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Bureaucracy Causes Evil?

Only the procedures matter; the outcomes don't, no matter how unjust.

By Will Offensicht  |  August 19, 2008

The question of good versus evil has been debated endlessly over the millennia.  Up until the last hundred years or so, Western thought was based on a clear distinction between good and evil.  The Chinese philosophy of Taoism, in contrast, popularized the "Yin-Yang" symbol which represents good flowing so smoothly and imperceptibly into evil so that there can be no clear distinction between the two.

In recent decades, philosophical concepts such as situational ethics and relativism have advanced the idea that there is no longer an insurmountable difference between good and evil; this view has gained almost total sway in Western universities and elite circles.  To modern thinkers, each person has to work out his or her own idea of what is good and what is evil; there's no inescapable reason to say that one person's idea of evil is any better than anyone else's.

One of our major difficulties in dealing with terrorism is that our liberal leadership elites have a hard time believing that people could organize themselves to deliberately commit evil by murdering anyone who happens to be near, say, the World Trade Center or the Baghdad food market.  If you don't believe that evil exists, you're handicapped in understanding people who deliberately commit evil deeds.

We've summarized what Ingrid Betancourt has told of her treatment by the FARC drug dealers during the six years she was held captive in the jungles of Colombia.  Newspapers reported that she used the word "cruel" rather than the word "evil," but she also said that she now understood how the Nazis could have done what they did.  Most people acknowledge that the Nazi custom of making lamp shades out of their victims' skin was evil; Mrs. Betancourt's saying that the way the FARC treated her helped her understand the Nazis makes it reasonable to assume that she regards what they did to her as evil.

We've quoted Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as speaking of a "tilt of freedom in the direction of evil ... evidently born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which there is no evil inherent in human nature."  Having first-hand experience of years of well-organized, systematic ill-treatment in Soviet prison camps, Mr. Solzhenitsyn clearly believed in the reality of evil.  He was convinced that evil could grow out of benevolent concepts and well-intentioned processes; he tried to warn us to the best of his ability.

In an editorial "Stalinism was just as bad as Nazism" on page A13 of the Aug. 7 issue, the Wall Street Journal quoted Mr. Bush:

In the 20th century, the evils of Soviet communism and Nazi fascism were defeated and freedom spread around the world as new democracies emerged.

The Russian government protested Mr. Bush's description of Nazi fascism and Soviet communism as a "single evil;" the Journal made a good case that they were identical:

Actually, the Bush statement is correct: There is really no big difference between Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia.  When World War II began in September 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were allies; indeed, Stalin and Hitler launched the war together. ...  Germany invaded Poland on Sept 1 from the north, south, and west, Stalin invaded Poland from the east on Sept 17.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn learned the nature and reality of evil the same way Mrs Betancourt learned it - by direct, day-to-day personal experience.  There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that either communism or fascism can lead to great evil.

We would do well to carefully consider Mr. Solzhenitsyn's warning that humanistic benevolence can also lead to evil unless proper safeguards are put in place to account for the possibility that some of the people who implement well-intentioned laws may turn out to have evil intent.

Bureaucracy and the Potential for Evil

A bureaucracy is group of people who are organized and funded to enforce some set of regulations.  The regulations are supposed to control the activities of other people.  The word comes from "bureau" which refers to the building where officials work as well as the desks at which they sit.

From the very beginning, it was recognized that bureaucrats could easily get so obsessed with their rules, regulations, and procedures that they lost sight of the greater good that they were supposed to be doing in the first place.  Any group of bureaucrats can do great harm when their process becomes more important to them than the product they are supposed to produce.

In the United States, most new bureaucracies are founded to address some perceived social problem.  The legislators who sponsor the laws to create and fund the new bureaucracies inevitably cite some pressing moral imperative for the government to right some intolerable wrong.  Most of the time, the proponents of the new legislation cite a humanistic reason why the wrong cannot be tolerated.

Unfortunately, Mr. Solzhenitsyn was correct in asserting that evil could come from humanistic impulses; much evil has grown out of the well-intentioned Mondale Act.  The act was supposed to empower social workers to engage in coercive intervention in families where children were being abused; it provides cost reimbursement to state agencies when children were removed from their homes.

We'll summarize two of many well-documented cases of government-sponsored child abuse: a child was removed from his parents when he was accidentally served alcoholic lemonade at a baseball game; and 146 children were removed from their parents when their community was accused of supporting polygamy, which while it may be illegal in its own right, is in no way abusive of children younger than 12 or so.

Alcoholic Lemonade

The social workers told Prof. Ratte that the whole thing was unnecessary as they drove Leo away.  The Free Press explains, "But there was really nothing any of them could do, they all said. They were just adhering to protocol, following orders."

This is a clear example of a humanistic bureaucracy abusing a child because their procedure says they must.  As with many bureaucracies, child protection agencies get caught up in procedures so that the process becomes more important than the outcome.

In this case, the social workers knew there was no reason to take the child from his family, they knowingly harmed a child and his family by following orders.  We refer to this as "bureaucracy on autopilot" and regard it as convincing evidence for Mr. Solzhenitsyn's assertion that humanistic impulses which do not account for evil in human nature can nevertheless lead to state-sponsored evil.

Removing 146 Children From Their Parents

In the celebrated Texas polygamy case of a few months back, Texas child-protection authorities received a faked telephone call which purported to come from a 16 year old girl who said she had been forced to marry a 50 year old against her will.  No evidence for the existence of this person was ever found, and the phone number from which the call was made had previously been used to make other false-alarm calls; for some reason, tracking down and prosecuting the fraudster has been lost in the fog.  Based on this this phony call, social workers and police removed 146 children from the community without warning.  On April 8, Fox News reported:

Children's Protective Services (CPS) spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said each child will get an advocate and an attorney. But she said they would have a tough time adjusting to modern life if they are permanently separated from their families. [emphasis added]

The social workers knew that the children would have a tough time if they were separated from their families.  This isn't rocket science - an MIT study which was reported in USA Today has shown that removing children from their biological parents nearly always leads to worse outcomes than leaving families intact, almost no matter how lousy their parents may be.

The key to the CPS behavior is their statement that "each child will get an advocate and an attorney."  Under the terms of the Mondale act, these costs are reimbursed by the federal government along with more money to cover the agency's administrative costs.  Thus, by removing 146 children at one go, the agency received millions of dollars in cost reimbursement from the federal government and an automatic administrative "profit", despite knowing that the children they were supposed to be helping would have a "tough time."

Not only does their protocol require child removal, they get paid extra for doing so.  They've lost sight of the fact that they're supposed to protect children from abuse, not abuse them in order to maximize federal reimbursement.

In this case, the bureaucracy followed their protocol and maximized their budget by seeking federal reimbursement.  We don't know whether Mr. Solzhenitsyn anticipated that a bureaucracy would profit financially by doing evil, but it's clear that his assertion that humanistic impulses can lead to evil is entirely correct.

Bureaucrats Also Abuse Adults

On August 2, 2008, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel had a headline "Milwaukee man faces foreclosure because he didn't pay parking fine." The article begins:

Peter Tubic ignored a $50 parking fine in 2004, and on Monday, it cost him his $245,000 house.

Mr. Tubic had parked his unregistered van in his own driveway. City zoning ordinances won't let property owners park unregistered vehicles on their own property.

The van needed repairs to pass the state vehicle inspection; those of us who live in states which require vehicle inspections sympathize with Mr. Tubic.  He didn't have the money and had more pressing problems at the time.  The article says:

His father was suffering from dementia. His mother was battling cancer, and he was their live-in caretaker. He needed to shop, cook, clean, maintain the house and tend to his parents' needs.  The van repair could wait, he thought.

Then a man from the city showed up and told him otherwise. It was February 2004. Tubic would have to move the van or get license plates for it within 30 days, per city zoning codes, the man said. Somebody had complained.

Think about this for a moment.  The city has the arrogance to say that you cannot park an unregistered vehicle on your own private property.  This man's van wasn't unsightly. It wasn't sitting up on concrete blocks with wires hanging out.  It didn't even have its hood propped up; it needed radiator work and was undriveable, but unless you actually tried to drive it you'd never know from looking.

Yet because of a missing sticker, not only was the car illegal to drive on the road - not unreasonable as the road belongs to the city - but its owner couldn't even park it in his own private driveway?  This sort of high-handed bureaucratic interference in property rights is just plain wrong, as we've stated before.  In fact, it's theft of property, it's a "taking" without compensation, pure and simple.

Several days later Tubic's dad died. Tubic was overwhelmed, he said.  "It was a combination of things financial and emotional, my caregiving role, all heaped themselves on me at the wrong time," he said. "I still don't function well."

Month after month the city Department of Neighborhood Services sent an inspector to the house to see if the van had moved or had license plates. Each time a new fee was assessed. And a letter was sent to Tubic's home.  At no time did Tubic call or write to object or explain his circumstances, city officials said. So the bureaucratic cog kept turning.

Tubic's $50 fine escalated to $1,475, and after it was clear he wasn't going to respond, the city filed a tax lien.  While Tubic paid the property taxes, he never paid the $1,475 for the zoning violation.  With interest and penalties, he owed $2,645 before the city foreclosed on Monday.

Mr. Tubic's house is fully paid for and is assessed at $245,000.  The city has foreclosed on him to collect roughly 1% of the value of his house.

It gets worse.  The article tells us more about Mr. Tubic:

According to the Social Security Administration, Tubic, 62, has been disabled since 2001. He has been diagnosed with psychological disorders that limit his "ability to understand, remember and carry out detailed instructions," according to documents from the administration.

How can disabled, disturbed Mr. Tubic cope with bureaucracy?  Bureaucrats can be pretty tough on normal people.

In several lengthy conversations with the P.I. Team spanning two weeks, Tubic frequently grunted in pain and broke down in tears.  "They're trying to take my house away for a parking violation," Tubic said. "I know it was my own fault for letting it drag on, I've been under mental duress. I haven't been able to handle this."

Instead of abusing children as CPS bureaucracies are prone to do, the Milwaukee zoning bureaucracy is abusing a sick, disabled adult, for a trivial amount of money, over an issue which is none of their business in the first place.

Janine Geske, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice and law professor at Marquette University, called the case a human tragedy and an example of how people can fall through the cracks in the system.

"It seems like a drastic remedy," Geske said of the city's foreclosure. "But on the other hand the city has to enforce its zoning laws. I don't fault the city for that. [emphasis added]

We at Scragged most assuredly fault the city for having such an abusive, unconstitutional zoning ordinance in the first place. Why can't Mr. Tubic park his own van in his own driveway until he can get around to repairing it?  How dare the city presume to say he can't?

Ms. Geske went on:

"It's a shame someone didn't intervene to help him... It would be nice if someone who worked for government would take the time and say 'let's look at this and see if we're doing the right thing.' . . . It would be nice if they would remember the human factor here." [emphasis added]

What Justice Geske doesn't realize is that looking at a situation to see if "we're doing the right thing" is utterly contrary to the nature of bureaucracy.  Bureaucracies operate on fixed procedures; there is no human judgment allowed.  No human factors can be permitted to interfere in the smooth functioning of the bureaucratic machinery.  This is basic to the self-selecting nature of bureaucracy; people who don't think like bureaucrats find other employment lest they go insane.

Unjust Justice

It's pretty clear that the judges, whose job it is to dispense justice, have been bitten by the same bug.  Our founders knew very well that people are highly inclined to do evil unless they're restrained by some other force.  They knew that only government had enough power to protect people from government; that's why they set up a divided government with "checks and balances."

The job of the court system is to do justice, which includes protecting citizens from government excess.  This Milwaukee judge has completely forgotten his constitutional duty to protect citizens, particularly disabled citizens who, due to mental instabilities, need more protection than most:

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Richard Sankovitz technically stayed the judgment to give Tubic one last chance to explain why he hasn't paid or even responded, but Sankovitz ruled in favor of the city's foreclosure.  "The city was entitled to a judgment," Sankovitz told Public Investigator on Thursday. "There hadn't been an answer to the complaint."

Ah yes, you can't help but sympathize with the much-put-upon city.  "There hadn't been an answer to the complaint"!  Of course, there's nothing for it but to steal a disabled, mentally-disturbed man's house to assuage the offended dignity of the local authority.

Rubbish!  Judge Sankovitz is supposed to protect people against this sort of bureaucratic evil; his responsibility for this outrage is all the greater.

There's an old legal doctrine called "shock the court" or "shock the conscience of the court" which refers to a legal outcome that's so unreasonable, so unjust, that regardless of the technicalities of the law, the judge has to reverse it.  If stealing a mentally crippled man's house to collect 1% of its value doesn't shock Judge Sankovitz, what would?

The Judge has the power to dismiss the case with prejudice; he has the legal authority to cuss out the bureaucrats; he even has the power to declare the law unconstitutional due to its outrageous result, though he might be reversed on appeal.  If he truly felt the situation was wrong, he has the ability to fix it in one of several ways, or at least force more powerful people to go on record as defending the bureaucracy's action.

Like Pontius Pilate two millenia ago, he knows perfectly well what's the right thing to do, he even says so... and doesn't do it!  Why not?  Is there no longer any justice to be found in our "justice" system?

Down the Drano

If you think that this unjustified foreclosure is an aberration, we suggest that you read this report of how the Massachusetts authorities spent three days confiscating the contents of a hobbyist's home chemistry lab without a warrant even though it contained nothing but common household chemicals.  The commentator's posting ends:

There's a word for what just happened in Massachusetts. Tyranny. And it's something none of us should tolerate.

The combination of absolute fixation on procedures coupled with the power and willingness to foreclose on a sick, mentally crippled man for 1% of the value of his property and the power and willingness to invade a law-abiding man's home and confiscate harmless chemicals are examples of the humanistic, bureaucratic evil of which Mr. Solzhenitsyn warned us.  His books such as Gulag Archipelago and One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich lay bare the bureaucratic, procedural nature of the evil of prison camp administration which so abused him.

Bureaucracy, by its inherent nature, is prone to evil.  As George Washington put it, "Government, like fire, is an untrustworthy servant and a fearful master."  Will we listen to either of these men?  Or will we wait until the government comes to take our own house, when it's too late?