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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sociological Ramblings

Currently taking a sociology class. Thought I would post my latest attempts at assignments.

Ch7:  What is meant by Bureaucracy? What is seen as the strengths and limitations of a bureaucracy?
A bureaucracy is, simply put, management by desks. You could look at the book for the five defining characteristics of a bureaucracy – separate levels with assignments flowing down and accountability flowing up; a division of labor; written rules; written communications and records; impersonality and replaceability – and you would have a dry sense of the word. Or, you could look all around you and see what is meant – a loss of personalization, a culture that celebrates stagnation, and reduced efficiency.
Some strengths:
The office is more important than the office-holder. Every four years, we elect a president. Sometimes it’s the same person, sometimes it’s not. But no matter who wins the office, the fundamental natures of our government and our lives do not change. That is because the office defines the abilities and responsibilities of the person who holds it. If the person holding it is unable to fulfill these duties, they are removed and another selected. This enables our government to continue on a relatively steady course, unlike other countries where replacing the leader of the government also entails replacing the entire structure beneath them.
Additionally, the requirements of the office are clearly defined. Theoretically, anyone who fulfills those requirements is eligible for the office, no matter their social origin. This allows for social mobility, as exemplified by the saying ‘In this country, anyone can grow up to be President.’
The participants in a bureaucracy, in theory, know what their duties are and to whom they are accountable. This reduces confusion, as there is a clearly delineated chain of command. A classic example would be in time of war: the President says, ‘Invade Iraq.’ The Secretary of the Army decides, ‘We need three divisions.’ The Chief of Staff says, ‘We’ll use the 1st, 4th, and 5th Divisions.’ The commanding generals of the divisions announce, ‘We’re mobilizing.’ And so forth. By the time you get down to the corporal telling the privates to load their ammo, everything is in place. The private doesn’t have to worry about how they’re getting to Iraq; that’s above his pay grade. Similarly, the President doesn’t think Did Private Jones remember his duffel bag? Because it’s not his problem.
Some weaknesses:
Sometimes the person holding the office begins to believe that they are important on their own and can operate outside the purview of their office. An example from today’s news is Kim Davis, the clerk in Kentucky. For her own reasons she has decided that she will not execute all the tasks of her office. This has led to lawsuits, jail time, and publicity all around.
Sometimes the rules fall behind the times. Did you know that it is a law in Maine for every male to bring their shotguns to church in case of attack by Native Americans? True story! Old law – on the books since we were a colony of Massachusetts. At the time, it made sense. Now, however, nobody in law enforcement would dream of enforcing it. Why is it still there? Because nobody has bothered to repeal it; it has simply gone dormant. In any organization you care to name, you will find examples similar to this, policies that no longer apply to anything in the current world but haven’t been removed. Thus the potential exists for particularly officious office-holder to truly monkey-wrench someone’s day.
Causes come and go, but organizations are forever. The text cites the March of Dimes, an organization founded to fight polio that now justifies its existence by fighting for ‘stronger, healthier babies’, a term vague enough to keep the MoD around for centuries to come.
‘Ford Motor Company would not waste money today by building outdated Model T's alongside their current Mustangs and Explorers. Yet in 2003, the federal government still refuses to close down old agencies such as the Rural Utilities Service (designed to bring phones to rural America)’
(Heritage Foundation, February 12, 2003)
I could go on, but I think for an overview this is enough.
Ch8:  What do you think should be done about the U.S. crime problem? What sociological theory or theories supports your view?
A rational anarchist believes that concepts, such as "state" and "society" and "government" have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals. He believes that it is impossible to shift blame, share blame, distribute blame ... as blame, guilt, responsibility are matters taking place inside human beings singly and nowhere else. But being rational, he knows that not all individuals hold his evaluations, so he tries to live perfectly in an imperfect world ... aware that his efforts will be less than perfect yet undismayed by self-knowledge of self-failure…I will accept the rules that you feel necessary to your freedom. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.
This quote is from Robert Heinlein’s book The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and neatly summarizes how I view the issue of crime in the United States. It’s not that I am ignoring the issue; not at all, the issue is real, and is certainly a problem. However, I am responsible for my actions and my actions alone. You are responsible for yours. If your actions violate a code, a compact that you have agreed to live by, and your society demands your punishment, then so be it.
Now, as to actually dealing with the problem – another Heinlein quote, this time from a story called ‘Coventry’: Examined semantically “justice” has no referent—there is no observable phenomenon in the space-time-matter continuum to which one can point, and say, “This is justice.” Science can deal only with that which can be observed and measured. Justice is not such a matter; therefore it can never have the same meaning to one as to another; any “noises” said about it will only add to confusion. But damage, physical or economic, can be pointed to and measured. Citizens were forbidden by the Covenant to damage another. Any act not leading to damage, physical or economic, to some particular person, they declared to be lawful.
It’s a way to reconcile many theories of deviance – first, it shifts the goal posts. Instead of deviance being defined as behaviour contradictory to the social norms, it redefines it as behaviour which causes damage to another person. This eliminates the strain theory entirely, as far as I can tell – as long as the paths taken cause no damage, then there is no effect on society as a whole. Individual freedoms are increased because, well, ‘Your circus is not my circus; your monkeys are not my monkeys’.
So what happens when you damage someone? You pay the equivalent penalty. In the story, set centuries in the future, behavioural psychology has advanced enough so that mental ‘retraining’ is possible. Or, if someone doesn’t want their brain tampered with, they are removed from the society (literally, sent to Coventry). This wouldn’t work, here, now. Punishment must be retaliatory in nature at our current level of development. If damage X is caused, a penalty of Y is exacted. If the damager is unable to pay the penalty, then a work-based correctional system could be used (on the theory that the state pays the damages to the victim and then is compensated by the labor of the damager). Once the damage is compensated, the matter is finished.
I see this as a more humane and equitable system of justice, one where there is a common ground, a common currency, which all can measure, rather than a vague sense of ‘justice’. And in the meantime, I’ll be over here, listening to my own internal moral compass and living my life by my own rules and considerations.

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