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Global Nomad Bureaucracy Blues


2016 was a crazy year. Mid-2015 I was unemployed, largely due to volatility in the IAM vendor market space. IAM is my area of expertise, and you wouldn’t think that the acquisition a software company by a global vendor would have such immediate personal consequences. As a tech consultant, stints of unemployment are pretty normal. So is short, project-based employment stints.

So anyhow, when I got a Linkedin message offering me an employment opportunity in Germany I was overjoyed. I’d been in Australia for seven years and I did miss Europe. But I forgot that Europe isn’t all the same, much like Europeans think Africa is a country. I missed Italy, Southern Europe, and although Greece, Spain & Portugal – and even Italy itself – have different languages, cultures and history, we Southern Europeans share a certain affinity, a soul you might say, which the orderly northerners lack. Their psychological disposition is simply too hygienic. Their tidy houses, well-defined rules and languages have no place for nuance, ambivalence or passion.

Most of the world thinks of Germany as efficient, hard-working and environmentally conscious, the powerhouse of Europe. I also fell for this tourist marketing brochure boilerplate. Germans think they pay more than their fair share in the European Union. More than those lazy southerners. They think they’re at the cutting edge of innovation. Instead I found an arrogant country with a byzantine bureaucracy and more than a bit behind digital compared to other countries. Online government services? Nope. Contactless electronic payments? Non-existent. And as for being an economic powerhouse, I found I was working twice as hard (70 hour work weeks) for half the money. My Australian partner tried hard to learn the language but nonetheless was treated rudely and couldn’t find work.

My German tech salary was considered high over there, yet I could not get so much as a smartphone on a postpaid contract plan, let alone a credit card. I’d go to a bank, payslips and employment contract in hand, and would get all smiles until “computer says no”. The maddening thing about this is that no one could say why I was being rejected for credit, they cited “privacy reasons”!

I was having stress related health issues due to the workload and we decided to move back to Australia. Little did I know I’d be facing the same “computer says no” when applying for a credit card in Australia. We had to move house too since returning after being given a “no reason” eviction, so when filling in forms for credit card applications, getting to the “what’s your address and how long have you lived there?” part was an amusing affair.

By the way, I’m German-Italian-Australian, born in Switzerland, and I’ve spent some years growing up in Southern Africa. I had a rough childhood, my parents met in a cult (google “Children of God”). That cult brutalised me as a child and I have PTSD from the ordeal. The worst part of it is feelings of shame. For much of my life I’ve hidden my past, as if I was somehow to blame for having been born into a hippie sex cult that treated children as slaves.

Bureaucracy terrifies me. Whether it’s applying for a credit card, security clearance or permanent residency. I’ve lived in two dozen countries across three continents. I’ve moved houses about 60 times. There are many reasons for my many moves: that cult, a BPD mother, and later on well, working in tech, things are always changing. When you need to fill in a form providing addresses of the past ten years, the bureaucrats just don’t know what to make of me. I have zero debt, a six-figure tech salary, savings, a successful career, and the biggest challenge to finding work or getting credit is getting past the HR drones or the credit underwriter bureaucrats.

The thing is, my story isn’t all that unusual in the 21st century. Immigrants, expats, multi-ethnic families, itinerant tech experts, wanderlust-stricken millennials, people moving to another city to get away from a toxic relationship or family. Today’s reality in this hyper-connected world means that for many people the question “where are you from?” is almost impossible to answer. I’ve struggled to find employment in the past, due to my many moves, but get me in a room with a real person and I can tell them my story (and probably ace the interview, I’m good at what I do). This is why the question “what’s your story?” or “what motivates you?” are probably a better questions than “where are you from?”, “what’s your employment history?”, “where have you lived in the past 10 years?”.

How can you size up a person with the sterile questions demanded in application forms and the CV format? You see a CV in front of you with someone who’s had a number of short tenures, or periods of unemployment. You see an application form showing five different addresses in five different years. The first thing that comes to mind is this person is untrustworthy or mentally unstable, probably both, but if you actually sat down with them, in person, and asked them “tell me your story” the sterile data points would come to life.



Enterprise Bureaucratic Stultification – does unnecessary specialisation make for dumber employees?

I am an identity and access management specialist, an area of technology which has good reasons for being a niche specialisation, as do many other other technology areas. But you can imagine my surprise at receiving this unsolicited email from a recruiter:

“My client, a leading British Bank, require a Role Based Access ControlManager to join their offices in Edinburgh on a 6 Month Contract basis with the possibility of extension.
The RBACM will help design the Role Based Access for technology partners throughout my client’s Separation and Business Proving stages, all the way through to transitioning the service to BAU functions. It’s important to note that this role is a Technical ‘Hands-On’ role which also requires Project Management capabilities and the ability to plan.”

Let’s begin with the meaningless drivel, the kind many supposed HR experts suggest we fill our CVs with. Beginning with ‘technical hands-on’ and ‘management’. What usually happens when you follow these self-professed career gurus and add such an inane line to you CV is that a firm looking for a technical role will think you’re not technical enough: who has met a project manager who had the time to get ‘hands-on’ in a multi-million dollar project? Also, requesting that a candidate ‘has the ability to plan’ is just insulting.

Now on to the central issue with this role, role-based access control (RBAC) is one of the many skills an experienced IAM consultant acquires in the course of their career. Every organisation is different, there is no RBAC school or certification, just as there are no IAM schools. Working in IAM requires you continuously keep several key questions in mind in every project: ‘who are you?’, ‘what is your relationship to the organisation?’, ‘what are you allowed to access?’ and how to always be able to monitor that the answers to these questions, defined by business rules, can be continuously monitored and irregularities rapidly identified and remediated.

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Bureaucracy and its Discontents – Bitcoin and the Problem of Arbitrary Power


Not being old enough to have experienced feudalism, whenever I think of arbitrary, dictatorial power this haunting film comes to mind as how life would be without the constraints placed on individual ambition by the contemporary bureaucratic, and nominally democratic, regime. Salo’ is loosly based off de Sade’s infamous book, and I was hoping that this paper, focused on power and bureaucracy, could continue along this smutty trajectory. We seem though, to have gone from a mode of power summed up in that Pasolini quote “the only true, great, absolute anarchy is that of power” to a mode of power that a popular Italian phrase, used conversationally when discussing the elusive, cunning power of Machiavellian political manouvering that Italy is famous for: “they piss on our heads and tell us its raining”. Pasolini’s death, 35 years later – and still an open investigation – is just such an example of this subtle yet all the more terrifying mode of power: the faceless men hatching complex plots behind an arcane state bureaucracy. Beyond pizza, wine and the mafia, per Braudel we have Italy to thank for state-enforced monopoly capitalism, and what Baudrillard back in ’83 called the Italian simulacra of democracy, which like pizza and wine, is no more limited to Italy than MacDonald’s is to California. With either mode of power, its victims/subjects still bear the brunt of structural violence. Privatising profits and collectivizing debts is the well-established formula of monopoly state crony capitalism, or to use another Italian phrase to describe the sexual orientation of those in power that roughly translates as “gay but with other people’s asses”.

These popular Italian phrases that conflate political power with non-consensual sexual activity, and I wish I could spend the time here recounting horrifying but irresistibly fascinating stories straight out of American Psycho or Wolf of Wall street. Sadly, for the grey world of corporate work in the CBD, this wanton high life is probably as rare as it is for academia, (or maybe I haven’t been invited to secret all-night parties?). Most have been or still go to amazingly debauched parties, but probably few ever went into the office determined to get that paper finished and were greeted with rented Velcro-clad midgets and a supervisor furiously masturbating whilst high on Quaaludes. This persistent image of thought surrounding the corporate world – the libertine trader or Patrick Bateman-style white collar psychopath – is a fantasy similar to Salo’s portrayal of absolute power. It is often taken uncritically by those on the left, or as aspirational fantasy by those corporate and finance workers themselves that grants temporary escape from the grey bureaucratic reality of their day jobs. Like Scarface or The Godfather have become the films that wannabe gangsters watch and imitate, rather than depicting the everyday drudgery and chronic fear of organised crime, so seems to persist the Patrick Bateman fantasy. Yes Baudrillard strikes again. Nick Land cogently asserts that Baudrillard is the philosopher of the end of the monetary gold standard. That is, while ostensibly Baudrillard was the theorist of the much lamented or celebrated postmodern reign of cultural relativity, from a ‘sober’ political economic perspective – and Baudrillard was a sober thinker – it was the end of any standard of value not amenable to political manipulation. I am not arguing that psychopathic financiers or CEOs do not exist, but rather that while glorious psychopaths make for great novels and film, the statistically-relevant quotidian day in corporate office life is much more prosaic and dominated by stultifying bureaucratic processes and structures.

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