About Thinks

Sometimes good thinks happen and sometimes bad thinks happen. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between the two.

Some thinks need immediate action and some thinks may remain as thinks forever. Thinks can be angry and heated. Thinks can be joyful. Thinks should never be cold.

These thinks are linked to many other wonderful thinks and I like to attribute these.

These thinks do not necessary reflect those thinks of my employer.

Think long, think on.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Bashing Bureaucracy with the Bauman Stick

In a previous life I specialised in business ethics where I studied the effects that modernity and bureaucracy had on our organisations. Zygmunt Bauman opened my mind to a whole new way of thinking in relation to modernity, efficiency and bureaucracy.

In his work Modernity and the Holocaust Zygmunt Bauman looks at the role that modernity and bureaucracy play in events such as the Holocaust.

He shows how horrific events, such as genocide, can be achieved by the masses through the careful separation of tasks. Initially genocide was achieved by killing people with rifles at point blank range and the bodies were then dragged to mass graves.  This method was seen to be primitive and extremely inefficient.

In order to make genocide more efficient victims were lined up at the edge of the trenches and were then shot with machine guns en masse.  This way the bodies fell straight into their graves and the murderers were never sure whose shot was the one that killed.  This meant that there was no direct responsibility for who murdered who.  Even so, it was still the case that:

it was exceedingly difficult for the shooters to overlook the connection between shooting and killing.

So a search for a more modern and efficient method ensued:

The search was successful, and led to the invention of first the mobile, then the stationary, gas chambers; the latter - the most perfect the Nazis had time to invent - reduced the role  of  the  killer  to  that of the  'sanitation officer'  asked  to  empty  a 
sackful  of 'disinfecting chemicals'  through an aperture in the roof of a building the interior of which he was not prompted to visit.

But this is an extreme case isn't it?  Whilst modernity and efficiency were used for evil in the holocaust, when it comes to industrialisation it's not bad, is it? If it wasn't for modernity we wouldn't have home comforts, we wouldn't have technology, we wouldn't be as efficient and we wouldn't progress.

But are we more efficient? Have we made progress?  

Using the metaphor of the modern industrial factory Bauman points out that there are two kinds of lorries in the factory yard.  There are the  lorries that deliver the consumer goods to the stores and there are the lorries that deliver the trash to the dump.  The narration of modernity speaks to only one kind of lorry - the goods.  This creates a history of industry purporting rising comforts and efficiency.  

The lorries that carry the waste and reject materials from factory production, however, are excluded from our history of modernity. Our idea of what efficiency is could be very much changed if we had a balance of the two narratives.

Further, many kinds of human beings become dysfunctionalised through this narrative of progress and efficiency.  Akin to the weeds in the garden, if humans do not fit the new re-ordered world they must either be eradicated, separated or assimilated. (Remembering, of course, that weeds are defined only as plants that deviate from the gardener's perceived ideal image of what a garden should be.) 

I worry about education.  I worry about the way we bureaucratize our learning into separate parts.  I worry how we obsessively categorize our learners into weeds and flowers. I worry how we attempt to assimilate our weeds insisting that they grow petals. I worry how we assume that all our students are annuals even though some may be perennials or biennials.

I worry that our narrative speaks only to one kind of lorry - the goods.  We hear about the lorries leaving our schools with numerate, literate, 'successful' children.  We dont often hear about the lorries heading off to the dump disposing of lost creativity, shattered childhood beliefs, and interrupted day-dreams.


  1. And how about those wild flowers who bloom best when allowed to grow whenever and whereever they like - they can be the most gorgeous of them all.

    Great post - thoughtful - lots to think about.

  2. "...many kinds of human beings become dysfunctionalised through this narrative of progress and efficiency."

    Sad, but all too true. The vocabulary of the current regime doesn't talk about children, people. It talks about "economic growth", "accountability"; it examines universities in terms of the number of job placements of its graduates, and schools by the percentage of its roll on, above or below a "standard". Kids are, to our current rulers, "goods".

    Paulo Freire, in "Pedagogy of the Oppressed", writes of the belief that the wealthy have, that it is the role of those who are not of their ilk, to ensure that the hard work that is needed to "grow the economy", is well supplied with workers who are trained to carry out that work. Education of people for their own sake -to learn, to understand, to be critical- is a threat to the stability of the wealthy, and must be dealt with accordingly.