Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Bureaucratic Personality: Similarities to the Criminal Mind?

The criminal personality enjoys manipulating and intimidating others. Excitement from lying and getting away with the forbidden is a way of life.

Intimidation includes verbal abuse and physical harm (robbery, assault, murder), which means bullies are potential criminals, actual when they get physical. Power over others is what the criminal  thrives on. Lack of empathy for victims and lack of conscience are nearly total.

Criminals, according to Yochelson and Samenow in their fifteen-year study The Criminal Personality, get away with substantially more crimes than they are ever arrested for—200,000 for one offender over 40 years with the only arrest sending the criminal to a mental institution, along with a “no criminal record” statement in his file.

Criminality, the authors point out, is a continuum of irresponsibility ranging from hardened psychopaths to less extreme arrestable criminals to a category they call “non-arrestable criminals,” the type of persons who on the surface look like responsible citizens but under cover of family and job lie, cheat, manipulate, and intimidate everyone they come in contact with.

Non-arrestable criminals seek the same power over others the hardened criminals do, as well as the jolts of excitement from getting away with the forbidden (in this case, getting away with what is considered unethical, rather than what is illegal).

Given this description of non-arrestable criminals, a startling question arises in my mind. Does bureaucracy provide protection for criminal personalities and therefore attract them?


Yochelson and Samenow state that many criminals are attracted to law enforcement and the military—both bureaucracies. And some former soldiers in the authors’ research admitted that they enjoyed shooting unarmed civilians.

What is it in bureaucracy that might attract the criminal mind? The answer has to be the coercion that is bureaucracy’s distinguishing characteristic. “The management of coercion” is Ludwig von Mises’s concept of bureaucratic management, which he carefully distinguished from the profit management of business.

Everything bureaucrats do derives from the laws and administrative rules created by the state. Force backs up the bureaucrats’ behavior. Violation of laws and rules requires punishment, which means coercion. No private business that is not highly regulated by the state has this kind of power.*

What is the signature of bureaucrats? “Rules are rules, fella; I don’t make ‘em. I just enforce ‘em.” Or, as Victor Hugo’s Javert put it, paraphrased: “The law is the law and it must be obeyed.”

Bureaucratic personalities enjoy creating and enforcing laws and rules to impose on others. They are indifferent to the needs, wants, and genuine concerns of consumers and other constituents. (Think no phosphates in laundry detergent and no plastic bags in grocery stores, just to name two recent, dictatorial edicts.)

Bureaucrats assume they know what is just and have the right to impose those judgments on others. Lying, stretching the truth, selective memory, shoddy research, sins of omission, BS’ing and, in today’s political climate, spin, which means fabrication, may be justified in the creation and execution of such laws and rules.

Coercion is available to the bureaucrats and they will not hesitate to use it. Obedience to authority is the essential requirement of a successful bureaucracy.

How many bureaucrats are like this? I don’t know, and the cover of job and respectability—especially the respectability of working for the  "public good"—makes it difficult, if not impossible, to identify such less-than-savory mentalities.

I must hasten to emphasize that not every bureaucrat is so motivated. Yours truly, of course, is a bureaucrat. I have been a college professor in state-run universities for nearly thirty years, and my red ink pen, as I said in Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism (p. 162), is my gun. I wrote this not as a joke or an exaggeration. It is literal, in the nature of bureaucracy.

Sometimes, as a card-carrying bureaucrat, I do have to tell students that “rules are rules.” If the rules are really stupid, and I can do so, I gladly ignore them to help out. I do this knowingly, but I also could be punished for such a transgression. The punishment could be a hand slap, but far worse has happened in the academic world.

In my thirty years, I have seen competent colleagues forced into retirement with no explanation given. I have also seen colleagues kept on the payroll, neither teaching nor seemingly doing much of anything else. Star chamber (secret) proceedings and gag orders are not uncommon.

Selective memory of something that to me one could not possibly have forgotten occurs frequently, along with BS’ing, stretching the truth, sins of omission, denial of well-deserved tenure, and many other unkind things done to others, all of which are often dismissed as “just politics.”

To me, though, I must ask this question, “How can these people be sincere?”

The criminal of the non-arrestable type does help explain such personalities. It is no secret in the non-criminal world that there exist people who are hostile, mean, manipulative, and seem to enjoy their callousness. And it is no secret that human psychology exists along a considerable continuum.

Yochelson and Samenow’s non-arrestable criminal personality provides a possible foundation for understanding the type of person who enjoys lording it over others.

To what extent does this apply to elected politicians? Job and respectability, again, make it difficult, if not impossible, to know.

Cover of family and job, Yochelson and Samenow emphasize repeatedly, is a favorite ploy of some hardened criminals, and it certainly is also of the non-arrestable ones.


*As I have written before (1, 2), the popular conception, derived from the work of Max Weber, is that a bureaucracy is a large, hierarchically structured organization, implying that big business and big government are both bureaucracies. Weber’s conception, however, is a package deal, uniting two fundamentally different types of organizations. Consequently, Mises defines bureaucracy as the government’s method of managing its affairs. Businesses become bureaucratic only to the extent that they are regulated, which effectively turns them into bureaus of the state. An unregulated business does not have the political power to force anyone to do anything; it only has the economic power to satisfy consumer needs and wants.

A tech radio show host recently captured the difference succinctly: Google only has the power to put annoying ads on your search pages; the NSA has the power to arrest you.


1 comment :

Shadhin Kangal said...

Bureaucratic management approach developed by Max Weber is not suitable for business organizations but may be suitable for government organizations.