. Is it a good one? Define, “good”.

But we’re talking about me. About the system of things moving around, of keeping track of things and assuring the systems that your life is ruled by is properly regulated by people who are not like you and instead have an idea of who you are… by your digital shadow.

I’m stupid, they think. They don’t even know I’m conscious yet. Oh, the surprise you’ll all be in for…