The Precarious Proposition of Procedures

Procedures, we deal with them on a daily basis. Anything from a four-way stop to ordering food at a restaurant to opening or closing a business for the day, procedures are designed to help individuals streamline their actions. When you know how someone else is going to act, it makes your decision making process easier and more streamlined. This is the purpose of having a procedure. It allows for you to anticipate the actions of other people without knowing them personally as well as transfer information without having to do it directly. Procedures can also stifle creativity and innovation. As with all things, there are pros and cons, so let’s have a look at the pros and cons of procedures.

First up, we will talk about the benefits of having a procedure or a standard operating procedure. I use traffic examples often as I will assume most people have driven a car in America, plus I have spent a great deal of time driving. If you approach a four way stop at the same time as three other cars all coming from the other three directions, how do you know who goes first? Procedure would indicate that the first person to arrive crosses the intersection first. If you all arrive at the exact same time, you then proceed in a clockwise direction around the intersection until all vehicles have cleared. This allows you the opportunity to get through the intersection quickly without any confusion. Likewise, traffic lights provide a valuable procedure; stop on red, go on green, and caution on yellow as vehicles in the intersection clear. If people thought the proper procedure was to go on red, while others only went on yellow, everyone that went on green would be in a world of hurt. Procedures clearly enhance our driving practice.

Likewise, if you work in a business that has multiple shifts, you undoubtedly have a procedure for the beginning and end of your shift so you are able to take over from the previous person easily and leave the station primed for the next person. The same is true for accounting and book keeping practices. Ledgers are kept consistent within the business and they meet a uniform standard so others outside of the business can understand the accounting process of the business in order to evaluate the assets of the company. If we really think about it, procedures surround us in every facet of our lives. Most are good, but what happens when procedures are bad?

The ill effects of bad procedures are pretty straight forward; anything from a loss of efficiency to a disservice of justice can result. Perpetuation of poor government programs, such as welfare that creates a permanent under-class, or excise taxes on cigarettes and booze that hurt most the poor, are a direct result of poor procedures. Taxation in all of its forms are procedures, and the entire United States Code is a system of procedures and how to implement them. By delegating powers to government agencies, Congress institutionalizes the procedures that make the laws that affect all of our lives without any legislative oversight whatsoever. As bad as these are, the worst part about procedures is not their direct effect on us.

It is the indirect impact of discouraging critical thinking that makes procedures so incipient in their degradation of our society. When you no longer have to think about whether or not what you are doing is right, you stop doing it. You rely on the procedure to tell you what to do, and you rely on the judgement of the procedure creator to determine if the procedure is in fact just. This separation of judgement from action that results from following procedures degrades our personal capacity to evaluate our own actions and the actions of others. You cannot hold the cashier responsible for not being able to credit your debit card instead of give you cash back; that’s the procedure. You cannot hold the cop responsible for giving you a ticket for following too closely, even though you didn’t cause an accident; that’s the procedure. You cannot hold the concentration camp guard responsible for beating the inmates; that is what the procedure dictates when the inmates demand freedom. This may be a slippery slope argument, but the point is valid. If we lose the capacity to evaluate our actions in the here and now, that degradation will perpetuate and permeate into larger and more significant facets of our lives.

Additionally, when we rely on procedures, we lose the capacity to adapt quickly to changing environments. If the procedure is to write up a report and send it to Stan in HR, have him review it, and then forward it to accounting, it makes it really difficult to get our addressed changed in the system. However, if the system is open source, and we can change our address on our own when it’s needed, the system constantly evolves and grows as we change and grow. This system of constant evolution and adaptation to the ever changing needs of humanity can only come from a state of total freedom, from a state of anarchy.

In order for us to flourish as individuals, we must live in a civilization that has the capacity to adapt to our ever changing needs and desires. A civilization is a group of people that have chosen to live together freely and only voluntary exchanges are permitted, but a civilization is not an abstract concept. A civilization is the people that comprise it. Those people will necessarily be able to adopt the procedures that work and adapt to situations in which the procedures do not apply. Those people will be capable of critically thinking and acting upon their own sound judgement. Those are the kinds of people I want to be around because that is the kind of person I am. I buck the trend of blind conformity to the norm as often as I believe it is necessary and just, and I do it because it is the right thing to do. I want to demonstrate a better way to live, and most importantly, I want individuals to think critically for themselves. Will you join me in my pursuit for anarchy so together we can all flourish?

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