The Paperwork Plutocracy

Reviewing Ben Kafka’s The Demon of Writing, Rob Horning captures the paradox of paperwork – the very bureaucracies initially created in the name of fairness and impartiality often become the scourge of the masses:

In a state where the DMV is the model institution, everyone is equal in that they are equally miserable. But paperwork also opens new avenues for the exercise of influence that are just as opaque as any earlier systems abused by elites. As documentation proliferates, so too do auditors auditing the clerks, and auditors auditing those auditors, and on and on to theoretical infinity. This network of data and overtaxed inspectors and processors has the effect of creating a miasma of competing claims for legitimacy, as well as ample opportunity for doling out preferential treatment, circumventing the law, subverting authority, serving oneself. Information becomes obfuscation, particularly under the pressures of “surveillance and acceleration,” which Kafka isolates as the contradictory demands of state power. The state needs to know more to function fairly, but with more information comes more urgency to process it all, yielding even more information to process and sending fairness further over the horizon.