The Bureaucratization of Life

Nick Williams
5 min readSep 4, 2022

Two basic situations exist: one is where whatever it is that is happening gets to happen freely, gets to happen unimpededly, without us having to have any plan or purpose, and the other way is where what is happening gets regulated so that it happens ‘to order’, as part of some kind of master-plan that needs to be put into action. There is both ‘spontaneity’ and ‘regularity’ in the mix, in other words. Both are part of life, but the great tendency is for us to get drawn inexorably into ‘the regulation side of things’ so much that there is no longer any trace left of the unregulated.

If there was a balance between the two then all would be well but when everything has been regulated so much that there is no longer any trace left of what was being regulated in the first place then the balance may be said to have been well and truly lost. There is now only ‘the rules’ and we never get a break from them. We no longer have any notion of what ‘unregulated space’ might be — that is something we can no longer comprehend and our perfect absence of awareness of this state, that there is or could be such a state, goes on to create lots and lots of problems for us, problems whose origin or significance we simply cannot comprehend. We know there’s an enemy of sorts out there but we don’t suspect that the enemy is us trying to regulate everything.

When everything is regulated then there is no flexibility anymore; regulations are rigid and unyielding — they have no ‘give’, no leeway in them at all. A regulation or rule has zero freedom in it, zero tolerance for anything that does not have go along with it, and so ‘flexibility’ is not a word that we can appropriately use here. Running on the basis of thought as we are, the Great Tendency is — as we have said — to keep on moving in the direction of ‘ever increasing regulation’ and we can see this very clearly if we look at the deadly proliferation of bureaucracy in the world, which we seem powerless to stem. Nobody likes it, but no one can see a way around it, either…

When our situation doesn’t seem to be working as well as we’d like it to then we straightaway bring in more regulations (or protocols) to iron out the bugs but somehow this never seems to help! New problems pop up which also require regulating and the process just keeps on regressing forever. We’ve run into a brick wall here but we don’t seem to be able to see it — we’re way too caught up in the euphoric (i.e. hopeful) phase of ‘seeing magical solutions’ to see what our solutions are actually doing on the bigger scale of things. The tighter the noose gets around our neck the more we struggle, and it is the struggling itself that is drawing the noose tighter. What we do to try to solve the problem is the problem.

When everything is regulated then it is the regulation itself which is the problem, but because all we know is management, and because unmanaged reality is something we have no relationship with, the Regulated World is the only place we can look for an answer. We got rid of unregulated space because our attitude to it is that it is unruly, untrustworthy and chaotic and — therefore — a constant danger to all our plans (all the usual reasons the orderly mind takes against chaos), but this turns out to be not such a smart thing to do. Getting rid of unregulated space (space we cannot rely upon to do our bidding) turns out to be not such a great thing to do after all because that unregulated space is the Mother of All, so to speak. It is the Pleroma, the Creative Void, the hub upon which everything turns… We didn’t see that ‘where the pot’s not is where it is useful‘, we didn’t see that ‘the profit in what is / is in the use of what isn’t’ and so we have tried to get rid of everything that isn’t purposeful, anything that isn’t related to our goals. We didn’t see that — as the Buddha has said — ‘without the unmade there is no escape from the made‘.

The whole thing about regulation (or ‘taking control’) is that control is — by its very nature — only meaningful or important in relation to a specific viewpoint; ‘from such-and-such a viewpoint this is seen as being the desirable result, whilst from such-and-such another viewpoint that is seen as being the optimal outcome,’ and so on and so forth. There are no absolutes but the fixed point needs to assume that there are if it is to exist at all. Control or regulation is simply an extension of the viewpoint in question, therefore; the viewpoint wants to ‘bring everything into line with how it sees things’ because this is the way it does see things, because this is the only way it can see things. We can hardly blame the POV for behaving like this since this is just ‘how it’s wired’. We can’t blame the viewpoint in question for automatically seeking to extend itself, for automatically trying to correct everything in relation to it — we can’t say there is any ‘bad intent’ behind this endlessly proliferating mechanical tendency (and we can’t fight against it) but what we can do is be properly aware of it…

Every time we identify with a specific viewpoint we are inevitably going to get drawn into the Realm of Control, the Formal World which is made up of ‘the need to control’, and so from this point on we are inevitably going to get caught up in more and more regulation, more attempts at management and control. When we identify with a specific viewpoint then we are that viewpoint and so anything that doesn’t make sense to the VP doesn’t make sense to us. It’s got nothing to offer us that we will find interesting, and — what’s more — its character is downright subversive. We cannot command unconditioned space, we cannot make it into our slave or plaything, and for this reason we cannot trust it.

Unstructured space (which is the unbiased space within which ‘anything can happen that is going to happen’) is now going to be our enemy therefore and the tactic of ‘making unstructured space into the enemy’ — no matter how advantageous this might seem to be in the short term — is going to prove the undoing of us in the long run. So on the one hand we have the open situation where ‘whatever wants to happen is allowed to happen in a completely free or unimpeded way’ (and this is the Dao, this is ‘the way things are when we don’t interfere with them’), and on the other hand there is the system of regulation which is always set up against ‘The Way Things Are’ (or ‘the way things work in themselves’) which is always set up in opposition to the Dao, and this state of affairs is also simply just ‘the Way Things Work’…